When the Georgia football team travels to Columbia, South Carolina this weekend, it will be the first step in re-claiming the SEC East Division title.
The Bulldogs have lost their past two games in South Carolina and have really struggled to score points in the hostile atmosphere at Williams-Brice Stadium.
The last time Georgia scored more than 20 points in Columbia was September 3, 1994.
Also of note - Georgia’s best player, Todd Gurley, was one month old.
To say the Dawgs have struggled to put the ball in the end zone in South Carolina would be somewhat of an understatement.
This Saturday, I think it will take at least 20 points, and probably a few more, for the No. 6 Bulldogs to come away with the victory and grab the early inside track in the race back to the SEC Championship.
Two years ago, UGA was overwhelmed by the Gamecocks in a primetime game that was over before it ever really began. South Carolina struck with two early touchdowns, the crowd at Williams-Brice was going nuts, and then Ace Sanders returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown that was the knockout punch before the first quarter had ended.
It was a performance where the Dawgs were clearly rattled and allowed South Carolina to seize all the momentum from the opening kickoff.
With such a young and inexperienced team taking the field on Saturday, Mark Richt’s calm demeanor and the leadership of veteran players will be critical to help the team stay poised and under control in what will be an extremely intense environment.
The most important factor in this game could be the poise and decision making of Hutson Mason. This will be the first time the fifth-year senior has started in a difficult road environment (Sup, Georgia Tech?) and his play will be a major barometer of the success of the Georgia offense.
For all his accomplishments, former Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray had serious issues at Williams-Brice Stadium, like many former UGA QBs before him. Murray struggled with pressure and often found himself running for his life from the USC defensive line.
The Gamecocks are still struggling to replace talented starters from that defensive line that was so disruptive over the past few years, but it will still be important for Mason to get the ball out quickly and find his open receivers, which should also help take pressure off the running game.
It will be just as important for Georgia’s defense, especially the young secondary, to stay poised.
The second half against Clemson in the season opener was a thing of beauty, but the Dawgs also showed some holes in a first half performance where they gave up 21 points.
South Carolina will likely have a more physical team with a more experienced quarterback than Clemson, along with the support of a home crowd. Factor in that this is a team with a chip on its shoulder as it still looks to rebound from a blowout at the hands of Texas A&M in the home opener, and UGA should fully expect to show up against a squad looking for a street fight.
The coaches and players have been saying all the right things since the win over Clemson. It sounds like all their focus and attention is on getting better while blocking out all the positive recognition they received from the season opener.
That razor-like focus will be key on Saturday. And hopefully we’ll see a Georgia team that doesn’t let anything distract from that focus. Not even 80,000 screaming fans.
What do you think will be the keys to the game? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!