After a disheartening home opening loss to Kentucky, the South Carolina Gamecocks head to Athens as 17 point underdogs to face the #7 Georgia Bulldogs. If Gallup polled the Gamecock faithful today, you'd get three predictions for this weekend's game: The realistic third of us would suggest it'll be a close one, but that Georgia is too much to overcome. The unwavering optimistic third believe last week's loss was on purpose to set ourselves up for a remarkable upset that has Dawg nation forgetting about any hope of beating Alabama and instead cursing Mark Richt out of town. And the frightened third won't turn on their television sets at 6 pm or even retrieve their Sunday newspaper from their driveway for fear of utter humiliation.
I don't know where I sit on this spectrum, and have no idea what will happen Saturday evening. But anyway, here are three keys to the game and a prediction.
Three Keys to Victory:
1. Protect Perry. I've fallen in love with Perry Orth. For his first three years on the Gamecocks' roster, I was trying to figure out why he was there, but in the past two weeks, I've quickly started to believe the 6-1, 203 pound former walk-on is the Gamecocks' savior. If you don't believe in fate, start now, because it's fate that made underdog Perry Orth our starter in the Gamecocks first road game of the year.
While his cinderella trek from grocery bagger to Division I starting quarterback is all fine and good, it doesn't mean a lick if the Gamecocks don't protect him. Pass blocking hasn't been a glaring issue so far for the o-line, but this is their truest test yet. And protecting Perry means more than just the offensive line creating a nice pocket for him to throw in.
Protecting Orth will be in the hands of everyone involved in the offense. Receivers can't afford to drop passes. Running backs can't miss blocking assignments or fumble the ball. And Spurrier and the staff need to have a game plan in place that gives Lorenzo Nunez a chance to produce meaningful yards. Balancing the right amount of responsibility for Orth will put the Gamecocks offense in a nice position to try to win the possession battle, convert on third down and move the ball up the field.
2. A ready defense. After last week, it's pretty clear this Jekyll and Hyde defense needs to stop if the Gamecocks want to win football games. If disguising the coverage has been the key to second half success for the defense, then why not try it out from the get go?
We all know the Georgia running backs are no joke and this game could be lost in the first quarter if the defense fails to make the initial tackle and gives up chunks of yards on the ground. The Gamecocks defense gives up an SEC-worst 5.8 yards per carry, while the Bulldog backs average over 6.5 a touch, so it's unrealistic to expect our defense to shut out the Georgia backs completely, but slowing them down in the first half will put the pressure on Greyson Lambert to attack with his arm, something that's been so-so in his first two games.
The fan base is tired of begging this defense to step up, and the second half against Kentucky really showed what the unit is made of when at its best. Now the pressure is on for them to prove they're capable of stringing together four quarters.
3a. Timely trickery. Whether it's a fake punt or field goal or just going for it on every fourth down that's somewhat near mid-field, an unconventional Spurrier will need to be in full effect Saturday. A successful trick play not only swings the all-important MO over to the Gamecocks, but it also quiets down the Georgia crowd just that little bit. While you can't rely on trickery to win you a game, that one successful attempt can alter the outcome drastically. That said, the Gamecocks will need to be on their toes for Georgia to do the same. Trick plays are worthless if you can't stop the other team's.
3b. The kicking game. Sean Kelly has come up big so far in his little time as Gamecocks punter. He's had success pinning teams deep and avoiding the touchback, and if he's able to continue that trend, it'll allow the defense to play with a little more aggression. As for field goals, Elliott Fry came out confident in the second half against Kentucky after a miss in the second quarter. It's very possible we see more drives that come up short of the end zone, and we can't afford to leave points on the table.
This game is a match-up between reality and history. The reality is South Carolina's overall defense hasn't look all that improved from its bottom dwelling ranking of last year. Reality is throwing a former walk-on quarterback on the field in Athens and is telling him to make his first start in front of a rowdy 90,000 plus enemies who want to see him fail. Reality says blowout.
History tells us that Spurrier is 16-6 all-time against the Bulldogs. History says that South Carolina has beaten Georgia four out of the last five. History shows that Steve Spurrier thrives as the underdog and that the last time he faced a spread this big, he came within a 4th quarter Dylan Thompson interception of beating Auburn.
Predicting this game is based off what you believe. Do you believe what your eyes have shown you the first two games, or do you believe the books?
Georgia 38 - South Carolina 24.