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No. 24 South Carolina vs. No. 3 Georgia: Preview, game notes and more

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Grab the popcorn.

NCAA Football: Coastal Carolina at South Carolina Brian Westerholt-USA TODAY Sports

No. 24 South Carolina Gamecocks vs. No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs

Saturday, September 1, 2018 | 3:30 p.m. ET

All-time series: South Carolina trails 18-50-2

It’s hard to argue against the fact that this is one of the most significant home games for the Gamecocks in some time.

Nationally televised game on CBS, the network’s first trip to Willy B since 2014? Check. Divisional matchup? Check. Ranked opponent that came a play away from a national championship? Check. Sellout crowd? Check.

Gamecocks fans always have the date circled on their calendars when they face the team upstate, and even more so when the Tigers make the trip down to Columbia as they did last year. But as far as significance? Tough to top. This is a game that, if Carolina wins as a double-digit underdog, can set the tone for the entire rest of the season and potentially show that the gap between them and the top of the division isn’t as wide as it once was.

Or, of course, be later followed up with a frustrating loss in a game they should have won.

What to know about Georgia

NCAA Football: Austin Peay at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Kirby Smart has immediately made an impression on the Georgia program: not only has he been able to recruit at a high level - probably as well, if not a little better, than former boss Nick Saban at Alabama - but he was able to lead the Dawgs to the national championship game in Atlanta last season. Of course, when Georgia held a 20-10 lead and looked as if they’d bring the trophy to Athens, we all knew that the game was far from over.

Well, almost all of us. We all know the rest of the story, and about an hour later Saban had bested one of his former assistants again like he always does. Where will the Dawgs be headed in year two of the Smart era? That remains to be seen.

Names to know on offense

Two big names you need to know that aren’t with the team anymore: Sony Michel and Nick Chubb. Make it three, as Jacob Eason was the odd man out in the quarterback battle and ended up transferring to Washington. That means that Jake Fromm will be calling the shots behind center in 2018. He was pretty good (12-16, 157 yards, 2 TDs) last week against Austin Peay, and while he won’t put up monster yardage (he threw for 326 against Mizzou, with his second highest yardage total of 232 coming in the CFP national championship against Bama), he’s pretty accurate and for the most part plays mistake-free (24 touchdowns to just 7 picks last year; 62.2% completion percentage). You hear the term “game manager” thrown around a lot, but that’s not always a bad thing as we’re seeing with Fromm.

At running back, D’Andre Swift will have big shoes to fill as RB1, but last year (81 carries, 618 yards, 3 TDs) showed that the Dawgs should be OK at that spot. James Cook looked good when he got in against Austin Peay, but with him suspended for the first half against the Gamecocks after having a targeting call upheld last game, I don’t think we see too much of him unless it’s a blowout in the 4th quarter. Elijah Holyfield (yes, Evander’s son) didn’t see a ton of action last week but should get a few more touches on Saturday. At wideout, I’d keep my eyes peeled for former high school QB-turned WR Mecole Hardman and Riley Ridley, while Swift should get some looks in the passing game.

Names to know on defense

Of course, Smart’s a defensive coach, and it showed as the Dawgs finished 2017 ranked third in our friend Bill Connelly’s S&P+ ratings. The thing is, a good number of players from that team are gone: Roquan Smith, Lorenzo Carter, Aaron Davis being the most notable. That’s not to say Georgia doesn’t have talent returning and coming in. Tyler Clark, Julian Rochester and Jonathan Ledbetter make up an experienced defensive front, while DeAndre Baker and J.R. Reed are the key components of a secondary that includes 5-star freshman recruit Tyson Campbell. The big question will be at the linebacker slots with Smith and Carter gone, so we’ll see how Mel Tucker rotates sophomores Walter Grant and Monty Rice with a pair of seniors in Keyon Richardson (formerly Brown) and Natrez Patrick, with D’Andre Walker, Tae Crowder and Juwan Taylor rounding out the unit.

I’ll leave you with this: