The Georgia Bulldogs face a difficult bounce-back challenge this Saturday, as the team must follow up a disappointing 38-35 loss to the #4 Clemson Tigers with a matchup with the #6 South Carolina Gamecocks at Sanford Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Although the Dawgs’ loss to the Clemson Cats was very disappointing and drew light towards some of the team’s current weaknesses, at this point the loss means absolutely nothing at all for several reasons, but most importantly 1) The loss was in the first game of the year, meaning Georgia still has plenty of chances to prove their worth and get back into the national title hunt and 2) The loss was to an ACC opponent, and although it hurts the argument made by most fanatic SEC fans that any of their fourteen schools can beat the best other conferences have to offer, the team still has a goose egg under the important “conference losses” column.
With that being said, make no mistake about it: Saturday’s game has the potential to completely derail the season. Would anything less than a victory over the Ol’ Ball Coach’s squad lead to a disastrous year? Certainly not, but if the Gamecocks show the world that the Bulldogs are vulnerable in the spots that fellow Palmetto State squad Clemson did, it could put Georgia in some very tough spots against the likes of LSU, Florida, and perhaps even Tennessee. With such high expectations going into Aaron Murray’s last season in Athens, could this team really handle going 0-2 and come out as hot as they did just two years ago?
The key to this game is simple: the offensive line must protect Murray and running backs Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley. I’m not just saying this because the line will be facing All-American/All-SEC/All-Any-Level-of-Football defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who has had his fair share of impressive plays against the Bulldogs, but instead because of how poor the line played in last Saturday’s loss. It seemed that the second half consisted mostly of Murray scrambling for his life and forcing throws, and although he may very well be a talented quarterback, any signal caller who must take the snap and immediately take off will not play as well as he is capable. Holding Clowney and Company back will be no small task, so it will be important to see if the Bulldogs try several tactics in order to make Jadeveon as ineffective as he was against North Carolina (three tackles, no sacks), which will certainly include double-teaming him and may include the use of running back and wide receiver screens.
As important as the offensive line will be in Georgia snapping South Carolina’s three game winning streak in this rivalry (Yes, Steve, it is a rivalry), the Bulldogs defense has got to lock down against the passing game. It was assumed by most that the Dawgs’ defense would have some growing pains due to so many starters leaving for the NFL Draft, but the loss to Clemson showed how vulnerable it really is, as senior quarterback Tajh Boyd dissected the defense (270 passing yards with 3 TDs, 0 INTs, and a 60% completion rating) in what many may consider Dabo Swinney’s biggest regular season victory. Although Boyd appears to be a bigger passing threat than SC’s Connor Shaw, this is not to say Shaw cannot make Georgia pay for mistakes; after all, he threw for 162 yards and 2 TDs in last year’s 35-7 blowout victory.
Game Prediction: Sanford Stadium will be electric on Saturday afternoon when 92,746 fans pack in Between the Hedges in hopes to see the Bulldogs right their ship against the Gamecocks. Unfortunately, the Gamecocks will leave the Dawgs desperate due to SC’s outstanding defense, which makes Aaron Murray have a game he would like to forget. The Gamecocks stroll into Athens and take another SEC victory, leaving radio hosts throughout the state to field calls about firing Mark Richt just like in 2011 (Spoiler Alert: He isn’t going anywhere). As unbelievable as it sounds, the Bulldogs won’t pick up their first win of the season until September 21st against the mighty North Texas Mean Green. Final Score Georgia 27, South Carolina 35
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