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September 6, 2013
In advance of this weekend's SEC tilt featuring Georgia and South Carolina, GamecockCentral.com reached out to two trusted national college football writers in ESPN.com's Travis Haney and Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel to get their take on several topics relating to the game.
QUESTION: How big of an impact does this game have on the SEC East race? Do you think South Carolina can still win the division with a loss Saturday against Georgia? Can Georgia win it with a loss to South Carolina?
HANEY: I think we should all be wired now to believe it isn't the end-all game in the division. It's important, but there are different roads to Atlanta, as Georgia has proven the past two seasons. The odds would seem to still favor the winner, but no one's SEC hopes will be quashed the second week of the season, no.
MANDEL: Since Georgia has to face LSU and South Carolina does not, and South Carolina gets Florida at home, I would think South Carolina has a better chance of brushing it off than Georgia. But I certainly wouldn't want to take that chance.
QUESTION: Connor Shaw is searching for a signature road win and Aaron Murray is searching for a signature top ten win in which he has a big game. Who can deliver it and why?
HANEY: Honestly, I guess I didn't realize Shaw hadn't had any big road wins. The Murray-can't-win-the-big-one narrative is much larger at this point, and I think it puts an awful lot of pressure on him. Georgia will be throwing a lot more and will have to go against the tougher pass-rush, so I like Shaw's chances just because the game plan isn't nearly as heavily placed on his shoulders - even at the position, he has help. At some point the Murray-big-game thing is more than just a story; it's a real thing. I think he's a very solid player and guy, but even his biggest win, last year against Florida, came despite him not because of him.
MANDEL: I wouldn't discount either.I get why Murray has that label but it's pretty unfair. They did not lose to Clemson because of Aaron Murray. And Shaw doesn't get nearly enough credit. At this point in his career he shouldn't be fazed on the road.
QUESTION: Clemson was able to run the ball successfully against Georgia last weekend. What type of success do you expect from South Carolina and Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds this weekend against that defense?
HANEY: I didn't see that coming. I had been down on "Hot" Rod McDowell during the summer, at least relative to what they'd had previously. He was good, but I think Davis and Wilds are better. Davis really impressed me with how much better he had gotten since last year. I could see almost immediately why Steve Spurrier was talking him up to us in Bristol in July. Marcus Lattimore was over 100 yards in each of his three games/wins vs. Georgia; the running plan should be similar and I like those guys' chances of being in the combined 125-150 range to balance the offense.
MANDEL: That was the concern all along with Georgia, its defense might need some time to come together. Those guys could have success, though maybe not to the same degree as Clemson.
QUESTION: After all the questions about his effort and conditioning against North Carolina, how do you expect Jadeveon Clowney to respond against Georgia?
HANEY: I'm in the camp, I guess, of those who thought that whole thing was overblown. Sounds to me like it was a combination of a lot of things - a stomach bug, extreme heat, UNC's offense and, yes, conditioning - that led to so-so first game for Clowney. I think, deep down, he is probably embarrassed by what has been said about him and I think he will have something to prove. Georgia's offensive line might be its biggest weakness, and Murray was easily rattled by Clemson's defensive front. I think it'll be a really strong statement for the entire line, and Clowney will make a handful of plays to make everyone calm the heck down.
MANDEL: I fully expect him to have a great game. I don't think Georgia is well equipped to stop him. But of course they could game-plan to stay away from him, double team him, etc.
QUESTION: How much will being at home help Georgia's offense after having some issues with the noise in Death Valley? Will Georgia have a big day offensively or can Clowney and the Gamecock offense slow down Todd Gurley, Murray and the Dawg cast?
HANEY: That offense, with as much talent and experience as it has, should never complain about noise; Georgia plays in enough big-game environments that that should never be a crutch. But, that said, of course playing at home is easier. Gurley wasn't this Gurley a year ago, so I'm curious how he does against the Gamecocks. If he can get to that second and third level, he'll rip some big runs. But I can't imagine there being nearly as many big plays from the UGA offense as there was against Clemson.
MANDEL: Being at home will probably help their defense more than their offense. Defenses really feed off that energy. I thought that was especially true in last year's game (I was there).
QUESTION: What are the strengths and weak points of both of these teams in this match up in your mind?
HANEY: I've hit on some, I guess, but South Carolina needs to find a way to exploit some of the youth in Georgia's secondary. Josh Harvey-Clemons will be back, and that's huge, but the receivers will have some one-on-one chances. I'm thinking of Shaq Roland and Bruce Ellington as big pieces, and then the tight ends underneath. On the other side, Bulldogs tight end Arthur Lynch didn't do anything against Clemson (surprisingly), and I'd say he would have a big mismatch in the middle of the field vs. the Gamecocks linebackers. I'm sure they'll use him similarly as UNC did with Eric Ebron. Look, too, for Georgia to lean on its screen game to the backs, again trying to create those mismatches in space. Gurley and Keith Marshall's impacts might be felt most there, compared to runs.
MANDEL: Georgia's skill players are obviously exceptional. Gurley may be the best RB in the country. But the secondary remains a huge concern. But if South Carolina has any weaknesses on defense they certainly didn't show it against UNC. The question with them probably is big-play ability in the running game.
QUESTION: How do you see this game playing out ultimately, and why?
HANEY: Like I told some friends asking me earlier in the week, Georgia is really going to have to look a lot different this week to win. That doesn't mean they won't, but this game really sets up well for South Carolina. The Gamecocks are significantly bigger up front, so I expect them to often control the line of scrimmage. Watch, too, to see how much the Clemson game took out of the Bulldogs. South Carolina should be well rested. Georgia is actually more apt to win shootout-type games like last week than the physical test they'll see this week. The Gamecocks have a big edge, to me, and I think they win by 7-10 points in a game in the 20s.
MANDEL: I could be totally wrong -- Georgia may be so hungry and the crowd so loud that they just come out and roll. But Georgia did not appease the concerns I had with them in the Clemson game. I expect it to be close, hard-fought, but South Carolina prevails.
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