This post continues my series previewing our 2013 matchups. Today, we're talking about our week-two opponent, the Georgia Bulldogs. As always, this is a big game. Interestingly, losing it hasn't cost the Dawgs an SEC Championship berth the past two years, partly because Georgia had easier schedules than us both years. This year, we could be the team that loses the big game and then sneaks into Atlanta, as we'll have a much easier road than Georgia after the head-to-head contest. Still, it's a game we want to win badly. It's remains safe to say that the game could potentially be the difference-maker in the East standings. Moreover, if we win, we'll be staring down a very real chance to make it to Atlanta undefeated, as we'll likely be favored in the rest of our games. How incredible would that be? This game against UGA is our swing game, the one that will mark the difference between a very good and a truly great season.
The story for Georgia going into this season is inexperience on defense. The Dawgs lost twelve major contributors, seven to the NFL Draft. They lost their four leading tacklers. They lost their big uglies at NT, a hugely important position in their scheme. They lost Jarvis Jones, a player who at times took games over on his own. The good news for UGA is that the Dawgs have plenty of talent waiting in the wings to replace their departed stars. For instance, Ray Drew, "the pastor of pass rush," should replace Jones as a terror for SEC quarterbacks.
The trick for the Dawgs, though, is that it will take time for their inexperienced defense to gel, but the Dawgs don't have time on their side--they open with Clemson and South Carolina. Both Palmetto State squads have dangerous offenses that could score tons of points on the young Dawgs defense. If the defense indeed struggles out of the gate, UGA could easily open 0-2. That leaves the national title off the table, and likely the SEC East, too, as while South Carolina might be able to play catchup in the division after losing this game due to its easier schedule, it will be harder for UGA to do so.
Of course, South Carolina has defensive issues of its own to solve, particularly losing all of its experience at linebacker. Given Georgia's experience and wide array of weapons on offense, this game is going to be a huge test for our defense, too. The thought of our young linebacking corps trying to handle "Gurshall," on the one hand, and UGA's athletic TEs, on the other hand, is a frightening prospect.
This is all to say that this game likely isn't going to be one of those defensive slugfests this series is so known for. The winning team might be the one that gets the ball last. It might also be the one that struggles the least, the one that gathers just enough defensive gusto to make enough plays to shut down a couple of the opponent's drives. It might also be the team that creates a couple of game-shifting turnovers. In the latter two scenarios, the fact that we have a game-changer in Jadeveon Clowney who can both mask some of our other weaknesses and create momentum-shifting turnovers will play in our favor. Of course, Mike Bobo and Mark Richt will presumably have plenty up their sleeve to try to take Clowney out of plays, and it will be up to Lorenzo Ward to try to counter their strategies. Who wins that coaching battle may go a long way towards deciding this game, which looks like a complete tossup to me. Unfortunately, the burden on our coaches and players will be all the greater because the game is in Athens, and if the UGA faithful aren't prepared to yell at a team that's won three in a row against them, I'll be very surprised.