COLUMBIA - SEPTEMBER 11: Tailback Marcus Lattimore #21 of the South Carolina Gamecocks is hugged by teammates after Lattimore's first quarter touchdown during the game against the Georgia Bulldogs at Williams-Brice Stadium on September 11 2010 in Columbia South Carolina. The Gamecocks beat the Bulldogs 17-6. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
Georgia sought to use the run to set up the pass. Later in the game, the Bulldogs began to move the ball better as they opened things up a bit in the passing game. South Carolina began the game fairly neutral on defense, respecting the run and pass almost equally. It didn't take long for the Gamecocks to load up against the run, something they would do for the rest of the game.
South Carolina also appeared to want to use the run to set up the pass. Later in the game, the Gamecocks more or less used occasional passing to set up more running. Georgia generally only rushed four guys, meaning there weren't often receivers open for Stephen Garcia to throw to. South Carolina ran it 52 times as compared to 17 passes, an unbelievable ratio for a Steve Spurrier-coached team.
Three guys for South Carolina really killed Georgia: Marcus Lattimore, Patrick DiMarco, and Alshon Jeffery. Lattimore's broken tackle and YAC counts were unreal, and he was still able to break three tackles in a play 30 carries in. That said, the fullback DiMarco led the way on a lot of those runs, punishing Georgia linebackers over and over. Finally, Jeffery was the only receiver that Garcia was able to hit consistently (specifically, able to hit more than once). The big sophomore had seven catches for 103 yards.
Garcia's 12-for-17 mark passing looks good on the surface, but UGA's defense really bothered him. He ended up having to tuck it and run on a few pass plays, and several completions to Jeffery were in really tight quarters. Three of South Carolina's four drives that didn't end in TDs or field goal attempts ended because of either incomplete passes (one) or sacks (two). If the Bulldogs had just tackled better, things in this game could have been quite different.
Georgia found it difficult to run once South Carolina loaded up the box. Washaun Ealey had six carries for 32 yards (5.33 YPC) on Georgia's field goal drive in the first quarter. He would have 43 yards on 13 carries (3.31 YPC) the rest of the way. That was a bit surprising given how good the Bulldog offensive line is, but it's tough for any line to deal with a team playing with what functionally amounted to eight men in the box consistently.
Aaron Murray did well for himself once Mark Richt and Mike Bobo took his training wheels off. The Gamecocks did well to keep the mobile Murray in the pocket, but the pass blocking gave him enough time to throw most often. He had a few deep balls that looked really nice too. It's hard to imagine a better SEC debut for a freshman quarterback on the road. His passing really moved the team down the field in the third quarter, but Ealey's fumble really killed the team's momentum.
THREE QUESTIONS ANSWERED
1. Would A.J. Green have made that big a difference?
The obvious one-liner here is "well, only if he could tackle Lattimore," but it's a little more complicated than that. As I said, South Carolina loaded up against the run. It's possible that if Green was in the game that Ellis Johnson would single-cover him with Stephon Gilmore, but it's more likely that he'd have to back off the run a bit to help his secondary handle Green. That might have opened some holes for Ealey.
If Johnson had not changed his strategy of making the freshman beat him, Murray might have been able to. He was accurate enough to get the ball to Green with regularity, and, no offense to any of Georgia's other receivers, Green is in a league all of his own. Given what I saw, he'd have been worth at least an extra touchdown. That's enough to make the game a toss up.
2. Should Georgia have gone to the pass earlier?
Well, hindsight is 20/20. It certainly looks that way now. But hold on for a sec.
The film of South Carolina's opener indicated that Georgia should have used the run to set up the pass (exactly as Richt did) even before you get to the fact that the quarterback was a freshman going without his best receiver. Plus, Ealey did well on the first sustained Bulldog drive as I described above.
Giving Murray some more leash to toss it around was a great halftime adjustment, though given how things looked I wouldn't be surprised if Richt decided before the game to make that change at that time. No one had seen Murray play in a real college football game yet. The Georgia staff made the right call this week, but they shouldn't wait so long to air it out with Murray in the future.
3. Just how good is South Carolina?
It's not a national title contender, even in the 2002 Ohio State model. It's marginally a BCS contender, in the 2009 Iowa kind of model. Through two weeks, it looks like it would take some magic for it to beat Alabama in Atlanta. It definitely qualifies as a divisional contender, especially given the competition.
It's worth noting though that South Carolina wasn't head-and-shoulders better than Georgia. The same Georgia whose offense produced five three-and-outs and a four-play drive. The same Georgia whose defense looked lost at times in its brand new scheme and couldn't tackle Lattimore. The same Georgia who started a freshman quarterback without his best receiver.
Lattimore is the piece that puts this team over the top of previous Gamecocks teams, though the completeness of the receiving groups helps too. If your front seven can tackle him well enough that you don't have to give up something in your pass defenses, then you're well on your way to beating South Carolina.