The impressive numbers speak for themselves for offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and Co. at Georgia. In five weeks, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have formed the country’s best backfield duo and have done so as freshmen. Sprinkle in Aaron Murray, a veteran quarterback who has a chance to shatter every passing record at Georgia, and it’s clear to see why the Bulldogs have scored a school-record 40 or more points in every game this season.
But what happens when a prolific offense gets thrown off course? Will the Bulldogs be able to keep the nation’s most well-balanced attack clicking Saturday night in Columbia?
Several outliers will affect Georgia’s ability to sustain drives, starting with South Carolina’s physical front four, the strongest unit of Lorenzo Ward’s attacking defense. What the Gamecocks lack in size and strength compared to Georgia’s three monstrous run-stoppers — John Jenkins, Kwame Geathers and Abry Jones — they make up for with speed and athleticism. All-American candidate bookends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor are two of the best pass-rushers the Bulldogs will face this season, and they happen to be on the same team.
We all remember Clowney’s fourth-quarter rag doll sack of Murray in Athens last season, a play that resulted in a scoop-and-score for first-round pick Melvin Ingram and ultimately clinched the win for the Gamecocks. But are the Bulldogs ready for Taylor, a 6-foot-8 senior with a knack for batting down passes at the line of scrimmage? Taylor has one of the SEC’s longest wingspans and single-handedly disrupts running plays to the right side of the field. UGA’s Gurley and Marshall’s expertise between the tackles and not outside could be Georgia’s best feasible option on the ground.
South Carolina will look to stop the run first and if that happens, touchdown drives — and UGA’s shot at staying unbeaten — falls on Murray. How has the junior signal-caller performed throughout his career against quality competition? Not well. Last season, more than half (19) of Murray’s 35 touchdown passes came against Coastal Carolina, New Mexico, Georgia Tech, Auburn and Vanderbilt. Against Mississippi State, LSU and Michigan State — all ranked teams — Murray’s numbers were a pedestrian 5 TDs and 7 INTs.
He’s 0-2 against the Gamecocks, winless in bowls and has never won a road game against a ranked SEC team. In all, UGA is just 2-8 against ranked teams with Murray under center. If the passing game is forced to beat South Carolina, that would spell trouble for Georgia. South Carolina’s much-maligned first-team secondary coming into the season without Stephon Gilmore and Antonio Allen has fared better than expected thus far with just two touchdowns allowed through the air but haven’t been largely tested yet. The Gamecocks’ three linebackers are each multi-year senior starters and leaders on defense.
As Georgia coach Mark Richt would attest, this weekend’s road trip is likely the Bulldogs’ toughest test this season. UGA has one other ranked team on the schedule (Florida) and faces two of the West’s worst down the stretch. Saturday would mark Murray’s best collegiate win and one that could impact the Bulldogs’ run to an SEC and perhaps, BCS title.