South Carolina, LSU, and Florida look to be the toughest SEC matchups for the Bulldogs as they head into the 2013 season. Georgia closed out 2012 7-1 in the SEC, with its one loss being to South Carolina in an away game. Pre-season predictions have Georgia winning the SEC East and competing in the SEC championship game for a third consecutive year. The coaches poll, released on Thursday, has the Bulldogs ranked No. 5, behind Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon, and Stanford. There is no doubt that Georgia will be a force in the SEC in 2013, particularly offensively, but their opponents will not go down without a fight.
Week 2: Georgia v. South Carolina
One of the biggest, if not the biggest game Georgia plays in 2013 is against South Carolina.
Last season, in Columbia, S.C., Georgia suffered a 35- 7 loss to the Gamecocks, making it the team’s first loss of 2012. The Bulldogs struggled offensively for most of the game, with Murray going 11-for-31 with 109 yards—much different than the 286 yards he recorded the week before against Tennessee. The Bulldogs lone TD didn’t come until the final two minutes of the game.
Defensively, the team had a rough first quarter as it was unable to stop South Carolina’s offense, allowing 21 points; however, the defense came out strong in the second quarter of the game, preventing the Gamecocks from putting any more points on the board until the second half. Amarlo Herrera led the Bulldogs with 11 total tackles, and John Jenkins followed with 8 tackles.
This season, there is one name standing between Georgia and redemption: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina’s junior defensive end. In Thursday’s preseason press conference, Georgia head coach Mark Richt said that Clowney is “the best college football player in America” and could be “one of the best” by the time his likely NFL career is over.
While South Carolina’s remaining defensive players are quick and talented, Clowney will be the biggest obstacle, considering South Carolina is still rebuilding part of its defense (after losing 6 defensive starters). Last season, Clowney had 4 tackles against Georgia as a sophomore, and the year before, his first career sack occurred while playing the Bulldogs. With the majority of Georgia’s offensive line returning, a familiarity with Clowney’s methods will be an asset to Georgia’s offensive attack. If backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, as well as receivers Malcom Mitchell and Michael Bennett, are on their best game, the battle in Athens will be much different this time around.
Defensively, Georgia will face the Gamecocks’ QB Connor Shaw, who finished right behind Murray as the third-most efficient passer in the SEC last season. Both Herrera, who led defensively in the teams’ 2012 meet-up, and Jenkins return to take on Shaw and the remainder of the Gamecocks’ offense. In addition, Georgia’s defense is strengthened with defensive ends Garrison Smith, Sterling Bailey, and Ray Drew, among others.
Off the field, the pre-game talk has given an insight into the intensity this week 2 game will bring, especially between Clowney and Georgia QB Aaron Murray. During SEC Football Media Days, Clowney said that “you can look at a guy and tell if he’s scared.” He was referring to his opponents’ QBs—one of those QBs being Murray. Murray responded by saying that he thinks “the word ‘fear’ was misused for ‘respect.’” With the level of hype surrounding this game, comments like Clowney’s only add fuel to the fire.
Georgia will play South Carolina in Athens on September 7th, one week after meeting Clemson in the season opener.