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Too Much Information: South Carolina

As I mentioned earlier, it has been both a short week and a full one, so I (unlike Georgia against Oklahoma State) have fallen far short of midseason form, which I regret. Ordinarily, I provide a feature called Too Much Information, in which I break down the numbers on the Bulldogs' matchup with their next opponent. (It was this feature that gave rise to Hamp Tanner's observation that "Kyle is to statistical analysis what Keith Richards was to moderate drug use.")

It is, of course, too soon for season-long statistics to have any meaning. For instance, six Southeastern Conference squads scored 41 or more points against overmatched opposition last weekend, so the Classic City Canines' 35-point performance against the Pokes last Saturday night earned them just seventh place in the league in scoring offense. The Gamecocks rank ninth, despite having scored four touchdowns in their opener.

Also, Mississippi State ranks last in the league in first downs, passing efficiency, passing offense, rushing offense, total offense, scoring offense, red zone offense, scoring defense, red zone defense, and turnover margin. That sounds about right, actually.

Likewise, Georgia and South Carolina are tied for sixth in the S.E.C. in scoring defense, as the 'Dawgs gave up 14 points to the high-octane Cowboys and the 'Cocks surrendered the same score to Louisiana-Lafayette.

It is possible that some initial statistics are harbingers rather than misleading figures skewed by small sample sizes. For instance, the Red and Black's league-leading five sacks against an Oklahoma State offensive line that returned seven of the top 10 players from a 2006 unit that anchored the fourth most productive offense in program history and ranked alongside unbeaten Boise State as the only teams in Division I-A to have averaged 200 yards per game both on the ground and through the air may offer some hint regarding Georgia's prospects for getting into the Gamecocks' backfield. For the most part, though, this season's statistics are far too raw and unrepresentative to be reliable.

Doug Gillett's revised take on the game seems significantly more plausible than Ron Morris's reminder that there is a reason why the blogosphere is supplanting the punditocracy, but the unapologetic homer masquerading as a journalist columnist for The State is right that South Carolina boasts a stout defensive front superior to Oklahoma State's. For that reason, I would agree that another low-scoring contest is likely.

Georgia's and South Carolina's respective offensive achievements last weekend were comparable on paper. Taking away the Classic City Canines' touchdown following Zach Allen's bad snap over the punter's head (which Sunday Morning Quarterback would classify as "cheap points," or, more politically correctly, as "swing points"), both the 'Dawgs and the 'Cocks scored 28 points. The Red and Black did so against an O.S.U. defense that allowed 25.6 points per game in 2006; the Palmetto State Poultry did so against a U.L.L. defense that surrendered 24.7 points per game last year.

In short, Lafayette's defense hasn't been that great since Washington's eligibility expired.

Those figures are a bit misleading, however. The Cowboys' defensive numbers last season were compiled against the likes of Texas (which averaged 35.9 points per game and scored 36 against Oklahoma State), Texas A&M (27.8; 34 in overtime), Texas Tech (32.5; 30), Nebraska (30.6, 29), and Oklahoma (30.3; 27), whereas the Ragin' Cajuns' scoring defense was dinged by more than just the 45 points they gave up to L.S.U. in their 2006 opener; U.L.L. was lit up for 28 by Houston (which averaged 33.0 points per game last year), 34 by Middle Tennessee (22.8), 39 by Louisiana-Monroe (21.8), 42 by Troy (22.8), and 51 by Texas A&M (27.8).

Against teams to whom they gave up significant numbers of points in 2006, Oklahoma State permitted scoring comparable to that tallied by those opposing teams over the course of the entire campaign, whereas the Ragin' Cajuns typically surrendered significantly more scoring than their opponents managed all year long. If those trends continue into 2007, they suggest that the 35 points Georgia scored last week may be indicative of the norm for the Red and Black, whereas the 28 points tallied by the Gamecocks this past Saturday may represent a larger than ordinary output.

Even if we assume that scoring 35 points on a Big 12 defense---even a bad one---is comparable to scoring 28 points on a Sun Belt D, though, the longer-lived tendency in this S.E.C. series suggests that the Bulldogs' home field advantage could prove substantial.

In their last six trips to Columbia, the Red and Black have managed just 14, 17, 10, 13, 20, and 18 points, for a per-game average of 15.3 points per contest. On the last half-dozen occasions on which the Gamecocks traveled to Athens, however, the 'Dawgs put up 42, 31, 24, 9, 31, and 17 points in succession, amassing a more respectable 25.7 points per outing.

Plus which, the team just plain looks better in the red home jerseys.

South Carolina has not held the Bulldogs below 20 points in consecutive contests between the hedges since the 1919 and 1924 series meetings. Also, regardless of venue, the Georgia defense generally has held the South Carolina offense fairly well in check; in the last 10 tilts between the 'Dawgs and the 'Cocks, the Red and Black have surrendered 15, 3, 9, 21, 14, 7, 7, 16, 15, and 0 points, respectively. If the home team scores as many as 20 points on Saturday---which, while by no means a certainty, nevertheless is not a bad bet---recent history hints that the Classic City Canines have a 90 per cent chance of prevailing.

South Carolina has always been a pesky opponent for the Bulldogs, both as a non-conference border rival and as an S.E.C. East foe. Over the whole course of the series, the Gamecocks have averaged one win over Georgia for every four tries. The 'Dawgs have won five straight games against the Palmetto State Poultry, giving the Red and Black their longest string of success against the East Coast U.S.C. in the last three decades, so the law of averages may say it is time for the ball to bounce the Gamecocks' way again.

Although this week's challenge is tougher than last week's, the momentum built up by Georgia's season-opening victory over the Cowboys, coupled with the confidence instilled in the offensive line and the defensive front by their success in that endeavor, is apt to carry over into tomorrow night's contest, producing a narrow yet satisfying Georgia victory in yet another hard-fought Southeastern Conference classic.

I think the game will be lower-scoring and closer than MaconDawg thinks it will be. I like Georgia to win it by a 20-14 final margin. Although we arrived at our respective conclusions separately and without knowing one another's thoughts upon the matter, SMQ agrees with me almost exactly, which I take to be a good sign.

Go 'Dawgs!