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Instant Analysis: Georgia-South Carolina

Staff Columnist
Posted Sep 9, 2006

Big plays define any football game at any level, but the timing and location of those plays define football games even more. That pearl of pigskin truth serves as a summary of Georgia's huge SEC East road win over South Carolina.

The first thing one needs to keep in mind about this game is that Georgia's offense was hardly spectacular. The Bulldogs committed turnovers and penalties along with the Gamecocks, scoring just 16 points (UGA added a team safety for the final 18-point tally). Secondly, one should notice that South Carolina quarterback Blake Mitchell completed 18 of 22 passes. It's not as though Carolina couldn't move the ball on a pleasant September night in Columbia.

If you looked at those two statistics in isolation (UGA's 16 offense-generated points, Mitchell's 81 percent completions), you'd have thought the Cocks would have ruled the roost against their division rival. But once again, college football proves that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. This game had a handful of important and revealing plays, and it was their combination of timing and location that had everything to do with the way this game played out.

Georgia's turnovers came on downfield passes that served as de facto punts. Carolina's turnovers came at the end of big plays or deep in UGA territory.

Georgia's excellent defense shut down the Gamecocks on fourth downs in the red zone, robbing the home team of any points at all. When UGA's offense stalled in the red zone or just outside it, Brandon Coutu was there to hit three field goals over 40 yards and help Mark Richt's team collect precious points.

Mitchell--who had the worst 18-of-22 passing night of any quarterback in the history of the sport of football--made every play except for the timely, defining kind of play Steve Spurrier needed him to make this season. Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford--in for the injured Joe Tereshinski III--had the best 8-20, three-interception night of any quarterback in the history of football. He struggled, as any newbie would in such a setting, but he still guided his offense to a few point-scoring drives and made some timely throws.

Even though Georgia often looked bad, the Bulldogs exude the confidence and attitude of a team whose players have a high football IQ. And even though South Carolina often looked good, the Gamecocks give off the uncertain vibe of a team and program whose players have a low football IQ (as was shown in Mitchell's decision to fall on a bad shotgun snap at the UGA 35, instead of picking the ball up and, outside the tackle box, throwing the ball away to make a field goal attempt more manageable). South Carolina didn't make that many more mistakes than Georgia, but the Gamecocks made mistakes in the very situations when mistakes can't be made. Georgia, on the other hand, made mistakes in situations when mistakes can be made, without severe consequences. That's why a team can have its quarterback complete 81 percent of his passes, with no interceptions... and get bageled at home by a team whose own quarterback tossed three picks.

Mark Richt has won three of the last four SEC East titles for a reason, and South Carolina has been a second-tier SEC program for a reason as well. Steve Spurrier won't just need to recruit better in future years; he'll have to get players who have a more natural instinctual feel for how to play the game of football. Georgia--even with noticeable youth under center--proved Saturday night that it already knows how to go about its business.

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