The (Columbia) State’s South Carolina sports beat writer Augusta Stone joints The (Macon) Telegraph’s Georgia writer Brandon Sudge to answer key questions around Saturday night’s game between the Gamecocks and Bulldogs (7 p.m., ESPN) at Sanford Stadium in Athens.
Both teams have questions at quarterback. Who is expected to start on Saturday?
Sudge: Is it appropriate to say ‘Who knows?’ at this point? Georgia pulled a fast one on everybody when it trotted out Stetson Bennett a week ago when everyone expected Carson Beck to get the nod in place of an injured JT Daniels. Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said Daniels has progressively felt better, and I don’t think the program wants to open the door to another quarterback controversy — despite Bennett notching five touchdowns against UAB. Daniels, by all accounts, looks healthy enough on Saturday to play in a conference game if needed. I believe he gets the nod against South Carolina.
Stone: ‘Who’s at quarterback?’ is pretty much the million-dollar question over in Columbia, too: The graduate assistant-turned-QB Zeb Noland or last year’s starter Luke Doty? Shane Beamer has given the same answer on Doty’s health for a couple of weeks now -- he’s doing more at every practice, he’s overcoming foot soreness, he’s knocking off rust -- but Beamer’s also saying they expect Doty to be 100% healthy in Athens. Even still, Noland has been solid enough to lead the Gamecocks to a 2-0 start, and there’s a realistic chance the Athens-area native could get the start near his hometown. My best guess would be Noland, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a fully-recovered Doty takes snaps.
How will South Carolina’s offense adjust to Georgia’s nationally-ranked defense?
Sudge: Georgia has arguably the best defense in the Smart era. At least the opening two games have shown that. The Bulldogs are stout up front, so the Gamecocks might have to rely on the passing game — despite the questions behind center. South Carolina can best find some offensive flow by testing a younger secondary, especially redshirt freshman Kelee Ringo.
Stone: South Carolina’s pass protection took some heat after Noland was left scrambling at times against East Carolina, and Beamer knows the challenge that Georgia poses. The Gamecocks’ best hope is for vast improvement in communication at the line of scrimmage, as Beamer said some of the Gamecocks’ blocking miscues can be chalked up to late protection calls from the quarterback gone awry. Those kinds of mistakes must be cleaned up to give South Carolina’s offense a chance against one of the nation’s most talented defensive fronts. The Gamecocks aren’t in Greenville, North Carolina this weekend.
What are the expectations for Georgia’s offense against South Carolina’s defensive front?
Sudge: Smart hasn’t been hesitant to call out Georgia’s run game. The Bulldogs need more push up front and more holes for its talented running backs, and a sign of improvement would be to have more explosive runs against the Gamecocks’ front. It won’t matter much in the result, but Georgia would find success in a smoother offensive approach.
Stone: If there’s a place for South Carolina to be particularly optimistic on Saturday, it’s along the defensive line. The Gamecocks know how to pressure a quarterback, and edge rusher Kingsley Enagbare has gotten some NFL draft buzz for a reason. Will it be enough to flip the script to a USC win? That’s unlikely, but Georgia’s O-line should watch out for the pressure that could come from the Gamecocks.
The spread is favoring Georgia by 32 points, the largest in the matchup’s history. What could give South Carolina a chance?
Sudge: South Carolina has a chance if a repeat of the 2019 double-overtime thriller happens once again on the Sanford Stadium turf. While that doesn’t seem likely, the Gamecocks will need to find magic in its run game. Smart applauded South Carolina’s stable of running backs, because the group rotates with quality players much like Georgia does. In order to win, the Gamecocks will need two dimensions to its offense and probably force a few turnovers.
Stone: Defense is the one of the Gamecocks’ main hopes to stay competitive in this game. The good news is USC’s defense has the potential to be flashy. They’ve brought an interception to the end zone in each of their first two games and have grabbed four picks on the year. The Gamecocks won’t win if they have to rely solely on their offense. The mismatch between UGA’s defensive line and USC’s offensive line spells too much trouble.
What is your game prediction?
Sudge: I like Georgia in a runaway here, simply because of the Bulldogs’ playmakers and an advantage with its experienced defensive front. It probably won’t matter who starts as Georgia’s quarterback for a few weeks, but I do like the Gamecocks to score the first touchdown against the Bulldogs’ defense in 2021. Georgia 41, South Carolina 10
Stone: This year could easily be another Georgia blowout, similar to last year’s 45-16 rout in Columbia, but I think there’s more belief along the South Carolina sidelines than when they last met in November 2020. Hope won’t win a game against one of the country’s best teams, but the Gamecocks will give the Bulldogs the best shot they have. I’m expecting some excitement from USC’s defense, but the game probably won’t leave the Bulldogs’ grip. Georgia 35, South Carolina 20