September 11, 2009

Preview: South Carolina at Georgia

South Carolina at No. 21 Georgia

Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens

When: Saturday, 7 p.m.

TV/Radio: ESPN2 (Mike Patrick, Craig James, Heather Cox/Georgia Bulldog Radio Network

TV Replay: CSS, Sunday, 11 a.m.

Head Coaches: Georgia - Mark Richt (82-23, 9th season), South Carolina - Steve Spurrier (29-22, 5th year, 171-62-2 overall)

The Game

South Carolina has been Georgia's first SEC opponent since the Gamecocks joined the league in 1992. The Bulldogs are 12-5 in those games, including 6-2 under Richt.

Six of the eight games have between these teams under Richt have been decided by seven points or less with Georgia winning five of them. In the 2008 contest, the Bulldogs finally found the end zone in the third quarter to erase a 7-6 deficit. Thanks to a couple of Gamecock turnovers in the final period, the second-ranked Bulldogs escaped with a 14-7 win.

However, in 2007 it was South Carolina which upset the 11th-ranked Bulldogs 16-12 at Sanford Stadium. The Gamecocks limited Georgia to our field goals. The Bulldogs hold a 45-14-2 edge in the series history.

What to Look For

Which team will bring some offense to Saturday afternoon's contest?

South Carolina won a 7-3 defensive struggle from North Carolina State last week, while the Bulldogs were certainly impressive on their opening drive against Oklahoma State, but failed the reach the Cowboys' red zone the rest of the way.

A few key things to look for: Georgia left tackle Vince Vance, who takes over for the injured Trinton Sturdivant (ACL). Vance will have his work cut as the Gamecocks feature one of the SEC's top defensive ends in junior Cliff Matthews.

Also, will the Bulldogs do a better job integrating freshmen wide receivers Marlon Brown and Rantavious Wooten into the offensive package after failing to play them at all last week?

What about running back Caleb King? King is officially listed as doubtful for this game, but if he can play, look for him to help take some of the load off of Richard Samuel, who rushed for 87 yards on 20 carries last week.

The quarterbacks

Senior Joe Cox is expected to get the start despite admitting Friday that he has shoulder troubles, putting the spotlight on Logan Gray who saw all of the snaps with the No. 1 unit Wednesday afternoon in practice.

Cox was 15 of 30 for 162 yards against Oklahoma State last week, and will need to improve that percentage against the Gamecocks who will counter with sophomore Stephen Garcia who completed 13 of 22 passes for 148 yards and an interception against North Carolina State.

Injury Update

South Carolina will be without junior linebacker Rodney Paulk who suffered a season-ending ACL tear in his right knee last week.

Sturdivant did likewise against Oklahoma State.

The Bulldogs will also be without linebacker Darius Dewberry (pulled muscle) while running back Caleb King is listed as doubtful for the contest. Defensive end Kiante Tripp (shoulder) will return.

Homecoming for some

Fourteen players from South Carolina call Georgia home, while four Bulldogs call the Palmetto State home.

They included wide receiver A.J. Green, cornerback Prince Miller, linebacker Charles White and defensive tackle Kwame Geathers.

Junior split end Marquise Brown started his career at South Carolina before transferring to Georgia.

True freshmen make impact

Georgia played seven true freshmen against Oklahoma State - tight end Orson Charles, tight end Arthur Lynch, defensive back Branden Smith, defensive end Montez Robinson, defensive tackle Abry Jones, defensive back Shawn Williams and linebacker Michael Gilliard.

That list is expected to grow by two as Richt stated that Brown and Wooten will see action against the Gamecocks.

Prediction

I know, I know. It's just the second game of the year and Georgia's first SEC conference contest of the year.

That said, Saturday night's game against South Carolina is about as big as it gets for this early point in the season.

Georgia hasn't started a year 0-2 since Jim Donnan's first season in 1996, and nobody associated with the Bulldogs wants to fathom the possibility having to be put in that position this fall.

Talk about drama. News that Cox has nerve damage in his shoulder certainly brings its share of intrigue into the game, which was already going to be interesting based on the issues the Bulldogs exhibited on offense after zipping down the field for its only touchdown during its first possession.

Defensively, I think the Bulldogs did a fine job against Oklahoma State, a fine job. It's not easy being backed up like they were last week, but showed tremendous character and bark than last year's defense was able to show.

Which brings us to South Carolina.

The Gamecocks weren't exactly an offensive juggernaunt themselves, eking out a 7-3 win in their season-opener over North Carolina State, and Spurrier searching for answers to add some offensive spice.

Defensively, South Carolina is solid and features two of the league's best in linebacker Eric Norwood and Matthews, who will be a big challenge for Vance at left tackle.

History suggests that this will be another close, tight game based on the last four contests between these two SEC rivals. One of these years, somebody is going to break the mold. Not this year, but at least the Bulldogs that coveted first win. Prediction: Georgia 17, South Carolina 10.

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