It’s South Carolina-Georgia week and if the rivalry needed any extra drama, it got it.
Hurricane Matthew has thrown a wrench in the plans, as the location and time of the game became a question mark.
We had some questions of our own and Chip Towers, of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s DawgNation, took some time off the weather beat to answer a few questions leading up to the still undecided kickoff.
Wilson: The logical place to start has to be where our attention has been this week: the weather. Has all the uncertainty about when and where the game will be played influenced the Bulldogs and their preparations?
Towers: You know, Kirby Smart has sounded exactly like Will Muschamp on this subject. They’re both saying that it’s not really a distraction, that it will be played wherever and whenever they’re told it will be played and that it does not impact their preparations. But that’s probably naive. Georgia fans have been blowing me up on social media and email wanting to know exactly when and where this game will be played. This tells me that players’ families and friends are similarly concerned about it. Personally, I think it’s crazy to conduct a game in a city that’s being sought as refuge for tens of thousands that are fleeing the coast. But apparently FSU and Miami are planning to play in Coral Gables, so how bad could it be, I guess.
Wilson: What are some of the biggest differences between Kirby Smart’s Georgia and Mark Richt’s Georgia – both on and off the field?
Towers: The funny thing is there is actually very little difference on the field. The issues Georgia has had the past few years under Richt are the same ones that are dogging the team this year, such as poor special teams play, laying an egg in a major game (Ole Miss) and costly, on-field discipline breakdowns (personal foul celebration vs. Tennessee). Off the field the primary difference is Kirby’s tight-fisted control of interview access. No assistant coaches, only the players he personally approves, which are generally the same ones from week-to-week, and a ridiculously-low amount of practice observation limited only to periods where there is nothing to see.
Wilson: Offensively, what form of growing pains have there been with Jacob Eason? How important has the run game been in taking some pressure off the freshman?
Towers: Eason’s growing pains have been hard for the average fan to see. They’re primarily operation issues such as getting the play signal in from the sideline, translating for the offense, making sure everybody is lined up right, communicating the look and checking in or out of plays based on what the defense is showing. All that is overshadowed by his 6-foot-6, 242-pound frame and big arm. Actually, Georgia’s run game has been relatively pedestrian, between the offensive line (struggling) and the health of the tailbacks. It’s still above average for the league, but really not dominant to the point of helping the young quarterback. Really, the offense is more dependent on him opening up the run game than vice-versa.
Wilson: Getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks hasn’t been Georgia’s strongest point this season. Can the Bulldogs take advantage of an iffy USC offensive line? Or will it be on the secondary to keep forcing turnovers?
Towers: The lack of sacks for Georgia this season is more of a function of the types of offensive teams they’ve played than anything else. Virtually every team has utilized some kind of spread that utilizes a lot of the run-pass option stuff that modern-day rules allow. So the Bulldogs OLBs and DEs haven’t been able to pin their ears back much and get after quarterbacks. I suspect that will be easier for them to do if Perry Orth is the primary signal-caller for South Carolina. OLBs Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy are actually very good players and have, by all accounts, played well. Georgia’s secondary does have a penchant for getting its hands on balls in the air as the team takeaways will attest. I suspect the whole defense is licking its chops to see the Gamecocks after what they’ve had to deal with so far this season.
Wilson: How do you see things unfolding Saturday?
Towers: It kind of depends on the when and where of this game and what the weather is like. If it was just a regular Georgia-South Carolina game at Williams-Brice, I’d say the Bulldogs were in great danger. The Gamecocks always play great against UGA in Columbia and, conversely, Georgia doesn’t usually play well. But with all the extenuating factors including the weather and uncertainty about when it’s played, I don’t expect the usual frenzied USC crowd and highly-charged environment. And I like Georgia between these two teams in a neutral environment. So I suspect the Bulldogs will win, and will probably be underwhelming in doing so.