It's time for Carolina's annual game against Georgia. With the Gamecocks' success over the past four seasons, this rivalry has never been more exciting. Will the 2014 edition live up to standard?
Three Keys to Victory
3. Take a lead into the half
Regardless of how Carolina's offense plays, heading into halftime with a lead is obviously premised on Carolina's defense keeping Georgia's offense from setting up residence in the end zone, which is a doubtful proposition. However, if the Gamecocks can figure out how to do so and can score enough points themselves to make UGA feel a little pressure in the third quarter, Carolina may be able to force Mark Richt and Mike Bobo to test Hutson Mason's arm to get them back into the game.
As 'Hoops documented earlier this week, Mason contributed little value to Georgia's win over Clemson. He didn't have to, because Georgia's defense and running game carried the load in the second half, but can Mason carry his team in the second half in a hostile road environment? That's a question I'd like to know the answer to. If he can, credit to him and UGA, but I'd rather see us force UGA to go to Mason than to be able to ride out the second half on the legs of Todd Gurley and the rest of UGA's uber-talented group of tailbacks.
In this scenario, things would be particularly tough for Mason because UGA is likely without its top receiving threats in this game.
2. Establish balance and sustain long drives on offense
As we've discussed thoroughly here at GABA, time of possession is an extremely important metric for this offense, not just because we want to see Carolina punish opposing defenses but also because we want to limit the time spent on the field for Carolina's defense. UGA is going to try to punish Carolina's defense with the running game. They're probably going to have plenty of success, but Carolina's offense may be able to help limit that success by giving the defense plenty of rest. Carolina also wants to limit possessions in a game where UGA is likely to have more and more success over time on offense.
Consider the Dawgs' last game. UGA took over the Clemson game when the Clemson offense began repeatedly going three-and-out in the second half. The Clemson defense wore out and collapsed after having moderate success in the first half. As a team whose offense revolves around the running game, this was a dream scenario. It's the scenario that Carolina's offense must prevent. I think we have a superior offense to Clemson, and the game is at home whereas Clemson had to play in Athens, but can our offense have enough success in this regard to really help out the defense?
How to sustain drives? Obviously, the running game is important, but Dylan also has to throw much more accurately on the intermediate passes. Last year, Connor Shaw was adept in extending drives in third-and-passing situations by either running for the first down or throwing for it. Dylan isn't going to scramble for many third-and-long first downs, so we have to rely on his arm. On many of the drives where Carolina has been forced off the field in third-and-long situations so far this year, the pass for the first down has been there, but Dylan hasn't throw the ball accurately. That has to change this weekend.
1. Limit Gurley
This one is tied to number three. If we let this game turn into the reverse of the 2010 game, when Marcus Lattimore wore out the Georgia defense in his coming-out performance, we're going to lose. This is what Georgia is going to try to do. Lorenzo Ward needs to scheme aggressively against the run to try to set up more passing downs for UGA.
An undernoted aspect of this approach is that it's going to put pressure on the safeties. If Carolina stacks the box but Gurley or one of his compatriots still manages to get to the second level, the safeties (or corners, if it's a run to the edge; UGA likes the toss sweep) have to make the tackle in space and prevent the big play. That means Carolina's safeties must play much better than they have thus far.
My heart says Carolina, and I don't think my head completely disagrees. I think we may be ascribing too much to an UGA team that still has a lot to prove in fearing that the Dawgs will blow us out.
Still, UGA has clearly looked head and shoulders better than Carolina so far this year, so I have trouble rationalizing a Carolina victory...
oh, to hell with it. Carolina wins 35-30. It'll take more than the current conditions for me to pick UGA over us.
Go 'Cocks! Cheer your hearts out tomorrow!