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South Carolina vs. Georgia: Keys and a pick

Do you believe in miracles?

Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

I dunno about y’all, but it feels like this has been a very, very long week. While it was nice to savor a satisfying and stress-free home opener over Coastal Carolina, tomorrow’s date with Georgia Bulldogs started to loom large immediately after the final whistle against the Chants. This is one of the biggest games the South Carolina Gamecocks will play all season — if not its biggest, given the SEC East implications it carries. It’s nice to have some meaningful football in Columbia again, but it also comes with no small measure of anxiety. So, let’s get down to it.

The keys

Maximize possessions: Quite simply, the Gamecocks can’t afford to “poop around,” as an old coach once said. They need to score early to crank up the pressure on the Georgia, and alleviate said pressure on their own defense by finding ways to sustain drives. Last year in Athens, South Carolina often looked content to just not lose by a billion points, avoiding risks and just kicking (and missing!) field goals instead. The Gamecocks had a handful of fourth down conversions against Coastal last week, and that’s exactly the kind of mentality they’ll need to bring against Georgia. South Carolina truly has nothing to lose here, so play like it.

Get Georgia off the field on third down: This is easier said than done, as the Dawgs boast a formidable offensive line, excellent running game, and one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC. The Gamecocks will need to consistently win some battles on the line of scrimmage to shorten Georgia’s drives, which again, is a tall order. In last season’s matchup, the Bulldogs were 8-of-13 on third down (and converted a fourth down as well), which just can’t happen if you’re hoping to spring the upset. South Carolina’s defense will need to dig deep, especially in the heat and humidity.

Don’t let the moment get too big: Against Clemson last year, the Gamecocks were all fired up and ready to rumble — which was great, except they immediately took themselves out of the game with emotional and foolish plays that quickly snowballed. To a lesser extent, we saw a similar issue against Kentucky, when the Wildcats came in and spoiled the home opener for an overconfident South Carolina. The Gamecocks have to find a way to productively use that energy while keeping an even keel. This is big for quarterback Jake Bentley, who has been prone to getting the yips in big games, but honestly applies to the team as a whole.

The pick

With two young defenses and two experienced offenses full of dynamic personnel, I think this could become a shootout. While I worry that South Carolina won’t be able to keep up with Georgia for all four quarters, I do think the Gamecocks will make life difficult for the Dawgs regardless. I’ve been waffling all week on my predictions, and still have a feeling Georgia comes away victorious. Ask me right before kickoff, and I’ll probably have changed my mind again. But in this particular space, I’ll go ahead and give in to optimism: I’ll say the miracle happens and South Carolina gets a 31-28 signature win for Will Muschamp.