I hope the South Carolina Gamecocks enjoyed their bye week, because they get a heckuva welcome back to football when they take on the No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs between the hedges tomorrow afternoon. With this game traditionally played at the beginning of the season, mid-October is weird timing — and as a result, we have a lot more knowledge about these teams than we’re used to, and the Gamecocks will certainly have their hands full.
Establish the run. It’s finally kinda happening: South Carolina’s run game is not abysmal. With a renewed Rico Dowdle and a capable Tavien Feaster taking the reins, the Gamecocks’ rushing attack can actually be sorta relied upon to extend drives and help the quarterback. That help will be much needed and appreciated here, as the Gamecocks can’t afford to get too one-dimensional against a stingy Georgia defense. With Ryan Hilinski so young and still developing, I’m sure the Bulldogs will be trying to get after him early and often in a raucous road environment, so it’s critical for the ground game to keep them even a little honest. Dowdle’s health will be the biggest factor here, as he went down late against Kentucky but is allegedly fine. (I say “allegedly” not to borrow trouble, but only because Will Muschamp’s idea of an injury report is frustratingly vague, to say the least.)
Play loose. Much like the Alabama game, South Carolina has truly nothing to lose here. Against the Tide, we saw a more creative and risk-taking philosophy from the normally conservative coaching staff, and I’m curious about how much of that will make the trip to Athens. You can’t hope to spring an upset without a bit of a free-wheeling approach, and the Georgia game in particular is very important to the fan base. Not only that, it’s important to the team, too — the majority of USC’s out-of-state players hail from Georgia, and as we all know, the Gamecocks have a pair of Bulldog alums on staff in Will Muschamp and Bryan McClendon. If USC has trouble getting motivated for this one, that’s a bad sign indeed. No one expects South Carolina to win here, but program observers will certainly expect to see a competitive effort on display.
Force some turnovers. Easier said than done, but another crucial part of the upset formula. Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm has famously not thrown an interception yet this year, which is an admirable streak but also doomed to be broken at some point (right?). Of course, the Gamecocks don’t necessarily need interceptions in particular — fumbles, missed field goals, and turnovers on downs will fit the bill as well. It goes without saying South Carolina needs to play mistake-free football, but if it wants to shock the world, Georgia can’t turn in a clean sheet too.
It’s a little crazy to reflect on how it wasn’t too long ago that the Gamecocks had won four out of their past five against the Bulldogs, and looked to have something of an upper-hand in what has been a competitive series over the past 15 or so years. Unfortunately, since 2015, it’s been all Georgia — and I don’t see that changing in 2019. The Dawgs are the class of the East, with Kirby Smart’s recruiting prowess setting them up for the years to come, and South Carolina just doesn’t have the depth or talent to hang in there right now. I hope USC can at least beat that ghastly 24-point spread, but after a potentially close first half, I imagine the Dawgs will cruise with a 35-17, 31-14 victory.