GAMECOCKS 2007: at GEORGIA
Before C&F gets to the actual substance of the preview against Georgia, he wants to make sure to rebut what Hey Jenny Slater said in its own preview of the South Carolina-Georgia matchup in recent years.
We own their asses to the tune of a 44-13-2 all-time record, so it’s not like they’re some kind of bitter historical rival, but their constant “We’re gonna whip your asses this year” shit-talking backed up by no discernible evidence gets them 4.5 points.
That our constant promises of defeating the spelling-challenged Dawgs in a given year has not produced a victory since 2001 is undisputable; that we have somehow be "own[ed]" is a notion clearly coming from not having watched the game over the last several years. (Or watching it through red-and-black-colored shades.)
In fact, in the Richt Era, the average score of the game has been 18.0-9.8 -- slightly more than a touchdown. Take out an aberrant 31-7 drubbing in 2003, and the average score has been 15.4-10.4. Neither of those points to being owned.
In fact, among the five straight losses was the 13-7 debacle in the mud in 2002, when the Bulldogs outscored the Gamecocks 10-7 in the fourth quarter in a game that was essentially in doubt until then; the come-from-behind 20-16 game in 2004, in which Lou Holtz decided to calll 58 consecutive quarterback draws; and the 17-15 failure to execute in 2005, a game that South Carolina essentially lost by 10 yards on flubbed fieldgoals and a missed two-point conversion pass that would have won the game.
If you want to use games from the early 1990s or the 1980s to prove your point, that's fine. Five words for you: Steve Spurrier versus Ray Goff.
The "discernible evidence" boils down to the statistical evidence that eventually, the bounces go back your way, the luck of the other guy runs out. It's called reversion to the mean. On the other hand, 15-of-17 -- now that's getting owned.
On to the preview.
O-line. The South Carolina offensive line is in disarray at this point; no one can deny that. But the Georgia front also looks like it's going to take a while to take shape. Going on past performance though, Georgia should be able to put together a better effort than South Carolina can; whether it will be enough to hold back the Gamecocks' defensive front is another question. ADVANTAGE: GEORGIA
Quarterback. Matthew Stafford has been much ballyhooed this year as perhaps the best QB in the SEC -- but he has yet to prove it on the field. Last year, Stafford completed just 52.7 percent of his passes and threw 7 TDs against 13 interceptions. Many of those numbers notably improved toward the last half of the year, but not notably enough (in C&F's opinion) to justify the hype. Quick quiz -- of Stafford and Mitchell last year, who had the better TD-to-INT ratio? Mitchell. Better rating? Mitchell. Higher yards-per-game average? Mitchell. But C&F is not sold on Blake until he proves that he can win the critical game with skill and not luck. ADVANTAGE: PUSH
7 TDs, 13 INTs: Best QB everer!!111!!
Wide receivers. This one is also tough. Both teams are likely to start few if any of the players that started last year. The only returner among either team to catch more than 50 balls is Kenny McKinley. Some of the receivers for both teams have shown promise on the practice field in the preseason, but that is far, far from doing it during the games in the SEC. ADVANTAGE: PUSH
Running backs. Kregg Lumpkin and Cory Boyd are about even on every major stastical category, though most of them tilt ever so slightly in Boyd's favor. But C&F thinks the Gameocks have a touch more depth -- he'll take Mike Davis over likely backups at Georgia any day -- and Boyd has the clear advantage when it comes to contributing to the passing game. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA
Cory Boyd: Good runner, good receiver.
D-line. Georgia loses a lot of experience along the line, including both of their leading sackers. This year's starters had 3.5 sacks between them last year -- less than the Gamecocks' Eric Norwood. South Carolina's line is also green, but is surprising coaches -- they can't tell if the o-line is that bad or the d-line is that good. Again, not enough to judge on either side. ADVANTAGE: PUSH
Linebackers. If respect for South Carolina's secondary comes from reputation, the linebackers might actually be the most proven part of the team. The Brinkley twins combined for 12 sacks (even if one of them played mostly on the line last year). Georgia's linebacking unit has little experience and little to show for it. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA
Secondary. Again, this is mostly rep this year on South Carolina's side. Captain Munnerlyn had a nice season with some playing time, grabbing a couple of interceptions. Carlos Thomas also took a couple away. Brandon Isaac was out last year; Emanuel Cook could go either way. Also not much on the Georgia side in the way of experience. ADVANTAGE: PUSH
Mikey Henderson and Asher Allen return the ball well. Brandon Coutu might simply be the best place-kicker in the SEC, and possibly the country. The Bulldogs do lose known commodity Gordon Ely-Kelso as their punter. For the Gamecocks, Ryan Succop should be fine, but the return game is coming off a season that was just bad. ADVANTAGE: GEORGIA
Yes, Mark Richt is a great coach. Yes, he's gotten the better of South Carolina in all except his first year. But the guy on our sideline is still Steve Spurrier. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA
Tell Mark to call me when he's got six.
This is one of those games C&F hates to hazard a guess at. Every year it looks like Georgia should win, they do. Every game it looks like Georgia should lose, they don't. If someone placed a gun to C&F's head and told him to decide, he'd probably go with Georgia. It's like the Cubs; you don't pick them to win the World Series until they do it, because otherwise you're just placing your teeth in front of someone with steel-toed shoes and asking them to kick you as hard as they can. Officially? C&F wimps out. The teams are just too evenly matched, and this game is just too early in the season. TOSS UP
THE REST OF THEIR SEASON
Mark Richt is a great coach, so don't count Georgia out of anything yet. But they have a good chance of landing anywhere from No. 2 to No. 5 in the SEC East this year. Kentucky is good, and if South Carolina beats Georgia, they could start off the season 0-2. (Oklahoma State's trip to Athens is looking better and better for the Cowboys from where C&F sits.) Lose to Alabama or Tennessee, and the season could be over (in terms of conference championship hopes) before October is done. I see four certain wins on their schedule. Games that could go either way: South Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky, Georgia Tech. Out of respect for Mark Richt, though, I give Georgia a 7-5 baseline every year. This year, that's probably all they'll get.