South Carolina Football: Why the Gamecocks are talented enough to beat UGA
Not many expected the South Carolina Gamecocks to be turned into early Thanksgiving dinner by the Aggies of Texas A&M in the season-opening tilt (a 52-28 loss).
Not many expected the Cocks to battle tooth and nail with the East Carolina Pirates — well, those of us who follow college football closely did — but that’s exactly what happened in a 33-23 win at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Now a team that was once thought of as the favorite to win the Southeastern Conference’s eastern division finds itself in the position of “David” to the University of Georgia’s “Goliath” — at home no less — in this weekend’s pivotal matchup of perennial SEC east elites.
The ebb and flow of college football is none more apparent than in the case of these two squads.
Many, not all, expected Georgia to struggle to replace some of the vacated talent on its roster: The greatest quarterback in the history of the school graduated (Aaron Murray) and three-fourths of a young, promising secondary were jettisoned due to myriad of off-field transgressions.
And that’s not to mention the defense was absolutely horrific despite the presence of a plethora of top-notch athletes at each level. But the buzz surrounding that side of the ball was always at a fevered pitch due to the hiring of former Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt — whose unit help the Seminoles procure the last BCS National Championship.
And after the Bulldogs dispatched of the Clemson Tigers in the season-opener, in a game that UGA eventually won 45-21 after being tied at 21 at halftime, the entire football landscape broke out the anointing oil and crowned them locks for the College Football Playoffs.
If there’s one thing that I absolutely can’t stand about football, it’s Week 1 overreactions.
We don’t know how good Clemson is, but we do know it lost a ton of talent (most notably quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins). Suppose the Tigers end up being an average team? That win wouldn’t mean much in the grand scheme of it all for Georgia.
On the flipside, suppose Texas A&M ends up having a wonderful season? A loss to them wouldn’t look as bad, would it?
That’s why it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Gamecocks are in prime position to reclaim their stake among the upper-echelon of the Southeastern Conference.
And it all boils down to talent.
Slowing Down Georgia’s Vaunted Rushing Attack
Let’s be honest here; USC is not going to stop Georgia’s rushing attack, but it can slow it down a bit.
UGA’s scheme is a pro-style outfit that has slowly sprinkled in elements of the spread. By being multiple in philosophy, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo throws a ton of different personnel groupings at defenses: “12” “21” and “22 personnel” immediately come to mind.
But the one thing that will always be prevalent is the threat of a play-action fake. But with Georgia breaking in new QB Hutson Mason, and multiple receivers doubtful to play, undoubtedly the rushing attack will be leaned on heavily — which differentiates Georgia from the aerial stylings of Texas A&M.
Georgia’s Todd Gurley almost doesn’t need an introduction. He may be college football’s premier talent at any position.
He’s a physical back that possess some of the quickest feet you’ll ever see on a 230-pound man; he has sprinter’s speed and some of the softest hands imaginable.
Stopping him is about gap control — which is something the South Carolina defensive line should excel at.
But it will be up to the very talented Skai Moore to be physical at the point of attack to funnel Georgia’s perimeter run game back toward the meat of the defense.
Here’s one of Georgia’s best running plays that’s designed at getting Gurley to the perimeter. Going against Alabama’s 3-4-based defense, the same as South Carolina will be trotting out under well-respected DC Lorenzo Ward, UGA does a masterful job a sealing off the back-side pursuit.
Gurley is led by both the fullback and a pulling guard who all but detonates the play-side defenders. From there Gurley gets to work.
USC’s 3-4 defense is a work in progress in the secondary. However, the front seven has some bonafide roughnecks among it — notably the aforementioned Moore and fellow linebacker T.J. Holloman.
Ends David Johnson and Gerald Dixon are talented players but have yet to make a major impact like they will need to against Georgia.
All Gamecock linebackers must use the flow-and-scrape technique as to not get caught up in the muddy waters that UGA’s offensive line creates. Scraping off blocks will be paramount for containing the edges.
UGA is big on between-the-tackles runs as well — which usually comes down to which unit wants it the most. You have to think that the entire defensive unit will be fired up to prove it’s not the weak unit of the team for USC.
Watch Out For The Screens
Where the secondary will come into play is with Georgia’s multi-faceted screen game. Bobo has an overabundance of ways of setting up his plethora of backs (freshmen Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, along with Keith Marshall) for screen passes. He generally likes to slow down over-aggressive lines with the screen game.
And every Georgia back is capable of turning a screen into an explosive play.
Case in point: Bama’s over-aggressive line doesn’t know what hit it until Gurley is well downfield. South Carolina will have to read its keys before pressuring Mason as the screen game will be dialed up quite a bit in this tilt.
Mike Davis May Be Every Bit Gurley’s Equal
While it may be blasphemous to compare Gurley to any back, according to 99 percent of all media, South Carolina’s Mike Davis needs to be mentioned in the same breath, at least. For all the talk that about USC defense defending Gurley, Georgia’s unit will have just as hard of time corralling the 5’9″, 215-pound slashing Gamecock.
Davis is fast, shifty and underrated in the power department. He has superb vision and runs with great pad-level. He’s college football’s version of Frank Gore, the San Francisco 49ers star, and the on-field resemblance is uncanny.
You can’t tell me this particular sequence didn’t look like Gore. On a “Speed Sweep,” preceded by a “Ghost” reverse, Davis shows off his underrated wheels once he hits the perimeter.
Even under Pruitt, Georgia’s defense is extremely aggressive. A runner with the cut-back ability of Davis will absolutely give Georgia fits. Look for Davis to be a major part of the game plan. His ability to churn out tough yards may be the difference in the game.
Dylan Thompson And His Band Of Brothers
South Carolina’s multiplicity on offense is a major factor as well. Senior QB Dylan Thompson has a chance to make a name for himself in his one-shot-to-glory season. He’s a big-play QB that needs to reel it in and conquer the short-to-intermediate throws.
UGA’s secondary is every bit as suspect as South Carolina’s. It’s Georgia’s pass-rush that helped the back end of its defense.
USC has some serious talent at the receiver position — most notably Shaq Roland and Nick Jones. The former was touted as the next big thing by pundits but has yet to live up to that billing; the latter has speed to burn.
South Carolina has a prime opportunity to set its season back on the right track with a win over Georgia. While everyone has their minds made up about the type of team the Bulldogs are, there’s just not a large enough sample size to know how good they ultimately will be.
We do know they have a ton of inexperience that will be counted on to make plays in their first rivalry game — on the road no less.
South Carolina has a strong offensive line, a quality run game, a good QB and talented pieces on defense. It also has one of the greatest big-game coaches of all time, head coach Steve Spurrier.
Will it be enough to dispose of Georgia? We’ll find out here shortly, folks…