Hey guys, welcome back to the weekly Q&A. We had some questions leading up to the game, so here are the answers.
1. If South Carolina does somehow limit Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, can Jacob Fromm be trusted to win the game?
He can indeed. He's not been perfect this season. He had a bad interception deep in Georgia territory against Missouri. And there was a miscommunication with Sony Michel which led to another bad pick against Florida. But Fromm's 171.86 quarterback rating continues to lead the SEC (Jake Bentley's 137.20 is a solid seventh among full-time starters) he's averaging right at 10 yards per attempt, and has thrown 13 touchdown passes versus only 4 interceptions. He threw for 326 yards against Missouri, 201 against Mississippi State. He's going to make a mistake here and there. But the overall body of work stacks up against just about anyone in the conference.
It's not that Fromm can't throw the ball. Had his high school team made it a little further in the playoffs last season he actually would have topped Deshaun Watson's Georgia high school passing record, and if you saw him at the Army All-American Game or Elite 11 you know he can spin it. Fromm reminds a lot of Georgia fans of Aaron Murray, and given that Murray is still the league's all-time leading passer, that's high praise.
But the thing is . . . Jake Fromm doesn't need to throw it. Because if you're Jim Chaney and you've built a big, deep offensive line capable of mashing people up front for any one of the five blue chip tailbacks Georgia plays every game, you run the ball. It would be dumb not to. And if you likewise have a defense and special teams units that have staked you to a halftime lead in every game but one this season, not doing so borders on professional malpractice.
Opposing defenders keep saying in interviews that Fromm can't throw the ball. I think what's happening is that coaches are telling their teams that if they can just stop the rushing attack they can beat Georgia. It's a good motivational point. And stopping the rushing attack is a good place to start. But no amount of goading is going to convince Chaney to put the ball in the air until he finds a defense who can stop his team on the ground. They're averaging 284 yards rushing per game, so if the Gamecocks do it they'll be the first.
2. Is there even a slight part of Georgia fans that are scared about this game?
We're Georgia fans. Creeping dread is our baseline state. For 37 years we've seen football teams that are more often than not pretty good but rarely close to being the best. And for a decade and a half under Mark Richt the culprit for that state of affairs was often a letdown game against an underdog opponent, which more than once hailed from the friendly confines of Richland County. So yeah, a large part of the Georgia fan base is worried about this one. They're worried about how the team will react to suddenly being hailed as the #1 team in the country. They're worried about South Carolina bringing their best shot in an attempt to take down the #1 ranked team in the playoff rankings.
3. What player for the Gamecocks worries you the most?
Skai Moore worries me a little in the sense that if Jake Fromm's going to throw a bone-headed interception Moore is likely to be on the receiving end. Dante Sawyer worries me because a good game from him in the Gwinnett County product's own backyard could slow down the Georgia rushing attack. Jake Bentley worries me in that if he gets time to throw and gets hot he could actually put up some numbers against the UGA secondary. Will Muschamp worries me in the sense that if I get too close to him I might lose a hand.
4. What position group would be considered the weakest, even though all around Georgia is solid?
If Georgia has a weakness it may be in the defensive secondary. Senior safety Dominick Sanders is closing in on the all-time UGA interception record and corner Deandre Baker has emerged as the best cover guy in the unit. But Kirby Smart is still trying to build the overall size of the group. For now Georgia is a little susceptible to big, physical wide receivers. Missouri demonstrated this three weeks ago in Athens, becoming the only team so far to pass for more than 200 yards against the Bulldogs in 2017.
5. Other than stopping the rushing attack from UGA, what do the Gamecocks need to do win?
Play well on special teams. Georgia has allowed only 6 punt returns all season for a total of 9 punt return yards. Rodrigo Blankenship is 10 of 11 on field goals and is putting close to 80% of kickoffs in the end zone (at one point this season he kicked 14 straight touchbacks). South Carolina will not score a ton on this Georgia defense if it has to go 75 yards every time. By contrast, sophomore Mecole Hardman is averaging about 10.3 yards per punt return and hasn't made a lot of mistakes in deciding when to return it and when to let it go. An overlooked reason for Georgia's success this season has been an overwhelming advantage in field position. South Carolina must buck that trend to have a shot in this one.
6. The spread on this game is 24 points in favor of Georgia. Is that fair? Or, should the Gamecocks be closer to the 17-point mark?
If you look at common opponents it should probably be higher. The demoralized Tennessee team that the Gamecocks beat 15-9 in Neyland was two weeks removed from being shut out 41-0 by Georgia on the same field. The Vanderbilt team that South Carolina had some trouble with in Columbia was pummeled 45-14 in Nashville by Georgia. And Missouri was a fourth quarter touchdown from falling by 32 to Georgia. If South Carolina lost by 24 it would be the closest a conference foe has played the Bulldogs all season.
That being said, Georgia's not covering that spread. I just feel it in my bones. Too many distractions, too much emotional energy expended in Jacksonville. Take the points and remember me fondly when you cash out.
7. What part of the South Carolina defense seems to have the biggest hole that Georgia can expose?
The exterior rush defense. South Carolina is fast in the linebacking corps and at defensive end but not terribly big. Georgia has been very good this season running to the B and C gaps, using the fullback, and getting big offensive linemen out on the perimeter in front of big tailbacks.
8. What’s your score prediction?
I think Jake Fromm does something freshmany early and South Carolina capitalizes. But this Bulldog team has a way of smothering opponents as the game wears on with a big play here, a turnover there, and always the running. Look for the Bulldogs to pull away in unspectacular fashion and win it 34-20.