Ere the 2012 college football season got underway, this weblog predicted a low-scoring loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks for the Georgia Bulldogs. While that remains a strong possibility, the world has turned a time or two since August, so the time has come to preview tomorrow night’s matchup by providing not a dash of data, nor an increment of insight, but, rather, Too Much Information:
Georgia ranks second in the league in scoring offense (with one-tenth of a point separating the Bulldogs from the top spot), leads the SEC in rushing offense, and stands atop the conference in total offense. Aaron Murray is the league’s leading passer among players not named Tyler, and he has the second-most touchdown passes and second-fewest interceptions among the conference’s top five signal callers. Todd Gurley averages more rushing yards per game than any other SEC player, and he has more touchdown runs than Marcus Lattimore, despite the fact that the South Carolina standout averages nearly five more carries per Saturday than the more productive of the Bulldogs’ two freshman phenomena. (Keith Marshall, incidentally, has twelve fewer rushing yards than Lattimore . . . on 40 fewer carries.) Gurley and Marshall are the SEC’s top two tailbacks in yards per carry. No, the Red and Black are not going to extend their streak of scoring more than 40 points for an unprecedented sixth straight game, but South Carolina’s admittedly stout defense has yet to see an offense as balanced and explosive as the Bulldogs’.
I mean no disrespect to the BlogPoll when I note that both the sportswriters’ and coaches’ polls have Georgia ranked fifth and South Carolina ranked sixth. That means this Saturday’s matchup represents the 14th time the Red and Black have squared off with a team ranked No. 6 on the day of the game. It has happened before with the Alabama Crimson Tide (in 1945 and 1964), the Auburn Tigers (in 1971), the Clemson Tigers (in 1991), the Florida Gators (in 1974, 1991, 1997, and 2001), the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (in 1951), the LSU Tigers (in 1998), and the Tennessee Volunteers (in 1989, 1999, and 2001). The Athenians were just 5-8 in those 13 games, but they have won five of the last nine, four of the last seven, and three of the last five showdowns with sixth-ranked squads. Moreover, Georgia has never before faced a No. 6 team when the Classic City Canines were the higher-ranked combatant, and the ‘Dawgs were nowhere to be found in the top 25 in seven of those 13 outings.
SEC teams have attempted successfully a combined total of two two-point conversions so far this season. Georgia converted both of them.
For the 16th time in school history, and for the fourth time in the Mark Richt era, the Red and Black are 5-0. In the previous 15 such seasons, the Athenians went 10-3-2 in the sixth outing of the autumn, including marks of 10-1-2 since 1920 and 9-1 since 1931
Dude, did you listen to the podcast? If you did, it left you moping over your Gordo’s Cheese Dip, because the Gamecocks rank seventh in the nation in rushing defense. If South Carolina’s front seven can stonewall “Gurshall,” Murray will begin to feel the heat, Mike Bobo will revert to old and unwelcome tendencies, and the Georgia O will retreat into anemia. We don’t need Gurley and Marshall to rush for 100 yards apiece; heck, we don’t necessarily even need them to rush for 100 yards combined, but we need to make the run a viable threat to keep the offense from going into hibernation.
How likely is that to happen? In the Mark Richt era, Georgia has rolled up point totals of 31, 41, and 42 against the Gamecocks, in 2003, 2009, and 2011, respectively . . . but all three of those contests took place between the hedges. On their last eight trips to Columbia, the ‘Dawgs have scored 14, 17, 10, 13, 20, 18, 14, and six points, respectively. The last time Georgia scored more than 20 points in Williams-Brice Stadium, I was a first-year law student. I’ve been practicing law for 15 years.
Despite those offensive woes in the Palmetto State, however, the Bulldogs are 19-8-2 all-time in Columbia, a city in which the Red and Black have never lost twice in a row. (The Athenians lost their last trip there in 2010.) Furthermore, Georgia has never lost three straight series meetings to the Gamecocks. (South Carolina has won two in a row over the ‘Dawgs.) The Red and Black are 3-0-1 all-time against South Carolina in Columbia in years ending in “2,” and, for all their protestations that the usual early timing of the game has not helped them (protestations their head coach denies, by the way), the fact remains that Georgia has gone 4-0 against South Carolina when playing the Garnet and Black late in the campaign. A Gamecock win tomorrow night literally would be unprecedented in at least four distinct ways.
I believe I tipped my hand on this one last night:
South Carolina would seem to have all of the advantages in this contest. The Gamecocks are playing at home at night as a lower-ranked favorite against a division rival they have beaten thrice in the last five years. Despite having just last year beaten Florida, Auburn, Georgia Tech, and Tennessee, most of the members of this Georgia team have never experienced a win over the Garnet and Black.
They have, however, experienced a victory on the road after dark in a big game against a division rival, as the ‘Dawgs took care of business against Missouri. Granted, South Carolina is no Mizzou, but this isn’t exactly Mark Richt’s first rodeo. Since taking the helm in the Classic City, Coach Richt has posted records of 39-10 on the opponent’s home field, 31-8 in true SEC road games, and 33-12 at night.
Worry as we well might over last week’s shootout, it appears that Georgia’s game against Tennessee was an aberration of statistics and, more importantly, a confirmation of character. In the midst of a meltdown, the Bulldogs regrouped, rallied, and did what it took to win. With the game on the line and the opposition driving, the Georgia D took the ball away and held on for the victory.
I seem to recall that happening a time or two when the Bulldogs crossed paths with the Gamecocks. They did it in 1980, when the Red and Black were undefeated and the Garnet and Black had a tailback even better than Marcus Lattimore. They did it in 2002, when the Classic City Canines again were undefeated and the Palmetto State Poultry were on the verge of notching their third straight win over the ‘Dawgs.
They’ve done it before. This bunch of Bulldogs has convinced me they’ll do it again.
My Prediction: Georgia Bulldogs 27, South Carolina Gamecocks 24.