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The Big Game - Georgia at South Carolina
Georgia QB Aaron Murray
Georgia QB Aaron Murray
Posted Oct 3, 2012

Week 6 CFN Fearless Prediction – Georgia at South Carolina

Georgia (5-0) at South Carolina (5-0) Oct. 6, 7:00, ESPN

Here’s The Deal: For the last 21 years, each team knew where they stood right out of the gate in the East race with this showdown almost always coming before the middle of September. This time it’s a little different, and now the build up and excitement is there with each team getting a chance to show what they can do. In the recent past, the loser would have to scramble and be nearly flawless in an attempt to get back in the East title chase, while the winner would be set up for big matchups against the other division teams.

Now let’s hope the game can be as good as it’s been when played early on.

Five of the last six games were decided by a touchdown or less, and the other game was a 17-6 dogfight of a South Carolina win two years ago. This time around, with the improved play of Florida, and with several tough games ahead, this might be an elimination game. The winner will take a big leap forward being deep in the hunt for the East, the SEC, and the BCS championships, while the loser could be lost a bit in the shuffle and end up Outback bound. That’s how paper-thin the margin of error is this season in a far stronger year for the always strong SEC, and that’s how really, really big this game could turn out to be. No, the loser isn’t out of any title discussion – a one-loss SEC champion might still be a shoo-in to play for the national championship – but this year it’s going to be a Mount Everest-like climb.

South Carolina’s defense has been terrific so far allowing no more than 17 points in any game. The offense might not be breathtaking and it might not be dominant, but it’s efficiently effective and it showed against both Missouri and Kentucky that it can turn it on and take over a game when needed. Unlike last week’s sleepy win over the Wildcats, the Gamecocks will be fully focused and should be able to bring the heat from the devastating defensive front. The running game has been solid, the passing game ultra-efficient, and the attitude is pitch-perfect – the team appears to be confident, but without being cocky. Everyone, led by head coach Steve Spurrier, is talking like the expectations are supposed to be high.

While South Carolina has been on a relatively even keel, Georgia has been all over the map. It destroyed Vanderbilt with 48-3 ease – the Commodores were nasty in a 17-13 loss to open the season against USC – and turned it up several notches to dispatch of Missouri in the program’s SEC home opener, but the defense went bye-bye against Tennessee last week in a strange 51-44 shootout. Is the D going to show up this week now that all the parts are back off of suspension? Can the offense that’s averaging over 48 points per game overcome the issues on special teams and the defensive lapses? The overall talent is in place to be one of the nation’s most complete teams, and now it’s time to put together a complete game.

Why South Carolina Might Win: Can the Gamecock offense find the same groove Tennessee got into last week? There were way too many Volunteer turnovers giving it away four times, but from a weaving Cordarrelle Patterson touchdown run to several blasts from Rajion Neal, the running game was effective against a shockingly soft defensive front and the passing game was able to hit on several big plays. However, Tyler Bray wasn’t exactly accurate and the Tennessee run defense wasn’t even close. South Carolina is has the hottest, most accurate quarterback this side of Geno Smith in Connor Shaw, who has completed 35 of his last 38 passes and has completed 78% of his passes on the season. He’s not making the big mistakes after a pick in the opener against Vanderbilt, and he has the potential to keep Georgia down by keeping its attack off the field.

Defensively, South Carolina will pressure Aaron Murray from the start. Missouri got a few sacks against Georgia, and several tackles for loss, and Buffalo came up with three sacks, but the Gamecocks are at a whole other level ranking second in the nation in sacks and ninth in tackles for loss. When the team needs to turn things around, it turns up the defensive pressure a few notches. The Georgia offensive line is about to be stressed, and while relying on the running game might seem like an easy answer, the Gamecock defensive interior should hold its own with its active defensive line potentially the gamechanger. However …

Why Georgia Might Win: Has anyone tried slugging South Carolina in the mouth? Vanderbilt doesn’t have much of a ground game and Missouri’s running attack isn’t anything special when quarterback James Franklin isn’t taking off. Georgia’s offensive line might not be special, but it’s strong, physical, and it’s opening up huge holes and big gashes for its terrific rushing tandem of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. South Carolina’s passing game might be efficient, but Georgia’s is second in the nation in efficiency behind West Virginia’s mainly because so much attention has to be paid to the ground attack. The Gamecock offense might be effective, but it doesn’t have nearly the pop or explosion that Dawg O can bring.

How effective will Shaw be against a pass rush? It’s not like USC has faced a who’s who of sack artists but that hasn’t stopped defenses from tagging Shaw on a regular basis. Granted, part of the sack totals have come from Shaw scrambling a bit and trying to make something happen, but the pass protection has been mediocre and the coaching staff doesn’t seem too excited about leaning on the front five for the hard yards. It might not have played like it last week, but Georgia has an NFL defensive front with John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers two future millionaires on the inside. While Shaw is good, South Carolina can’t win this game like it did against Missouri. It needs the ground game to move and it needs …

What To Watch For: Marcus Lattimore to come up with another huge performance. Lattimore became Marcus Lattimore on Georgia. With the college football world watching in each of the last two seasons – again, because the key SEC East game came so early on the docket – Lattimore because the star of stars with a breakout 182-yard, two score performance as a true freshman and a 176-yards, one score game in last season’s shootout. While he has been effective so far coming off a knee injury, he hasn’t shown quite the same pop or the same explosion he did his first time around against the Dawgs, but even so he has eight touchdown runs so far and two 100-yard performances. While he’s not really in the Heisman discussion so far, a third big game in the series would get him there.

Aaron Murray is starting to make several lists after starting out the year red hot. While he has thrown three interceptions including a pick six in the first quarter against Tennessee, he has been devastating at getting the ball to his receivers in places they can do something with it. He has a downfield passing arm, but he’s at his best delivering a strike on the move and getting his target going. Going back to the last year he has thrown at least two touchdown passes in each of the last seven games, but he has yet to beat the Gamecocks. He threw for 248 yards and four scores in last year’s game, but he has taken a back seat to Lattimore. If he rises up and rips apart the South Carolina secondary, all of a sudden he’ll be battling with Geno Smith for the No. 1 spot in the Heisman chase.

What Will Happen: Georgia’s defense will be better than it was last week, but it’ll be the balance and effectiveness of the offense that pulls this out on the road. South Carolina will be terrific, and the defensive front will have its moments, but Murray is too smart and too savvy to have a slew of problems with the Gamecock pass rush. This will be fun.

CFN Prediction: Georgia 38 … South Carolina 31
ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) South Carolina -2.5 O/U: 56
Must Watch Rating (5 – Master, 1 – Trouble with the Curve): 5