Post-Spring Previews: Georgia

After traveling to Raleigh, the Gamecocks continue their path along one of the nation's toughest schedules when they go to Athens to take on the 'Dawgs. The Georgia game is always one of the defining moments of our season. Most Gamecocks fans consider Georgia our biggest SEC rival, and a win typically marks the beginning of a good season (2007 aside).

On the whole, Georgia is a team full of question marks. They disappointed last year after coming into the season with sky-high expectations. This year, they have to replace a number of significant players, most notably offensive stars Matt Stafford, Knowshon Moreno, and Mohamed Massaquoi. On the other hand, they return significant talent on defense and on the offensive line. Their success will likely depend on whether Joe Cox can be efficient and can at least come to close to matching Stafford's productivity and if their defense can stay healthy and play better than it did in highly publicized meltdowns against LSU, Florida, and Georgia Tech last season. We'll probably know a lot more about Georgia after they open their season at Oklahoma State, a team with an absolutely explosive offense that will probably be preseason top ten.

Let's take a closer look at how we match up against these guys.

Quarterback

Mark Richt plans to start senior Joe Cox, who got significant playing time early in 2006 but since then has been Stafford's backup, only playing in mop-up duty. Cox is a fairly talented player and has spent a lot of time in the system, so the 'Dawgs can reasonably hope that he will be a competent signal caller. However, he lacks Stafford's physical abilities, so his ceiling is probably relatively low. I'd call it a push between Cox and Stephen Garcia; Cox has had longer to grow into his roll and is a more mature player, but he lacks Garcia's natural talent and has less in-game experience than Garcia. Usually, I'd say that means that Garcia has the advantage, but Garcia was hardly impressive in some of his appearances last year. Although he showed promise at times, he has plenty to prove this time around.

Verdict: Push

Running Backs

While Moreno leaves big shoes to fill, Georgia is uncommonly deep at the running back position, with several highly recruited players waiting to become the next Moreno, Garrison Heart, or Herschel Walker. The one most likely to become a household name is Caleb King, a speedy home run threat who rushed for over 200 yards last year as Moreno's primary backup. However, Richard Samuel will also get plenty of touches, and the two backs may form something of a Thunder and Lightening duo. I'd say UGA has a slight advantage over us here; while I like our stable of backs and expect us to field a much improved running game in the fall, both King and Samuel could start at any school in the nation. These guys are monsters and, while we might get the 'Dawgs during a transition period while UGA tries to figure out how best to divvy the caries, I doubt UGA will miss a beat without Moreno this year.

Verdict: Slight advantage Georgia

Offensive Line

UGA returns a seasoned, talented offensive line led by tackles Quintin Sturdivant and Clint Boling. Sturdivant's preseason injury last year caused this unit to underperform last year, but if Sturdivant is able to return close to full strength, this should be a very good unit. I would give them a slight advantage over our line. While I expect much-improved blocking from our guys this year and the play in the spring gives us every indication that that's what we'll get, we simply lack the talent possessed by Georgia at these positions.

Verdict: Slight advantage Georgia

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

Georgia returns phenomenal receiver A. J. Green (yep, the same Summerville star that screwed his home state's flagship university by committing to a bitter rival) but loses the aforementioned Massaquoi, and so far it's unclear who will be the second receiver. That could be problematic for Georgia, as Cox could use the benefit of a slew of targets. At TE--a position that hasn't been featured in recent UGA offenses but may be this year--UGA loses ball-dropping machine Tripp Chandler but brings in the highly recruited Orson Charles and Arthur Lynch. Charles is a big, fast player receiving end somewhat out of the Jared Cook mold, while Lynch is more of a traditional end. Either will be a significant improvement over Chandler. I'd call it a push at these positions; after losing Kenny McKinley we don't have anyone like Green on our team, but what we lose in that contrast we gain in better depth.

Verdict: Push

Defensive Line

The 'Dawgs return a very strong couple of players at tackle in Geno Atkins and Jeff Owens. However, they appear to lack a dangerous pass rusher, especially as they'll be without end Justin Houston, who is suspended for the first two games, when they play us. If Ladi Ajiboye plays in this game, I think we have a slight advantage here. While I like Atkins and Owens a bit more than Ajiboye and Nathan Pepper, UGA lacks the sack threats at end that we have in Clifton Geathers and Cliff Matthews.

Verdict: Slight advantage South Carolina

Linebackers

UGA and Carolina each return one of the nation's best linebackers in Rennie Curran and Eric Norwood.  UGA, however, also returns Daryl Gamble, another quality player, whereas Carolina will still be in the process of breaking in Rodney Paulk and Shaq Wilson as Norwood's partners in crime. UGA gets a slight advantage here.

Verdict: Slight advantage Georgia

Secondary

Georgia returns star safety Reshad Jones as well as corner Prince Miller but is a little more uncertain at the other two starting spots. This puts them in a similar spot to Carolina, who returns Chris Culliver, who came into his own as a future star late last season, and Darian Stewart but, after the departure of Emanuel Cook, Captain Munnerlyn, and Stoney Woodson to the NFL, will have to fill the other spots with a host of freshmen and returning lettermen like Addison Williams who haven't always been the best around. I'm calling this one another push.

Verdict: Push

Special Teams

UGA returns a pretty good placekicker in Blair Walsh. However, their return units were a liability last season, and they'll have to prove they can improve in those areas this year. Carolina has similar questions and lacks the returning kicker, so I'll give UGA a slight advantage here.

Verdict: Slight advantage Georgia

Head Coaches

Although he's yet to win a national title, Mark Richt has been one of the most consistent coaches in the SEC while at Georgia and has one of the highest winning percentages in school history. In a way, that makes him a lot like Steve Spurrier at Florida before Spurrier won the national title in 1996, as Spurrier had up until that point been a coach that won lots of games and often got his team in position to compete for national titles but usually ended up dropping a game he should have won. My thinking is that Richt will put together that perfect season one day; a coach doesn't put his team in the top 10 as consistently as Richt does without finally having a season when the ball rolls his way. In terms of comparing the two, you can put me in the camp that believes that Spurrier still has his coaching chops, but the fact that Spurrier hasn't managed to really do much since he left Florida in 2001 means that advantage here has to go to Richt, who still appears to be at the height of his powers.

Verdict: Slight advantage Georgia

Overall

We and our coach tend to be at the top of our game when facing the 'Dawgs. However, Georgia does have more talent than us at most positions. They also have more depth than us, although I think the gap has closed somewhat and, at any rate, depth shouldn't matter too much in the second game of the season. All of that means that a victory in this game, especially considering it's in Athens, would be an unqualified upset. I think the game will be close and that we'll have a chance to win it late, but I can't bring myself to predict a victory at this point. After we've seen how these two teams play in their season openers, maybe we can revise that.

Prediction: Georgia wins by a touchdown

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