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South Carolina at Georgia: Keys and a pick

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Calling this a tough one might be an understatement.

Much of this game will come down to whether Jake Bentley can be poised and accurate.
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

This week, the South Carolina Gamecocks are in Athens to take on Georgia, which has climbed to the No. 1 ranking in the land and looks as fearsome as ever with a lockdown defense to match that loaded backfield. Even with Clemson on the schedule, this is likely the hardest game South Carolina will play all year.

The keys

Limit the damage on the ground. There’s a reason I phrased it that way and not “Stop the run,” because frankly, that’s impossible. Georgia is a power-running team that has steamrolled its competition so far, averaging 284 rushing yards per game (good for second in the SEC behind Alabama). The Bulldogs have a stable of elite backs — Nick Chubb, the SEC’s rushing leader with 765 yards, and Sony Michel are going to be productive, and freshmen like D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield can make plays, too. You just have to hope the bend-but-don’t-break defensive philosophy can keep that somewhat at bay. The Gamecocks will need to dial up some red-zone stops if they want to pull off the upset.

Make Jake Fromm get involved. Fromm, a true freshman, has done an admirable and impressive job of stepping in for Jacob Eason and helping the Bulldogs to their undefeated start. But Georgia also hasn’t asked him to do very much, as evidenced by his seven (7!) passing attempts in a blowout victory against Florida. A key for any team looking to knock off the Bulldogs is to be disruptive, force passing downs, and bait him into some freshman mistakes. Much, much easier said than done, because no one has accomplished it yet. The Gamecocks need a pass rush and to get into the backfield, which ties back into the first point of limiting Georgia’s run game.

Keep the chains moving. Another method to avoid getting gashed on the ground is simply to play keep-away. It’s going to require the Gamecocks’ most complete offensive effort of the year, but they need to keep the chains and the clock moving as much as possible when they have the ball. Jake Bentley needs to be poised and accurate from the opening kickoff — South Carolina can’t afford a sluggish first quarter from him — receivers need to make the catch when the ball hits them in the hands, the run game needs to continue being effective, the offensive line (which at least is finally healthy) needs to provide adequate protection...yeah, it’s quite the list. The Gamecocks’ offense has shown encouraging flashes throughout the season, but has been inconsistent and far too prone to lightning-quick three-and-outs. Empty possessions that only take 20-30 seconds off the clock simply can’t happen.

Come up with a big play or two on special teams. This is a tough ask without Deebo Samuel to boost the return game, but the ingredients to a successful upset often include a key moment on special teams. Bare minimum, the Gamecocks can’t afford to leave points on the field with missed field goals, so Parker White must continue his recent improvement there — and as we all know, a missed extra point can come back to haunt, too. South Carolina’s punting unit also needs to flip the field on Georgia whenever possible so the Bulldogs aren’t starting drives inside or on the verge of plus territory. But what could really make a difference is scooping up a muffed kick, blocking a Bulldogs field goal, or having a few great returns that make things a little easier on the offense. I’m aware of lot this can come down to luck, but well, sometimes that’s what you need.

The pick

I’ve got a bad feeling about this one. Georgia 42, South Carolina 13.