Preview: South Carolina at No. 3 Georgia
WHEN: Saturday, noon
WHERE: Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium
RECORDS: Georgia 5-0, 2-0; South Carolina 1-2
DAWG WALK: 9:45 a.m.
TV/RADIO: ESPN (Bob Wischusen, Dan Orlovsky, Allison Williams); National Radio (Touchdown Radio Network – Brett Dolan, Gino Torretta); Georgia Bulldog Radio Network (Scott Howard, Eric Zeier, Chuck Dowdle); Sirius/XM/Internet (81/81/81).
Throughout the SEC, there are numerous examples of coaches whose paths have crossed over the course of their respective careers. The relationship between Georgia’s Kirby Smart and Will Muschamp of South Carolina is one of the more unique.
Not only are both head coaches in the league, but both Smart and Muschamp are graduates of Georgia, one-time teammates who also coached together with two other programs as assistants.
In fact, it was Muschamp who gave Smart his first full-time coaching gig while the former was the defensive coordinator at Valdosta State, before joining forces once again as assistants on Nick Saban’s staff at LSU.
Saturday, the two will meet once again when No. 3 Georgia (5-0, 2-0) hosts South Carolina (2-3, 1-2) in another key conference game. Kickoff is set for noon on ESPN.
“Where we became closer was the opportunity he gave me to come to Valdosta State, and we worked together there; then we worked together at LSU. Those two years we spent on the same staff, we probably bonded more than we did while we were here,” Smart said. “But he's always been a very intense coach, a good football coach. I think he does a good job running the program, and that has allowed us to share information when possible, when it's not about scheme and it's more about philosophy. But he's been a good friend. I've got a lot of respect for him.”
Muschamp feels the same.
“We’ve been good friends for a long time, and regardless of the circumstances, like when I was the defensive coordinator at Auburn and he was the defensive coordinator at Alabama,” Muschamp said. “There’s a lot of respect on both ends, No. 1 as a person, and No. 2 as a football coach. (Smart) has done a tremendous job. He’s recruited well, his team is very talented, and they’re well coached.”
Georgia’s record is indicative of that.
The Bulldogs are rolling after throttling Tennessee last weekend 43-14, and host the Gamecocks in the first of two back-to-back home games before the highly-anticipated matchup with Florida in Jacksonville on Nov. 2.
One of Smart’s goals? Getting off to a faster start than the Bulldogs did last week at Tennessee, when the Volunteers jumped out to a 14-10 lead.
“Maybe we've got to do a better job as coaches of preparing them early in the game. I think, when you're a good defense, I do think you don't see the same things,” Smart said. “You see different stuff, because they're trying to generate plays against you. That's been the case for us, but we've got to do a better job starting off, for sure.”
The Gamecocks certainly have the potential to put stress on a Bulldog defense that has still not allowed a rushing touchdown so far this year.
Despite dropping a 47-23 decision to Alabama, South Carolina piled up 459 yards of offense against the Crimson Tide, including 324 passing by quarterback Ryan Hilinski, who’s given the Gamecocks (2-3, 1-2) a noticeable spark since taking over at the position for Jake Bentley.
“You’re constantly evaluating what you’re doing right and wrong on both sides of the ball, including special teams,” Muschamp said. “If we see something, we think we need to improve, we try to do that, and I think we’ve made progress. You’re always trying to tinker to do things differently than you’ve done in the first five games.”
Keys to the game
● Continue to be diverse offensively: Against Tennessee, the Bulldogs did just what Smart had hoped they would, not only doing a better job of mixing up their plays, but being more aggressive with the passing game. As a result, the Bulldogs garnered their most total yards (526) since beating Vanderbilt (560) back in Athens last October. Teams know that to beat Georgia, it starts with stopping the run. But the more the Bulldogs are able to mix up their offensive game plan, the tougher that’s going to be.
● Pressure Gamecock quarterback Ryan Hilinksi: Hilinksi is a talented true freshman, having thrown for 324 yards and two touchdowns against Alabama, but will be playing his first conference game on the road. Smart has encouraged fans to do their part, but it’s obviously going to be up to the Bulldog defense to harass Hilinksi enough to make his first trip to Sanford Stadium one he'd rather forget.
● Get off to a quicker start: If it’s not the offense, it’s the defense; if it’s not the defense, it’s the offense: Either way, Smart wants to see all phases of his game clicking right off the bat. To Georgia’s credit, the team has shown the ability to consistently make second-half adjustments, but it’s going to be important moving forward for the Bulldogs to have everything working from the get-go. No doubt Smart would love to see that happen starting Saturday.
● Solomon Kindley (ankle) has practiced all week, and it appears he’ll be back in action against the Gamecocks. According to Smart, he could have played last week at Tennessee, but the decision was made to give him one more game to heal.
● CB Tyson Campbell (foot), according to Smart, has been doing some running, but after missing the last two contests, the sophomore still hasn’t received much, if any contact, so it’s still a bit unclear as to what his status is for Saturday. Questionable is the best guess here.
● Jordan Davis (ankle) looked to have suffered a major injury when he went down on the team’s second defensive play against Tennessee. Fortunately, Smart said that wasn’t the case, and he expects Davis to be able to play against the Gamecocks.
● Defensive end Travon Walker is not expected to play after sources tell us he underwent wrist surgery. He’s not expected to miss much time.
● Safety J.R. Reed was held out of some portions of practice earlier this week. We are still looking into his status.
The Gamecocks have a good one in quarterback Ryan Hilinski, whom as Smart said Monday, can make all the throws and looked impressive against Alabama, despite throwing a pair of interceptions. Wide receiver Bryan Edwards is one of the best in the SEC, and will be a tough matchup for the Bulldog secondary. The Gamecocks are also expected to have running back Rico Dowdle back, which will boost the Gamecocks’ running game. However, Georgia obviously has some strengths of its own, including slowing down opponents' rushing attacks. The Bulldogs will certainly need to pressure Hilinksi, but overall, this is another case of too much talent on the side of the Red and Black: Prediction: Georgia 38, South Carolina 17