Georgia football: Light October schedule sets up tough November for Bulldogs
When we last left No. 3 Georgia, it was celebrating a 23-17 victory over No. 10 Notre Dame on Sept. 21. It was everything fans could have wanted: a sellout crowd, a star-studded list of recruits in the house, a national television audience, and a résumé-building victory.
As the calendar prepares to turn to October, though, it’s SEC play through the next 7 games for Georgia. All 3 of the teams the Dawgs face in October — Tennessee, South Carolina and Kentucky — will be a step up in class from teams like Murray State and Arkansas State.
Still, there’s no reason to think any of the 3 will end the Dawgs’ 14-game winning streak in the division.
The Volunteers, yet to beat an FBS opponent this season and also coming off an open week, saw Florida backup Kyle Trask easily outduel Jarrett Guarantano in a 34-3 blowout loss at The Swamp. South Carolina, which lost Jake Bentley to injury earlier in the season, could come into Sanford Stadium on Oct. 12 desperate for a win to retain any shot at bowl eligibility, and Kentucky is a step behind where it was last year with future draft picks in Benny Snell and first-round choice Josh Allen.
On paper, this looks like a 3-0 month as conventional wisdom should point to a 6-0 Bulldogs team heading into the Florida game in Jacksonville on November 2. Three days later, the first College Football Playoff rankings will be released, and should Georgia beat Florida to go 7-0, it will certainly be in the top 4.
That is, of course, if it’s able to pass the “eye test” the Playoff committee mentions so often.
The Bulldogs don’t have the luxury of letting their foot off the gas pedal if they’re to leave no shadow of a doubt that they belong among the nation’s best. And that’s where skeptics might present a fair point that the Dawgs, outside of Notre Dame, haven’t exactly been tested and won’t be until November, when we might really find out what this team is made of. (Two of Georgia’s November opponents, Florida and Auburn, are in the top 10; a third, Texas A&M, is in the Top 25.)
Here’s a quick look at each of Georgia’s 3 opponents in October:
at Tennessee, Oct. 5
Jeremy Pruitt sits on a red-hot seat right now, and that was before that embarrassing loss at Florida. The Volunteers are last in the SEC in yards per game and 12th in points per game despite allowing just under 148 yards rushing and an average of 190 yards through the air. Don’t be fooled: They scored 30 and 26 points in their first 2 games — and still lost. And that points allowed per game number? Tennessee’s given up 38, 29 and 34 in its 3 losses while blanking FCS team Chattanooga. After throwing 12 touchdowns and 3 interceptions last season, Jarrett Guarantano already has 4 picks through 4 games of the season.
Georgia has won the past 2 in the series by a combined 79-12.
South Carolina, Oct. 12
After carving up Charleston Southern and a respectable showing against Alabama, the optimistic view was that true freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski could carry that momentum into a key SEC East road game against Missouri. Instead, the Gamecocks were held to just 271 yards and turned it over 3 times in a loss to the Tigers before bouncing back with a dominant defensive performance against Kentucky on Saturday.
Rico Dowdle looks a much better running back as a senior than he did as a junior; he and Tavien Feaster could prove a test for the Dawgs’ defensive front if South Carolina decides to lean toward more of a ground game instead of relying so much on Hilinski as the signal-caller from California enters the most hostile environment he’ll face to date.
That certainly was the recipe against Kentucky. Dowdle and Feaster both topped 100 yards rushing. It was the first time 2 Gamecocks RBs hit the century mark in the same game since 2001.
Georgia has won 4 in a row in the series, the past 2 by a combined 65-27.
Kentucky, Oct. 19
The last time the Bulldogs lost to the Wildcats? Nov. 21, 2009, when Georgia blew a 27-13 3rd quarter lead and fell to Kentucky 34-27 between the hedges.
Is a repeat likely? No, and that was before Kentucky lost to South Carolina and fell to 0-3 in the SEC.
Asim Rose and redshirt freshman Kavosiey Smoke are the rushing options for the Wildcats. Georgia held Snell to 73 yards last year.
Kentucky’s defense will be challenged, too. The Wildcats rank last in the SEC in rushing sign, about the worst possible place to be when preparing for Georgia. Mississippi State ran for 241 yards in Week 4. South Carolina totaled 247 Saturday. Georgia ran for 331 against the Wildcats last season.
A woeful offensive performance at South Carolina won’t do much to stoke the optimism of Big Blue Nation.
Georgia has won the past 9 in the series, including the past 2 by a combined margin of 76-30.