A huge SEC East match-up awaits Saturday, as No. 11 Georgia and No. 6 South Carolina will face off in Athens. The Bulldogs will be seeking to rebound from last week's 38-35 loss to then-No. 8 Clemson, while the Gamecocks will look to start their SEC championship hopes off right with a win on the road.
Our SB Nation blogs have been covering the game all week. Let's see what they had to say.
Georgia's keys to the game
1. The young Dawgs gave up 467 yards of offense to Clemson. Talented as the Tigers might be, allowing those kinds of numbers consistently won't help Georgia contend in the SEC. Dawg Sports felt like Georgia's defense struggled the most up front, and that getting better play there will be crucial:
We didn't get good pressure on Boyd, didn't bring him down on the occasions we got pressure in his face, and gave up some big plays in the running game. I'm hoping that bigger DL like Chris Mayes and John Taylor were schemed out from Clemson's up-tempo style, and they'll play more this week adding a more physical element than I saw in the Upstate.
But South Carolina, imo, has the better OL than the Tigers. They are more physical, and Shaw is just as effective with his legs as Boyd. We saw what a physical OL can do against Georgia in the SEC Championship, and if South Carolina is what I think they are offensively, that's a very problematic style for Georgia right now.
2. Even before their defense, though, concern 1A for the Bulldogs will be South Carolina defensive end Jadaveon Clowney. He even has people praying to higher powers -- and while that may have been an ESPN stunt, let's not kid ourselves. The all-world, all-universe edge rusher probably has at least a few fans saying their prayers.
Still, he won't be the only one chasing after Aaron Murray, and to focus too much on him might be a huge mistake. Garnet and Black Attack names a few others on defense who could be impact players on Saturday:
On the defensive line, Chaz Sutton, Kelcy Quarles, and Darius English are all players to keep your eyes on in addition to Clowney. These are all playmakers who can get into the backfield and be disruptive, and they all get a lot of beneficial matchups because of all the attention given to Clowney.
3. Georgia lost top receiver Malcolm Mitchell to an ACL tear last week, but Dawg Sports feels like it won't be a crippling loss:
Mitchell hurts a decent bit. He's a good playmaker, and his speed forces teams to respect the deep ball or get burned. Clemson stacked the box a lot, and we couldn't back them off without Mitchell. But then, Chris Conley has plenty of speed, and freshman Reggie Davis was talked about all camp as the fastest player on the team. We've got enough weapons offensively that losing Mitchell shouldn't hurt much.
South Carolina's keys to the game
1. Pretty much every phase of the Georgia offense is dangerous. With Aaron Murray slinging the ball and the combination of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall in the backfield, it's usually a pick-your-poison type of situation for opponents. The Gamecocks will be counting on big games from the linebacking corps to slow half of that equation. Here's more from the Garnet and Black Attack on the linebackers:
At linebacker, the starters are Kaiwan Lewis at ILB, Marquis Roberts or Cedrick Cooper (Cooper was injured last week) at OLB, and Sharrod Golightly at spur. The linebacking corps had a decent game against UNC, whose perimeter passing game tested its ability to shed blocks, take good angles, and finish tackles. There were some mistakes here and there, but the overall results were positive.
One of the stories of the week was the play of true freshman linebacker Skai Moore, who moved up the depth chart at OLB due to the injury to Cooper. Moore finished with six tackles, one for a loss, and highly impressed the coaching staff.
Obviously, it will be very interesting to see if our linebacking corps is able to contain Gurshall this weekend. We had success keeping the UGA tailbacks from breaking outside for big runs last year, and it will be a challenge to do so again.
2. Offensively, the Gamecocks will look to utilize running back Mike Davis, but they'll be counting on some help for him outside too. Garnet and Black Attack had some thoughts on the non-Davis options:
South Carolina hopes that Shaq Roland can be the go-to receiver, but his performance remains uneven. He had a big catch at the beginning of the game against UNC, but later dropped what would have been a second touchdown pass. Consistency is a major issue for him. [Bruce] Ellington is a more proven commodity. He was somewhat limited with injury last week, but should be ready to play a bigger role against UGA. He's not a big player, obviously, but has breakaway speed to get over the top of the defense and shows a lot of elusiveness gaining yards after the catch. [Damiere] Byrd is the fastest player on the team and is great for going over the top; Carolina would like him to show more versatility and do additional things, though. Nick Jones is a solid possession receiver. Kane Whitehurst and K.J. Brent both had solid catches against UNC. The TEs are also very dangerous, particularly if Busta Anderson returns from injury this week.
3. Although Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is far more hyped, he threw a crucial interception last weekend against Clemson -- plays that Connor Shaw usually is able to avoid. As long as he is able to continue doing so, the Gamecocks should have a good shot at winning, argues the Garnet and Black Attack:
Shaw is not an elite passing QB. His arm strength is slightly lower than what you would like, particularly intermediate throws where zip is required, and he sometimes doesn't see open receivers down field, either due to height or because he tends to take off running as soon as he feels pressure.
What makes Shaw valuable is that he doesn't make mistakes. South Carolina's defenses have been good enough the past two years to win most games as long as the offense doesn't turn the ball over, and Shaw is an exceptionally mistake-free QB.
Second of all, if he's not an elite passer, he's proven to be good enough to keep defenses honest. He's accurate on deep throws over the top, is reasonably efficient on the intermediate routes, and knows how to keep the chains moving by dumping the ball off to his check-down targets. Lastly, his running ability opens the zone-read up and allows him to keep the chains moving on scrambles. In short, his style of play may not lead to many "wow" moments, but it's remarkably efficient and helps us win games.