By Reece Funderburk || At the start of the season, Georgia was probably the game most Gamecock fans couldn’t wait to play. A shot at revenge back at home where you assumed you’d have won 20 straight games? Yeah how’d that turn out…
Despite the outcome leading up to the game however, the result is still the same. The winner will still control their own destiny in the SEC East race.
Here is how the teams currently matchup position wise …
Senior Hutson Mason has gone through the same challenges South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson has gone through. Stuck behind arguably the school’s best quarterback in history, Mason waited his turn and is finally getting his chance in the starter role. He comes in with multiple starts but will be making his first trip to an SEC stadium and first trip to Williams Brice Stadium, an atmosphere unlike any other and still remains unproven. Dylan Thompson showed improvement last week against East Carolina but still could improve his consistency. An offense that featured much more running and wide receiver screens helped Thompson get a little more comfortable in the pocket and make quick decisions. He will certainly be tested though against a tough Georgia defense led by former Florida St. Defensive Coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.
EDGE: SOUTH CAROLINA
Arguably the closest position between these two teams, Georgia’s Todd Gurley and South Carolina’s Mike Davis are both stud running backs. Both teams also feature great depth with each squad going three players deep into their stable of backs. Georgia spelled Gurley until the fourth quarter against Clemson with Sony Michel and Nick Chubb. The Gamecocks have utilized their depth as well this season with Brandon Wilds and Shon Carson getting a good amount of touches in the power run game as well as kick returns. Both teams will have to rely heavily on their run games in order to win but for now, Gurley is still the best in the country.
South Carolina got a lot more from Shaq Roland against East Carolina, even if he dropped multiple passes. He was effective in the screen game and helped move the chains consistently. Nick Jones is still the favorite target of Thompson and has shown he will be a key factor in games as well. As for Georgia they will still be without two of their big name players in Justin Scott-Wesley and Malcolm Mitchell who both suffered injuries last season. They will rely on heavily on their run game though and if a shootout occurs, Michael Bennett and the running back check downs will be the targets for Mason.
EDGE: SOUTH CAROLINA
Both teams excel at the power run game but the pass protection for South Carolina looked to be a little more solid with the insertion of Alan Knott and the reinsertion of Cody Waldrop back into the starting lineup. While Georgia may not have to deal with as good of a defensive line and could have the better day, in the end talent wins out.
EDGE: SOUTH CAROLINA
Georgia Defensive Coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has reinvented this Georgia defensive line and it showed against Clemson two weeks ago. Constantly getting pressure or being in the back field, the Bulldogs have improved greatly while South Carolina is still trying to recover from key personnel losses from last season (notably Jadeveon Clowney). While South Carolina was able to generate an actual pass rush against East Carolina last week, they still have quite a ways to go to be a constant threat.
South Carolina looked much more effective in this position against East Carolina last Saturday. Skai Moore returning to the lineup helped, but this crew will face possibly their hardest task the whole season in trying to tackle Gurley and the other Georgia backs. And the way tackles were consistently broken by Texas A&M probably isn’t inspiring much confidence in Gamecock fans’ minds. As for Georgia, they have two tackling machines at their disposal led by Ramik Wilson, who led the SEC in tackles last season, and Amarlo Herrera,who was third in the SEC. The Bulldogs will be just fine thanks to their versatility at the position.
After two weeks against “air raid” spread formations, the Gamecocks will face a team for the first time this season that’s going to try and run the ball down their throats while using a game manager at quarterback. Up to this point, it’s been “passing galore” against a Gamecock secondary that is still shaky and looking for answers. As for Georgia, in the first half the game against Clemson they were torched defensively but strong second half adjustments proved they are more than capable of defending against the pass. The edge here goes to the unit that has shown to be able to adjust, even if it’s only one game.
Overall, Georgia outclasses the Gamecocks this year but these two teams always seem to play each other close. Another thing to point out is Hutson Mason is still unproven beyond being a game manager. If the Gamecocks manage to take a lead and force the Bulldogs into heaving it down field, the advantage could tilt in South Carolina’s favor.
Don’t let all the hype around Georgia and the worry around South Carolina sway you. Expect a close and thrilling game Saturday afternoon.
FINAL: GEORGIA 27-24
Reece Funderburk is currently the producer for the “Reynolds and Gunter” show on 560TheTeam Monday through Friday from 3-6 p.m. He also hosts own show “The Saturday Morning Blitz” on Saturday morning from 8:00 – 10:00 a.m. ET on WUSC 90.5 FM. He can be found on twitter @TheSMBlitz.