By Scott Crumbly
SEC Digital Network
ORLANDO, Fla. – In a sport where one loss can derail a season, every game is a de facto must-win for programs like Georgia and South Carolina, which entered 2013 with Southeastern Conference and National Championship aspirations.
For the Bulldogs, however, their week two showdown with the No. 6 Gamecocks (1-0) feels even more critical following a season-opening defeat at Clemson last week. The Tigers, now ranked fourth in the country, pulled off a three-point win in a back-and-forth affair with the Dawgs, putting UGA (0-1) behind the 8-ball before it even lines up against a conference opponent.
Such is life in college football, and it’s nothing new to Georgia head coach Mark Richt, who faced a similar situation in 2011 when his Bulldogs opened the year with two tough losses to top-15 opponents in Boise State and South Carolina.
“It's no fun to lose, and it's no fun to lose early,” Richt said at his weekly press conference. “With the type of schedule that we have, there's a risk of that. That's football, and that's the way it is. We'd prefer not to be sitting like we were a couple years ago after Boise State and South Carolina. We're going to do our best not to be in that position, but the goal is to win the SEC Eastern Division.”
In 2011, Georgia rebounded from its 0-2 start with 10 straight wins and an Eastern Division crown. This time around, however, Richt and company would much rather rebound in week two against the Gamecocks and maintain control of their own destiny in the SEC race.
That task is not a small one, though. South Carolina is off and running following a 27-10 win over North Carolina last Thursday, and Steve Spurrier’s squad will pose another tough, physical challenge for UGA.
Georgia is the two-time defending Eastern Division champ, but the Gamecocks have owned the series for the past three years. Last season’s dominant 35-7 win in Columbia is fresh in the minds of Gamecocks and Bulldogs alike, and USC is hungry for a division title after two straight 11-win seasons.
Even with their recent success against Georgia, Spurrier says that his team isn’t looking at this weekend’s renewal as a chance to win an unprecedented fourth consecutive game against the Bulldogs, but rather as a stepping stone towards Atlanta.
“We haven't talked too much about that [win streak],” Spurrier said Monday. “We have just talked about the ball game and keep pursuing a lot of the goals we have this year. We are going to try and win the division and this is a crucial game there, so that is basically what we are talking about, what we need to do, try to beat these guys.”
The Gamecocks and the Bulldogs will tee it up at Sanford Stadium at 4:30 p.m. Eastern on Saturday, and the game will be televised nationally on ESPN.
This weekend’s showdown will mark the 66th all-time meeting between Georgia and South Carolina…The Bulldogs hold an advantage in the all-time series with a 46-17-2 mark against the Gamecocks…UGA is 26-8 when facing South Carolina in Athens, where this week’s edition of the rivalry will be played…This will be the eighth time in the series that both teams are ranked in the top-25, with the Gamecocks holding a 5-2 advantage in the previous seven games in which both teams were ranked…South Carolina has won the previous three meetings in the series.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
2012 – South Carolina 35, Georgia 7 (Columbia, S.C.)
2011 – South Carolina 45, Georgia 42 (Athens, Ga.)
2010 – South Carolina 17, Georgia 6 (Columbia, S.C.)
2009 – Georgia 41, South Carolina 37 (Athens, Ga.)
2008 – Georgia 14, South Carolina 7 (Columbia, S.C.)
A LOOK AT THE LAST MEETING
Georgia went into Williams-Brice Stadium a season ago ranked No. 5 in the nation, but South Carolina ran away with a 35-7 triumph in front of a record crowd of 85,199. The Gamecocks sprinted out of the gate, hanging 21 points on the board in the first 10 minutes of the game before Georgia had a chance to catch its collective breath. No. 6 South Carolina rolled up nearly 400 yards of offense while limiting Aaron Murray and the UGA attack to just 224 yards. USC quarterback Connor Shaw completed 6-of-10 passes for 162 yards and a pair of scores, while Marcus Lattimore crossed the 100-yard mark on the ground and scored once. Murray was limited to just 109 yards and an interception, completing only 35 percent of his passes in the loss.
PLAYMAKERS – OFFENSE
Georgia – Todd Gurley, Soph., Running Back
After becoming Georgia’s first true freshman running back to rush for over 1,000 yards since Herschel Walker in 2012, Gurley picked up right where he left off in UGA’s season-opener at Clemson last week. Despite sustaining a minor leg injury that caused him to miss a chunk of the first half, Gurley racked up 154 yards and two touchdowns on just 12 carries (12.8 yards per rush) to help the Dawgs keep pace in Death Valley. It was a well-rounded performance, as he flashed top-end speed on a 75-yard scoring run in the first quarter before displaying his trademark power on a 12-yard score in the third. Fellow running back Keith Marshall will continue to contribute for UGA with game-changing touches of his own, but Gurley is option 1A in the Bulldogs’ elite rushing tandem.
South Carolina – Bruce Ellington, Jr., Wide Receiver
Ellington, who only recorded one catch against UNC last week, was limited for much of the preseason by a hamstring injury. He’s now back to 100 percent according to Spurrier, and that means that Connor Shaw will have his best returning wide-out from 2012 at full speed. Ellington led all USC receivers a season ago with 600 yards, averaging 15 yards per reception on 40 grabs while scoring seven TDs. An exceptional athlete, he also provides a reliable target for Shaw; Ellington was targeted 57 times last year, trailing only the departed Ace Sanders, and hauled in 70.2 percent of those passes. A healthy Ellington, coupled with emerging sophomore Shaq Roland (two catches for 75 yards and a score last week), is dangerous for the Bulldogs.
PLAYMAKERS – DEFENSE
Georgia – Jordan Jenkins, Soph., Linebacker
After losing Jarvis Jones to the NFL, Jenkins is now Georgia’s biggest pass rushing threat off the edge. He recorded five sacks, three tackles for loss and 23 quarterback hurries last year, but was held largely in check at Clemson last weekend. UGA’s relatively inexperienced defense made some mistakes against an up-tempo, experienced Clemson offense, which is to be expected from a unit that lost so much to the NFL last year. The Bulldogs were able to pressure Tajh Boyd, but Boyd’s mobility allowed him to elude several potential sacks. With another mobile signal-caller this week in Shaw, the Dawgs will look to pressure him into throws and perhaps finish some of those potential sack opportunities in the backfield. Jenkins is the man to spearhead that effort.
South Carolina – Jadeveon Clowney, Jr., Defensive End
Clowney is no stranger to the spotlight, and he will once again be a major focus of the opposing team’s offensive game plan this week. The junior recorded three stops last week, but UNC’s Larry Fedora incorporated a plethora of screens and underneath passes to nullify Clowney’s pass-rushing ability, and the Gamecocks allowed only 10 points as a unit. Much has been made of Clowney’s immense potential and his ability to impact games even when he isn’t corralling quarterbacks in the backfield. It’s Georgia’s turn to deal with Jadeveon this week, and the Dawgs will be wary of Clowney’s presence throughout the contest.
• Saturday’s game will mark the first time that Georgia has faced top-10 opponents in back-to-back weeks since 1998.
• Georgia is South Carolina’s second-most common opponent historically. The only team that the Gamecocks have played more in their history is Clemson (109 times), which UGA faced last week.
• South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier is 15-5 in his career against Georgia. He was 11-1 while coaching at Florida, and is an even 4-4 against the Bulldogs since taking the reins in Columbia.
• South Carolina’s roster includes 27 players from the state of Georgia.
• Georgia holds a 13-7 advantage in the series when facing USC in its SEC opener.