Athens, GA - After a wild 51-44 win over SEC rival Tennessee on Saturday in Athens, No. 5 Georgia will travel to Columbia, S.C. to take on the No. 6 South Carolina Gamecocks. Both teams enter the matchup with a 5-0 record, including 3-0 marks in SEC play.
The offensive shootout that took place during the Tennessee game left head coach Mark Richt with a few improvements in mind for the game against the Gamecocks.
“Once everything happened the way it happened and we got down to the very end, we needed to make some plays, especially defensively and we were able to do that,” said Richt. “What we need to be able to improve on is our ability to get a couple of first downs at the end of the game and force people to use timeouts, so we run the clock. We just really haven’t done a good job of that in recent memory.
“It’s not like we didn't have a plan, we had a plan, but it just wasn’t good enough,” continued Richt. “We didn’t knock out a first down when we needed it the most to try and take as much drama out of it at the very end, so we had to defend a couple of times. We even had to defend one last time with 15 seconds left in the game; even at that point the game was one play away from being tied up or a touchdown and a two-point conversion away from being lost. I was pleased that we were able to make those plays when we needed to. We’ve got to make sure we can get us some first down at the end if we’re in a position to do that again in the future.”
As the Bulldogs look ahead to the Gamecocks, coach Richt is looking at South Carolina tailback Marcus Lattimore and his ability to improve in the second half.
“Lattimore seems to play even better as the game goes on,” Richt said. “I think when it’s early in the game and defenses are fresh, they run faster, hit harder and make fewer mistakes. As fatigue begins to set in and as a back begins to really finish his runs with some physicality, guys get tired of that. Even with our man Gurley, he was running in such a way that by the end of the Tennessee game, nobody really wanted to take him on, other than just trying to go low and shoot at his legs. I think that’s what happens sometimes; people get tired of that pounding and Lattimore’s been able to have enough stamina and be able to pound people and people begin to miss just a little bit when fatigue sets in, they’re not as strong and the guy starts being able to break tackles. You break one or two tackles and all the sudden you get a lot of space and you get big runs. I think it’s a combination of all those things.”
On the defensive side, Richt is also looking at Gamecock defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor and ways to keep them under control.
“They are outstanding, there’s no doubt about it,” said Richt. “They are tall, athletic and they have outstanding technique. They are much more physical against the run than they were a year ago. They really are complete players.
“You can’t just slide your protection to one guy without freeing up the other to have some type of one-on-one situation,” continued Richt. “There’s going to be times when we’ll probably be doing a little chipping, double-teaming or sliding to them, but there’s going to be times when a guy is just going to have to man up and block them. Hopefully, we’ll have a good enough mix of run, pass and flash and pass, that we’ll keep them where they aren’t 100 percent sure that we’re just dropping back and throwing the football. I think they do the most damage when it comes to pass rush. Hopefully we can do a good job with the combination of slide protection to one of them, chipping a guy on the way out or double-teaming with a tight end and a tackle or whatever, to get the ball off. We just have to be able to find different ways to keep them a little bit off balance.”
As the Bulldogs prepare for South Carolina, they are doing so a month later than in the past, which Rich feels can make a difference.
“We’ll be watching this year’s film instead of last year’s film,” Richt said. “You never know for sure what somebody has up their sleeve from one year to the next, having an entire offseason to assess their personnel, think about what type of personality that team has and figure out what their strengths are. When you play them really early, you’re going to see some things you didn’t prepare for, and that makes it a little bit tougher to defend. This far into the season, there will probably be a certain percentage of things that might be new because people tend to have a little bit of a package that might be different from what they’ve done all year long. For the most part, we’ve probably already seen on film or will see on film, the great majority of what they’re going to do in the game.”
South Carolina is coming off of a 38-17 win over Kentucky in Lexington and stands in a three-way tie for first place in the SEC East with Georgia and Florida. The three-way tie is soon to be broken however, as Florida also plays a conference game this Saturday.
“By the end of the day, the winner of our game is going to be tied for first or in first by themselves, depending on the Florida game,” Richt said. “Either way, the winner of our game is going to be in first and in control of their own destiny. It’s a big, big game right now, this deep into conference season with two undefeated teams.”
The Bulldogs own a 46-16-2 record against the Gamecocks, including a 19-8-2 record in Columbia. While Georgia has won seven of the last 10 meetings, South Carolina has picked up the last two wins. In the storied series, 26 games have been decided by seven points or less, including last year’s 45-42 loss.
Kickoff for Saturday’s game is set for 7:00 p.m., and will be broadcast on ESPN and featured on College GameDay. ESPN’s College GameDay was also in Columbia in 2004 when Georgia won 20-16.