This week’s action in the SEC gets underway with a rivalry game between the no. 3 Georgia Bulldogs and South Carolina Gamecocks. Kickoff is at noon EST on Saturday, October 12 at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.
Oddsmakers list the Bulldogs as 24.5-point favorites at home with an over/under of 52.5 points. Click here for a full listing of this week’s college football odds.
After a close call with Notre Dame a few weeks ago, the Bulldogs got back to steamrolling opponents last week, beating rival Tennessee 43-14. That win moved Georgia to 5-0, making them one of four remaining unbeaten teams in the SEC. After beating Vanderbilt and Tennessee for their two SEC wins thus far, the rest of the schedule sets up well for Georgia. The Bulldogs don’t have another true road game until the middle of November. They play three of their next four games at home with their neutral-site clash with Florida mixed in. The Bulldogs have three games against ranked teams lined up in November, but they are likely to cruise until then.
Meanwhile, the Gamecocks are fighting for their bowl lives every time out. September losses to North Carolina, Alabama, and Missouri put them in a deep hole. The Gamecocks started to fight their way out with a win over Kentucky two weeks ago. But South Carolina comes out of last week’s bye with Georgia and Florida in back-to-back weeks. They also have Texas A&M and Clemson lurking at the end of November. The 2-3 Gamecocks will have to pull off an upset in at least one of those games if they hope to reach a bowl game. In other words, they head to Athens a desperate team.
Of course, the Gamecocks don’t have a win over Georgia since 2014. The Bulldogs have won their head-to-head clash with South Carolina four straight years, including a 41-17 win last season. All four of those wins have come by at least two touchdowns. Also, South Carolina doesn’t have a win in Athens since 2011 when they were ranked no. 12 in the country.
South Carolina has fallen on some hard times this year. But Will Muschamp is a fighter and I expect his team to put up a good fight against Georgia. It’d be foolish to think that the Gamecocks can walk into Athens and come away with a win unless the Bulldogs self-destruct. But this will be Georgia’s toughest game of the season to date outside of Notre Dame. I like the Bulldogs to win, but I’ll take South Carolina against the spread.
One area where South Carolina has excelled all season is in running the ball. The tandem of Rico Dowdle and Tavien Feaster is one of the more underrated backfields in the SEC with both rushing for over 100 yards against Kentucky. In fairness, Georgia is one of the best teams in the country at defending the run. Even Notre Dame wasn’t able to generate much of a ground game against the Bulldogs. However, the Gamecocks have two capable backs where Notre Dame has only one. South Carolina also had a productive ground game against Alabama earlier in the season. To me, that’s a good sign that they’ll be able to generate something against the Georgia defense.
If the Gamecocks can force Georgia to respect their running game, it’ll make things much easier on freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski. Naturally, there have been plenty of growing pains for Hilinski, who’s only playing because of the injury to Jake Bentley early in the year. But the arm talent is there if he gets some support around him. The Gamecocks also have a top-flight receiver in Bryan Edwards. Between him and the backfield tandem of Dowdle and Feaster, the South Carolina offense has a chance to create some explosive plays against the Georgia defense to help keep them in the game.
On the other side of the ball, the South Carolina defense should put up more resistance than the Bulldogs have seen outside of the Notre Dame game. The 34 points the Gamecocks allowed against Missouri is misleading because the Missouri defense was responsible for 14 of the points. The South Carolina defense also limited Alabama to just 76 yards rushing. Obviously, they weren’t as successful against the Alabama passing attack, but holding their own in the trenches against the Crimson Tide is a big deal.
Slowing down the running game like that would be huge against Georgia. The Bulldogs rely on their running game to help set up Jake Fromm and the passing attack. Georgia also has a young collection of wide receivers. At this point, they aren’t as explosive as some of Alabama’s receivers, giving the South Carolina defense a good chance to limit the number of explosive plays they give up against the Bulldogs.
Let’s be clear, South Carolina winning this game is a long shot. But the Gamecocks were able to beat the spread against Alabama and they’re better than their 2-3 record suggests. If South Carolina can run the ball a little and play solid defense, I like their chances of keeping this game within two scores and beating the spread.