Marcus Lattimore gazed up at Williams-Brice Stadium, glowing in the dusk beyond the fences of the Proving Grounds. He pondered the question, then permitted himself a smile.
“We love games like this. That’s why we came to the SEC, to play in games like this,” Lattimore said in our pre-game radio interview.
Even the most stoic players can’t help but get excited for this.
The white-hot hype finally crests Saturday when #6 South Carolina and #5 Georgia meet at Williams-Brice Stadium (7:10 p.m. EST, Gamecock IMG Sports Network). In a rivalry that dates back 118 years, no game has carried a greater combination of division, SEC, and national-title implications for both teams. And that doesn’t begin to describe the most basic trapping of a win: bragging rights over your rival.
Marcus Lattimore has averaged 179 rushing yards per game in his career against Georgia.
The build-up has been relentless. But Lattimore and the Gamecocks haven’t tried to dodge the hype. If anything, they’ve embraced it – and they hope to create more of it with a win Saturday.
Pre-snap reads before the next installment of the border battle at Williams-Brice Stadium:
Go Long: For the last three weeks, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray has rewarded his offensive linemen with ice cream for a good blocking performance.
A trip to the dentist may be next.
Georgia’s pass-blocking has allowed Murray to rank 2nd in the nation in yards per attempt (10.8). Translation: Murray completes a high percentage of passes (68.5% to be exact), and when he does, they often go for long yardage.
Georgia QB Aaron Murray (left) gets wrapped up by Gamecock CB Jimmy Legree in last year’s game in Athens.
Despite a defense that has straitjacketed teams on the scoreboard, South Carolina has had a curious tendency to give up long gains. The Gamecocks rank 12th in the SEC in pass plays of 20+ yards allowed (a function, perhaps, of facing so many spread offenses). Even without top pass catcher Michael Bennett, who suffered a torn ACL in practice Tuesday, look for Georgia to continue to stretch the field vertically. Murray has a balanced, experienced receiving corps, and slippery sophomore Malcolm Mitchell has moved back full-time to offense.
No team racks up 560+ yards of offense in three straight games without ripping off long gains. Preventing the big play will be at the top of the Gamecocks’ checklist Saturday.
The Four Best You Got: Murray said the film of last year’s 45-42 loss to the Gamecocks motivated him during Georgia’s Spring and summer workouts.
When he watched film of the Gamecocks this year, another trait stood out.
“You can see they don’t do too much in terms of blitzing,” Murray said. “Those are the best defenses – when you trust your players to just make plays and they do that.”
The Power of Williams-Brice? The big push-meets-shove battle pits Georgia’s #8-ranked scoring offense against South Carolina’s #6-ranked scoring defense. For the first time in school history, Georgia has scored 40 or more points in five straight games. In addition to Murray, freshman running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall average a staggering 8.0 yards per carry.
So how many points will Carolina need to score to keep pace? A certain towel-waving contingent may have something to say about that. Georgia hasn’t scored more than 20 points at Williams-Brice Stadium since 1994 – a span of 8 games.
Did You Know: Bulldogs inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti was a member of Steve Spurrier’s staff with the Washington Redskins. Olivadotti spent 11 seasons in Washington, serving under 6 different head coaches. When asked by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution why he kept his job on Spurrier’s staff, Olivadotti offered this choice quote:
“Probably… because I kind of knew how to work everything in the building.”
“Turn-t Up”: Antonio Allen‘s pick-six. Melvin Ingram‘s game-sealing fumble recovery for a touchdown. Stephon Gilmore‘s goal-line fumble recovery on a potential game-tying drive in 2010. Eric Norwood‘s winding runback for a score in 2009.
Every recent Georgia-Carolina game, it seems, has featured a major, momentum-swinging turnover. Will the trend continue in 2012? Georgia’s play hasn’t exactly inspired confidence: the Bulldogs committed three turnovers against Tennessee, leading to 21 Volunteer points.
“Grown-Man Football”: Georgia enters the South Carolina game with the Top-10 defense everyone expected.
It’s just not the list Bulldog fans wanted.
After returning 9 starters from a team that finished 5th in the nation in total defense in 2011, Georgia’s defense has been mystifyingly porous. Georgia ranks 10th in the SEC in pass defense, 10th in total defense, and 9th in rush defense.
CB Sanders Commings (#18) celebrates after his second interception against Tennessee (photo courtesy: Augusta Chronicle).
Thankfully, the Bulldogs have balanced out – or bailed out – their mistakes with timely turnovers. In three SEC games, Georgia has forced 6 turnovers in the fourth quarter – more than half of their season total.
4th Quarter SEC games (3 quarters): 6
Rest of Season (17 quarters): 4
After Tennessee gashed the Bulldogs for 44 points through three quarters, Georgia forced turnovers on the final three possessions to seal a 51-44 win.
Limiting mistakes remains one of Carolina’s biggest strengths. Led by quarterback Connor Shaw, the Gamecocks have made efficient, mistake-free matriculations down the field in SEC play. Will Carolina not let Georgia off the hook with drive-killing miscues?
All In The Family: South Carolina seeks a 10thstraight win Saturday, which would break the school record held by the 1984 “Black Magic” squad. That team featured linebacker Ken Robinson, who would lead the Gamecocks in tackles in 1985 and 1986 before embarking on a two-year career with the Washington Redskins.
His son will try to secure his place in the record books – Christian Robinson is a reserve linebacker for Georgia. He led the Bulldogs with 8 tackles against the Gamecocks last year.
Now that we’re prepared, we hope you are as well. Our pre-game coverage begins at 4:00 p.m. EST Saturday on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network. See you at Williams-Brice. -AD–