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South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Georgia Bulldogs: Five Things

A list of items to consider as the weekend's biggest game closes in

Streeter Lecka

How close to the vest was South Carolina playing it?
There are two games each season that Steve Spurrier lives for. One is the annual grudge match against Georgia, because Spurrier has hated Georgia going back to his days as a player at Florida. The other is Florida, for having the audacity to request that Spurrier submit a resume and go through the normal vetting process before getting back his old job following the 2004 season. (Spurrier reportedly told Florida officials "to go look in the school's trophy case"; in retrospect, the decision might have worked out best for both parties.) In all likelihood, once South Carolina rang up an early 17-0 lead against North Carolina, the Gamecocks dialed it back some to give Spurrier something to use against the Dawgs. Whether that amounts to several plays or schemes or just a few tricks and gadgets is anyone's guess, but expect something a bit more elaborate than we saw in the last three quarters of the Gamecocks' match-up against the Tar Heels.

Is CLOWNEY COMIN' or is he too tired?
This horse might still have a slight pulse at this hour, so expect ESPN and others to continue to club it with a hammer until it is well dead. However ... it's not a completely ridiculous question. It was clear at times that Jadeveon Clowney's hands were on his hips and he did not give anything approaching 100 percent effort on some plays. Then again, we all know how Clowney reacts when he's challenged; just ask Vincent Smith how that goes. So will he be able to use the fuel coming from the questions being raised about his stamina to drive his game against Georgia? (So far, in two career games against the Dawgs, Clowney has three sacks, another tackle for loss and a forced fumble.) Or will he prove that the questions about his conditioning were legitimate and could become the latest of many obstacles to his Heisman bid?

Will Aaron Murray's big game finally translate into a big game for Georgia?
When a quarterback goes 20-of-29 for 323 yards and the only ding on his evening is that he threw an interception, you would expect that he would get applauded for his performance. Instead, Aaron Murray continues to face the "big game" question. There's some evidence that Murray isn't at his best against Top 25 opposition, but there's likely a very good reason for that: Top 25 teams often have better defenses than unranked teams. On the other hand, Murray has also had some pretty rank games (if you will) against ranked teams; he completed 11 of 31 passes against South Carolina last year. Calling Murray a choker or slapping him with the sarcastic "big game" moniker is a bit much, but it's fair to say that the Bulldogs quarterback sometimes underperforms when the spotlight is on him. That could just be coincidental, but if so, Georgia badly needs Murray to avoid being a coincidence this weekend.

How close will the final score be?
Last year's 35-7 waxing of Georgia in Columbia was highly unusual for this rivalry in recent years. If you take the scores from the last decade and throw out the highest Georgia margin of victory (a 31-7 win in 2003) and the highest South Carolina margin of victory (last year), the remaining margin of victory averages out to slightly less than a touchdown. The odds that either of these teams will blow out the other are exceedingly low. But it's also not necessarily going to be a defensive battle; the winner in three of the last four games in the series has scored at least 35 points. How the teams get to those close scores can often be as memorable as getting there; from the 2004 game, when Lou Holtz decided that a 16-0 lead was enough and sat on it only to see Georgia come back and win 20-16, to the "Lattimore Game" in 2010, when the Gamecocks running back first became a sensation, each team has more than its share of good and bad memories about how those close scores came about.

For once, the Gamecocks have the margin for error
Whether because of Steve Spurrier's constant complaints or because of the luck of the draw, South Carolina this year has the easier path to recover from a loss in this game. The only SEC road games for the Gamecocks after this one are at Arkansas, at Tennessee and at Missouri, though South Carolina does run that "gauntlet" back-to-back-to-back. The only seemingly dangerous home games are against Florida and Vanderbilt, unless Kentucky or Mississippi State shows something. Meanwhile, Georgia hosts LSU and faces the neutral-site game against Florida and travels to Vanderbilt. But if the Dawgs win here and can split LSU-Florida, it's hard to see them getting the two losses necessary for South Carolina to take advantage of the softer schedule. This year, the battle between South Carolina and Georgia really could be winner-take-all -- at least until Florida gets the chance to make a statement.