Georgia football: Despite 2-3 start, South Carolina has enough talent to hurt Bulldogs
It seems like ages since No. 3 Georgia has played at Sanford Stadium. On Saturday, though, it returns between the hedges to take on a 2-3 South Carolina team that is coming off an open week and facing the first of 2 consecutive opponents ranked in the top 10.
The schedule was always set up to be unusually tough for Will Muschamp’s team: The Gamecocks already played No. 1 Alabama at home, will host No. 7 Florida on Oct. 19, and still have games against a fringe Top 25 team in Appalachian State, No. 24 Texas A&M and No. 2 Clemson remaining. While the Bulldogs should match up well with the Gamecocks and improve to 6-0, there are a host of players that they’ll need to keep close tabs on if they’re to remain perfect.
The Hilinski factor: How can Georgia keep Ryan Hilinski off balance?
For the second consecutive game, the Bulldogs will face a true freshman quarterback in Ryan Hilinski. But unlike against Brian Maurer and Tennessee, the California native — who was on Kirby Smart and Georgia’s recruiting radar — is not an unknown quantity as he’s started the past 4 games in place of an injured Jake Bentley. He’s shown great poise and capability to lead this offense, but he’s still a freshman prone to making mistakes when pressured.
Georgia did a good job containing Maurer on Saturday, ending the night with 3 sacks — 2 by Azeez Ojulari and 1 on a big hit by Eric Stokes that was returned for a touchdown by Tae Crowder. It will need to have the same response for the entire game against Hilinski. He cooled down against Missouri and Kentucky, but he threw for 324 yards and 2 TDs against Alabama.
“He went out and played one of the elite defenses in the country and spun the ball as good as anybody,” Smart said in his weekly press conference on Monday. “He’s got a great release, he’s got intuition on throws, he’s very instinctive. He’s going to be a really good player in this league for a long time in my opinion.”
Bryan Edwards: A star at wideout
Like Tennessee, the Gamecocks have a potential All-SEC performer at wide receiver. While he had a bit of an up-and-down 2018 and got off to a shaky start against North Carolina (1 catch for 7 yards on 7 targets), Bryan Edwards looks as if he will go out with the best season of his career, making 26 catches for 341 yards and 3 touchdowns in his past 4 games.
Georgia eventually accounted for Jauan Jennings during the Tennessee game, but Edwards provides the Gamecocks a big-play wideout who can easily get behind the Bulldogs’ secondary if it’s not careful. (We saw that as Richard LeCounte and DJ Daniel lost Marquez Callaway on his long touchdown catch in the 1st quarter Saturday.) Whoever is assigned to Edwards will have a challenge as the senior could stand to benefit from some deep ball packages that Gamecocks offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon is sure to add to his game plan.
2 options at running back
After a promising freshman campaign, Rico Dowdle had bumpy sophomore and junior seasons that were marked with uneven performances and injuries. The Gamecocks’ patience with him has paid off as he’s finally developed into the player that they hoped he’d become. Dowdle currently has 56 carries for 370 yards and 4 touchdowns, and if you throw out a tough day at Missouri, the senior has been everything South Carolina could have hoped for this year.
But Dowdle has a capable partner in the backfield in transfer Tavien Feaster. I’ll admit that when Feaster left Clemson after graduating early and decided to transfer to South Carolina for his final season, I was a little skeptical of exactly where he’d fit in with Dowdle as the No. 1 option at running back. He started the season with 2 strong performances against North Carolina and Charleston Southern before struggling in losses to Alabama and Missouri, but had his best game in a Gamecocks uniform: 15 carries for 107 yards and 2 touchdowns, splitting carries 50/50 with Dowdle and finishing with 5 more yards.
Georgia has been remarkably efficient against the run (5th in the country with 57.0 yards allowed per game), but it will have to account for as challenging a rushing attack as it’s faced all season long.
Javon Kinlaw: A disruptor on defense
One thing Jeremy Pruitt lamented after Georgia’s win over Tennessee was the lack of a pass rush. And the game took on a familiar feeling: Jake Fromm, comfortable in the pocket, delivering strikes. Fromm might feel more heat from the Gamecocks, as defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson will be looking to break through a stout o-line with a major weapon in Javon Kinlaw.
It’s been a steady progression for Kinlaw as he’s developed into one of the top defensive linemen in the country. In 2018, he recorded 9.0 tackles for a loss and 4.0 sacks. He already has 4.0 TFLs and 4.0 sacks through 5 games, recording one of each in the Gamecocks’ first 4 games of the season, while racking up a pair of fumble recoveries.
Kinlaw’s the real deal up front for the Gamecocks. While Georgia has received elite play from its offensive line over the first 5 games in allowing just 1 sack, it will face a stiff test from the Charleston, S.C., native.