Here is what I’m NOT worried about come Saturday afternoon’s game:
1) “Willie B” Stadium. I’ve lived in the South for close to 50 years and have driven through Columbia a hundred times or more (always with the windows up). Yet I was only recently made aware that the South Carolina football team calls their home stadium “Willie B.” Gotta say, can’t quite figure out why they used a famous Atlanta zoo gorilla, who himself was named after a famous Atlanta mayor.
That aside, the conditions will be hot and loud. But we will have white jerseys, and we played last week in comparable conditions. Coach Kirby Smart will have his staff well-prepared to handle high temperatures and we know our Strength & Conditioning program is clicking on all cylinders ( if your 3rd string RB has a twitter handle for his arms, you’re doing okay ). Now if only we had some attorneys in the Georgia faithful who could file an injunction based on licensing infractions to limit the playing of “Sandstorm” to just 50 times.
2) South Carolina Secondary. At least not this year. They definitely have some talent, including fomer Georgia High School star Jamyest Williams. And Muschamp is of a similar mindset with Kirby Smart in recruiting big, tall, rangy defensive backs – 6 on the roster are listed at 6’1” or taller. But all of those are freshmen save one redshirt sophomore. However a quick review of last week’s stat sheet showed that the DBs who played meaningful minutes averaged 5’10”. Plus they’ll be without a starter (Harvey) in the first half due to a targeting infraction, and another (Fenton) seems to attract interference flags like chickens to an outhouse floor.
While there is no rule that shorter secondary players are worse than taller ones, I’m anxious to see what Robertson, Ridley, Nauta, Woerner and company can do in the corner of the end zone and even on hitch routes. Big bodies, used effectively and with technique, can inflict a lot of damage in the mid-range air game.
3) Shotgun snaps. South Carolina has an uptempo feel this year, more than in year’s past. And they use the no-huddle a lot, even if they’re not in hurry-up mode. But what I constantly saw was the SC center constantly low-snapping it to QB Jake Bentley. This was well into the game, so I don’t think it was early season jitters. I have to believe the player was fully capable of snapping it back 4 yards, so I can only attribute it to wanting to get off the line quickly. That, or he was afraid of the Coastal Carolina defensive line. Either way, this guy is about to have even more pressure, especially if he sees Monty Rice creeping toward the line.
Will Muschamp has not been successful at finding a team identity that produces results at a high level. His Florida teams had great defenses, but pitiful offense (other than fluky, late season, OMG WHY US anomalies). At South Carolina, he has spent the first few seasons restocking the cupboard. His USCe teams so far have had defenses that weren’t bad but not really so good, and offenses that were… not really so good. So I’m anxious to see where they finally fall on the identity spectrum. Now forgive me, as I was weaned at the nipple of Larry Munson’s scratch on AM radio, so here’s what I am worried about this Saturday in Concrete Purgatory:
1) UGA Offensive Line. Let’s face it, we were not tested last Saturday. I was still a little disappointed in the run-blocking. I haven’t watched tape nor even a replay, but I hope Sam Pittman was more concerned with shuffling combinations than schemes and execution, based purely on the results. I saw some nice sealing blocks by Thomas but there wasn’t much meaningful pass pro, and we certainly didn’t just flatten Austin Peay up the gut. The total yardage was balanced and fine, I just wish I had seen some a little more road grading. I’d like to see Pittman put the SC front 4 under his thumb.
2) UGA Linebackers. See #1 above re: test. SCAR is most assuredly bringing more talent to this weekend’s game than Austin Peay brought to the Classic City. They have a great skillset in running back Rico Dowdle – he can play all 3 downs and is very versatile. They have a bigger offensive line, and we certainly didn’t get typical pressure against the Governors last week.
I rest a little easier knowing that Mel Tucker just used the first few pages of his playbook last week, and little was done in the way of showing cards. But we may say the same thing of former Bulldog Bryan McClendon, now the Offensive Coordinator at South Carolina. The Gamecocks did chuck it around the yard last week, throwing it almost 30 times in the first 3 quarters. But I’m worried that our revamped linebacking corps will be going from zero to sixty, as SC will bring wrinkles and tons of tempo they honed in the offseason. We have players with experience, even against Oklahoma’s uber-tempo and ‘Bama’s raw size and strength, but these players haven’t faced a full game as primary starters with no Roquan Smith to plug every imaginable gap.
3) UGA Secondary. See #1 above, again. Mentioned above, South Carolina wasn’t shy about passing in their opening weekend. They spread it around too – 11 different players caught a ball, 9 before the first half ended. Unless they’re hiding something, USCe is working around the loss of their all-around star TE Hayden Hurst. But they definitely warmed up future NFL draftee Deebo Samuel, giving him 7 touches and plenty of other targets. Plus they have OrTre Smith and Bryan Edwards joining Samuel, all of them veterans of prior seasons and SEC play. This doesn’t account for a very real pass catching threat out of the backfield in the form of extremely capable Rico Dowdle.
While our young secondary may not have to worry about responsibilities spying on Dowdle, they will have their hands full with the receiving corps of South Carolina and a quarterback who is gaining confidence – think of a Tyler Bray minus the hideous back tattoo and poor apartment-living decision making. Or a poor man’s Drew Locke. Whatever, the boy was molded to be a quarterback and is now playing the part.
What worries you about Saturday’s conference opener in the bad Columbia? Leave them in the comments below. And as always…