One of the best ways to learn about your opponent is to talk to him. So who better to talk to about the upcoming matchup with the Gamecocks than . . . Gamecock Man? He's one of the writers for SB Nation's South Carolina site Garnet and Black Attack, a South Carolina grad, and an Atlanta Braves fan. I posed a few questions to him about the Cocks' star running back, vaunted offensive line, maligned secondary, and more. It turns out we Bulldog fans don't have a monopoly on worry tinged with just a little hope. Who knew?
1) As a long time Georgia fan I maintain both a healthy respect and disdain for Steve Spurrier. Can you give me any reason to believe that Georgia will prevail easily this Saturday, or as I suspect, do we find ourselves exactly where the head ball coach wanted us all along?
Gamecock Man: Want a reason to believe Georgia will easily prevail? Have you seen our defense? Although I'm curious to see whether Hutson Mason can beat Carolina if the Gamecocks stack the box and manage to limit Gurley, it stands to reason Georgia will score many more points in this game than it's accustomed to scoring in Columbia.
Of course, the question is whether the Gamecocks, too, score a lot of points and manage to stay in a shootout style game that's anyone's contest in the fourth quarter. In that regard, I wouldn't be surprised if Spurrier surprises some people. Carolina has a lot of offensive weapons: capable if erratic QB, great RB corps, potentially great WR/TE corps, potentially great OL.
Carolina also hasn't shown all its cards on offense yet. Against A&M, the Gamecocks got way behind early and were forced to try (unsuccessfully) to play catchup. Against ECU, once Carolina got a full-TD or more lead in the second half, Spurrier went to a vanilla offense comprised of WR screens and inside zone runs straight up the gut. Once the game was in hand, you could tell he wanted to get out quick without any injuries and without having to open up the playbook. The potential is there to spring some surprises on UGA if he wants to.
I think, though, that whatever schematic approach Spurrier takes in the game, the key is for Thompson to play well. So far this year, he's made some big throws but has also overthrown a bunch of receivers and made some poor decisions. If he gets it all together against UGA, this will be a good ball game. If he doesn't, I think UGA wins easily.
2) Is Mike Davis fully healthy? If he isn't how does that alter the Gamecock offense?
Gamecock Man: Davis had a hamstring injury during fall camp and suffered bruised ribs against Texas A&M. He was stated to be doubtful early in the week before the ECU game but then ended up playing and rushing for over a hundred yards and making an impact as a receiver, too. The hamstring has recovered, and particularly after a week with no further complications, he shouldn't be experiencing too much rib pain. He's as healthy as he's been all year, in other words, a fact illustrated by him being named the starter this week for the first time this year. The only concern is that he's missed a lot of practice time and may not be quite as in shape as he would be otherwise. He looks slightly thicker than usual around the waist right now. After watching him dominate against ECU, though, I don't know how much that's affecting him.
3) During the preseason I pegged South Carolina's offensive line is likely the best unit in the conference. Have they borne out my optimism, or is there reason for concern upfront?
Gamecock Man: The jury is still out on this one. On paper, the Gamecocks are loaded on the offensive line, with two potential first-round picks in left guard A.J. Cann and left tackle Corey Robinson and another potential draft pick in right tackle Brandon Shell. However, center and right guard are question marks. Mike Matulis was slated to start at right guard heading into the year, but he suffered an injury during camp that will keep him out several weeks. Carolina moved center Cody Waldrop to right guard in his place and inserted experienced backup Clayton Stadnick at center. Both struggled against Texas A&M, prompting the coaches to replace them with Alan Knott at center and Will Sport at right guard against ECU. Knott played well, while Sport was replaced by Waldrop after getting manhandled early on. Overall, the line got much better production against ECU than against A&M, but you have to consider the opponent; Carolina's offensive line had a massive size advantage over ECU's defensive front. Whether our line can have the game it needs against UGA remains to be seen. I think the potential is there, but after watching the unit struggle against A&M, much remains to be proven.
4) Texas A&M has made a habit of making good secondaries look bad under Kevin Sumlin. Was that what we saw in week one in Columbia, or is the Gamecock secondary a legitimate cause for concern?
Gamecock Man: It's a little bit of both. There's talent in the Gamecocks secondary, but much of it is inexperienced or playing out of position. Brison Williams is the defense's leader, but the long-time strong safety is playing corner for the time being due to Carolina's inexperience at the position. Williams has performed OK in that role (A&M generally chose to attack the other side of the field), but it's not ideal for him because he's so good at helping everyone know where to lineup and helping out on the back end in coverage. Safeties Chaz Elder and T.J. Gurley have looked good at times. The Gamecocks have also been playing Chris Moody at safety a lot, but he hasn't impressed me so far.
At the corner spot opposite Williams, true freshmen Al Harris, Jr. and Chris Lammons and RS sophomore Rico McWilliams have shared snaps. Harris (son of the NFL Pro Bowler) has good cover skills and enrolled at the beginning of the summer, giving him time to learn the scheme. Lammons, who Carolina nabbed from Florida during recruitment, enrolled at the end of the summer and thus has had to catch up in learning the scheme, but he is a better pure athlete than Harris and looks like a guy who could be an excellent corner down the road. McWilliams is the more experienced player and presents a solid all-around option.
Against A&M, both Lammons and Harris were frequently targeted, and both struggled mightily. However, I was impressed at times by the play in coverage of both Lammons and McWilliams against a fairly talented group of ECU receivers. Due to his performance against the Pirates, McWilliams has been tabbed as starter against UGA. Over time, I feel that all three of these guys will blossom into solid contributors, but it remains to be seen how they'll perform against UGA.
5) Name one Gamecock who Bulldog fans will not necessarily be familiar with before kickoff, but certainly will be by the end of the game.
Gamecock Man: Pharaoh Cooper. The Gamecocks sophomore receiver/wildcat QB came on strong in bit roles late last season. He's now the starting slot receiver, from which he's had a few nice catches so far. You can also expect Carolina to run a few plays out of the wildcat, and Cooper has made some big plays in that role. He also really impressed me with his blocking ability in the short passing game against ECU. He's a big-time player with a bright future ahead of him at Carolina.
6) What is your score prediction?
Gamecock Man: Don't hold me to this the day before the game, but right now I feel like while USC will make this a more interesting game than many expect, UGA is just too much this year for the Gamecocks. I predict Georgia wins, 35-30. Difference is Gurley's ability to help UGA finish in the red zone vs. USC having to kick too many FGs.
While Carolina has a good second option in Brandon Wilds, Davis brings elite agility and vision to the Gamecocks offense. He also has the speed to break a long one if he gets into the open field, much more so than Wilds. Carolina needs him to be produce against UGA for the offense to maximize its potential.
Thanks to Gamecock Man for fielding my questions. Here's hoping for a clean, hard fought contest punctuated by seven or eight good visor throws accompanied by that great constipated face the Head Ball Coach makes when his evil genius plans go awry. Until later . . .