Columbia, SC (SportsNetwork.com) - The only top 25 matchup of the week takes place in the SEC, as the sixth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs take to the road to tangle with the 24th-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks in Georgia's conference opener at Williams- Brice Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Mark Richt's Bulldogs were saddled with a grueling two-game set to open the season, as they began 2014 against the dangerous Clemson Tigers, had a bye last week and now open SEC play against the formidable Gamecocks. The Bulldogs started slow in the season opener, but poured it on the Tigers in the second half en route to a 45-21 victory.
Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks welcomed the new-look Texas A&M Aggies to Columbia in their 2014 debut and were handled at home, 52-28. Following the humbling loss in conference play, South Carolina was able to distance itself from a solid East Carolina squad, earning a 33-23 victory this past weekend to pull even at 1-1 on the year.
Spurrier understands the challenge that Georgia presents.
"Georgia Bulldogs. This is interesting, three weeks ago, we were advertised as the top team in the East and now they're advertised as the top team in the East so a lot can change as we all know, but they're coming to our place. We have to believe that we can play a lot better than we have played," said Spurrier.
These two SEC East powers have met 66 times before, with Georgia holding a sizable 47-17-2 advantage, including a 19-9-2 edge in games played in Columbia. However, South Carolina holds a 5-3 advantage in the series when both teams are ranked.
A rested Georgia offense could pose serious problems for South Carolina this week. The Bulldogs churned out 459 yards of total offense against a good Clemson defense, including an eye-popping 328 yards on the ground.
Tailback Todd Gurley, a Heisman Trophy candidate coming into the season, cemented his status near the top of the running, with his stellar performance against the Tigers. Gurley had just 15 carries, but turned them into 198 yards and three TDs. He added a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to boot.
The strong outing by Gurley certainly aided quarterback Hutson Mason in his first game in replacing Georgia great Aaron Murray. Mason didn't have to do much against Clemson, although he did complete just under 70 percent of his throws (18-of-26), for 131 yards in the victory. His favorite target was Michael Bennett, who caught five balls, for 60 yards.
Almost as impressive as the offense, Georgia's defense pitched a shutout of the explosive Tigers in the second half, leading to the lopsided final score. The Bulldogs allowed Clemson to convert just 7-of-20 third-down opportunities and enjoyed an impressive pass rush that collected five sacks on the day.
The play of the linebacking corps was impressive. Senior Amarlo Herrera was a force in the win, finishing with 12 total tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2 sacks and 3 QB hurries. Fellow senior Ramik Wilson added seven tackles, as did sophomore Leonard Floyd, who also recorded a pair of sacks in the win.
With two games under their belts, the Gamecocks now know a thing or two about their offense. The team is averaging 437.0 yards per game, with 316.0 coming via the pass. Despite the impressive passing average, the ground game is still dangerous thanks to junior tailback Mike Davis. He posted his eighth career 100-yard effort in the win over East Carolina, rumbling for 101 yards and two touchdowns.
Redshirt senior quarterback Dylan Thompson has thrown for a hefty 632 yards in the first two games, with five touchdowns and two interceptions. The top receiving threat early on has been Nick Jones, who has 10 catches, for 157 yards and two TDs thus far. Thompson, who passed for 266 yards against the Pirates, sought out Shaq ROland often downfield. The 6-1 junior wideout caught nine balls for 97 yards against ECU.
A pair of interceptions on back-to-back third-quarter ECU drives was the turning point in the game for South Carolina, as senior defensive back Sharrod Golightly and junior safety T.J. Gurley each recorded a pick, which led to 10 USC points and effectively put the game out of reach for the home team.
The two interceptions were the first takeaways on the season for South Carolina, which is still giving up 566.5 yards of total offense, a number skewed by the beating Texas A&M delivered in the opener.
Sophomore linebacker Skai Moore paces the team in tackles with 13, including a sack. Gurley is a close second with 12 stops and the one interception.
"Obviously Coach Spurrier is a great coach," said Richt. Coach Ward--the defensive coordinator--outstanding coach. All of their coaches are outstanding. It will be a great challenge for us. I'm sure they'll be excited about the game. As far as their players are concerned, 25 percent of their team is from Georgia. There's a lot of great players from our state playing for them. I'm sure that will be a big one for them as well."