ATHENS, Ga. -- A short memory would benefit Georgia’s players as they try to claim their first win of the season against No. 6 South Carolina.
Not only might that help the 11th-ranked Bulldogs (0-1) forget last Saturday’s uneven performance against No. 4 Clemson, it would also prevent them from dwelling on the knowledge that few Georgia players have ever notched a victory against the Gamecocks (1-0). With a team as talented as South Carolina coming to town on Saturday, simply finding a way to end a three-game losing streak against their SEC East rival is problem enough for the Bulldogs.
“We definitely want to send some of these seniors off with a win against South Carolina this year because the only ones who’ve got a win are the ones who redshirted their freshman year,” Georgia outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “I know a lot of the older guys definitely feel that this is the game we have to win and that they really take it on themselves to win this week.”
Last season’s Georgia-South Carolina game provided one of the few decisive outcomes in the series in the 12 years since Mark Richt became the Bulldogs’ coach. The Gamecocks quickly jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and won 35-7 by using their imposing defensive line -- led by Heisman Trophy contender Jadeveon Clowney -- to dominate Georgia up front.
Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo lamented afterward that he abandoned the running game too early, with freshman stars Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall rushing for 39 and 37 yards, respectively, on 25 total carries.
Bobo said this week that maintaining balance and forcing Clowney and company to respect the run is one ways to keep the Gamecocks’ pass rushers from harassing quarterback Aaron Murray as mercilessly as they did a year ago in Columbia.
“Last year we obviously got down and then we were in too many third-and-longs,” Bobo said.
“You can’t do that against a team like that that has really a bunch of good pass rushers. ... We’ve got to do a good job of staying ahead of the sticks and being in manageable situations.”
Fixing that problem will require a more consistent performance from Georgia’s offensive line than the inconsistent effort the group provided at Clemson and a tougher defensive performance against the run. Clemson is nowhere near the power running team that South Carolina will be, yet the Tigers rushed for 197 yards last Saturday, and the majority of those yards came on runs between the tackles.
“It definitely forced us [Monday] to just sit down and focus on what the coaches were saying and some of the stuff we have to fix about the last game just to get ready and prepare for this week,” Jenkins said.
Those around Georgia’s football building won’t admit that this is a make-or-break game for the Bulldogs -- at least not publicly. But it’s South Carolina that benefits from a more manageable SEC schedule this season, much like Georgia enjoyed the previous two years when it won the division title.
Georgia has overcome losses to the Gamecocks the last two seasons and still reached Atlanta, but they know that feat would become much more difficult with yet another loss to South Carolina on Saturday.
“We prefer not to be sitting like we were a couple years ago after [losses to] Boise State and South Carolina. We’re going to do our best not to be in that position,” Richt said. “But the goal is to win the Eastern Division. ... I think everybody in the East, anyway, has control of their own destiny at this point.”
ANATOMY OF A LOSING STREAK
For the first time in the series' 119-year history, South Carolina owns a three-game winning streak against Georgia. Let's look back at the last three meetings between the two SEC East powers, one of whom has won the division title in each of those three seasons:
South Carolina 17, Georgia 6: Georgia's first conference game with Todd Grantham as defensive coordinator showed that the Bulldogs didn't have the horses up front to defend a power running game. Gamecocks freshman tailback Marcus Lattimore had his coming-out party, rushing for 182 yards and two touchdowns on a whopping 37 carries. South Carolina, meanwhile, limited Georgia to just 61 rushing yards and 253 yards of total offense.
South Carolina 45, Georgia 42: One of the wildest games in series history saw South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram score two touchdowns -- on a 68-yard run off a fake punt and on a 5-yard fumble return late in the game after the freshman defensive end Clowney forced the ball loose from Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray. Lattimore again pounded Georgia's defense, rushing for 176 yards on 27 carries, but it was Georgia's three back-breaking turnovers -- Murray also had an interception returned for a touchdown and was part of a botched exchange on a handoff where South Carolina returned the fumble close to the Bulldogs' goal line, setting up another touchdown -- and the Ingram fake punt that made the biggest difference in the outcome.
South Carolina 35, Georgia 7: Lattimore was not the problem this time. It was that Gamecocks quarterback Connor Shaw ran circles around the Bulldogs' defense in the first quarter, then Ace Sanders returned a punt for a touchdown, and South Carolina led 21-0 by the end of the first period. The Bulldogs got too pass happy afterward, and Murray turned in the worst statistical performance of his college career with just 109 passing yards and one interception, all the while getting harassed by an imposing Gamecocks' defensive front. South Carolina's 28-point win was its biggest margin of victory in series history.