Besides Clemson, is there any other team that Gamecock fans hate more than Georgia?
Not a chance.
For whatever reason, the University of South Carolina and the University of Georgia fan bases really don’t get along, and because of that, this week is nearly as important of a rivalry week as the season finale will be.
Usually, Georgia gets our best shot, and I would be that trend to continue this season as well.
However, with Georgia currently appearing to be in another stratosphere of success, will the Gamecock’s best shot be enough to even keep this one close?
Either way, this will be one match up that you can’t miss.
So, in preparation for the mid-season grudge match, here’s five things to look for against the Bulldogs.
Did the bye week actually help?
The bye week came at a perfect time.
With a huge game on the horizon, the Gamecocks were blessed to have the opportunity for some extra rest, recovery, and preparation, which are all things that the team desperately were in need of.
But just because there’s an extra week doesn’t necessarily mean that the execution on the field changes.
Some teams come out looking as hungry as ever after the open week, and other teams fall flat and seem complacent.
Which category will Carolina fall into?
Well, there’s no clear answer to that— at least not yet. Whether or not the bye week was productive comes down to coaching strategy and then effective play making on Saturday.
If the Gamecocks come out with an efficient game plan, the coaching staff will look competent and on top of things— maximizing their opportunity to prepare.
If the team looks sluggish, especially early, some will argue that the staff squandered their competitive edge.
It’s unclear until the game kicks off as to how effective this time off was, but I would expect the Gamecocks to look hot early.
Whether or not they can sustain the heat will be up to in game coaching adjustments and individual effort.
Are Hilinski’s road woes over?
Maybe this is a bold statement, but I’m making it confidently (willing to eat crow later should I be disproved): Ryan Hilinski will not collapse the way that he did against Missouri.
In fact, I expect him to absolutely ball-out in this game, showing off that immense potential that we saw against Alabama.
You may ask how I’m so sure. Well, I believe that the kid is a winner, and winners do not stay down for long.
Michael Jordan once said, “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.”
Just as MJ learned more from his losses than his wins, I expect Hilinski to do the same.
Objectively, it’s hard to formulate a scenario in which Hilinski looks worse than he did against Missouri.
Having hit rock bottom with that performance, I believe that the lessons learned then redefined his focus and competitive fire.
Look for Hilinski to give his heart in this game, knowing that this is a chance to make a statement.
The result may not be what he wants, but Hilinski’s effort, leadership, and talent will not be questioned in this one, no matter what the final score shows.
He’s our guy.
Who steps up in the secondary?
There’s two things that are a given any time the defense lines up.
The first is that Javon Kinlaw is going to disrupt whoever happens to be playing quarterback of the opposing team, and the second is that Jaycee Horn is going to win more match ups against the receiver he’s covering than he loses.
In fairness, there are a few other dependable contributors on the defensive side of the ball— guys like Ernest Jones, Aaron Sterling, and DJ Wonnum— but as far as the secondary goes, there’s more questions than answers outside of Horn.
In a game that requires the best effort from a secondary that has been up and down this season, the main question is, who else will step up?
Mukuamu has played solid, as has Robinson, but the major issue overall has been the lack of a collective consistency.
With so much on the line, and facing against an incredibly talented QB in Jake Fromm, is this the game that Izzy or Jammie makes their biggest statement yet, or could it be time for one of the young guns in the back to show something special in between the hedges?
Let’s just hope that it’s someone, because if Horn is the only one that is effective, it’ll be a long game for the Cocks.
Can Carolina continue to have success running the ball?
The run game looked dominant against Kentucky.
Both backs hit the century mark, and both added scores to their stat sheet (with Feaster securing 2).
The issue though is that running against Kentucky and running against Georgia is two very different things.
To be fair, the backs will need room to run.
The offensive line will be challenged upfront, and must provide push to even have a chance in this one, but even if blocking is dominant, the backs still must bring their A-game to get close to matching their 5+ yards-per-carry average against the Bulldogs.
If the run game is special Saturday, Hilinski’s job becomes easier, and the playbook can be opened up a bit more.
If Dowdle and Feaster get shut down, a lot of pressure goes on the freshman signal caller’s shoulders.
Look to see how committed to the run the coaching staff is, and then how effective it is.
A game where the team gets plenty of yards on the ground bodes well for a chance at the upset.
Can Muschamp keep it close?
In theory, the Gamecocks could keep this game close.
They have talent at QB, talent at the skill positions, talent on the defensive side of the ball, and two dependable guys in White and Charlton, on special teams.
Even so, Georgia feels light years ahead, and that makes picking the Gamecocks to even cover the spread in this one seem ludicrous.
So far, Will Muschamp has not kept things close with his old pal, Kirby Smart.
Smart has a record of 37-10 during his tenure at Georgia, while Will Muschamp, is sitting at a 24-20 record at Carolina.
The difference there highlights not just the wins and losses of individual games, but also Georgia’s recruiting edge, player development edge, and coaching edge.
This game will be a challenge, that’s a guarantee, but very few people outside of the Muschamp’s camp thinks that the Gamecocks can keep this one close.
And probably far fewer believe that Muschamp can keep it close with Smart as a whole.
Catching up with Smart’s career, shouldn’t be Muschamp’s the main focus, but Carolina staying close to Georgia in this game and then as a program should be a top priority.
For the Gamecocks to remain relevant in the east, they have to find a way to stay competitive with the Bulldogs— who are now the perennially division favorite— which means that it is on Muschamp’s shoulders to begin closing the gap between the two programs.
That is easier said than done, but this Saturday could mark the beginning of that if Carolina were to do the unthinkable, and pull off the upset.
Even if they don’t win outright, if coach Boom were to come in with a winning game plan, and then coaches aggressively, keeping it close for four quarters, and clearly putting his guys in position to win, an argument can be made that some progress has happened.
If, however, Georgia blows the Gamecocks out, well… maybe Muschamp can beat Kirby at bowling, or checkers or something.
Every game matters, but we want to win this one just a little bit more than the others.
This is a rivalry game that has us heated up and ready to chock the world, but is it fair to realistically expect our 2-3 team to do something that seems nearly impossible?
Maybe not, but due to the talent that we do have, there’s no reason that the Garnet & Black can’t keep this competitive.
If they look good for four quarters, minimize mistakes, and capitalize on opportunities, maybe as Michael Jordan said, all those previous failures prepared them for some success in this one.
No matter the outcome, go Cocks and to hell with Georgia!