AN OPPOSING VIEW
Each week during the season we hook up with a beat writer who covers the opposing team Georgia is playing to get an idea of the perspective from the other sideline. This week we’ll be getting that view from Josh Kendall, who covers the South Carolina Gamecock for The State newspaper in Columbia. You can read his stories on their South Carolina-dedicated website, http://www.gogamecocks.com/.
I’ve known Josh since he was a UGA undergrad covering sports for The Red & Black. Later, he would cover Georgia for the Athens Banner-Herald and Macon Telegraph before he and his lovely wife Janet and two young boys picked up and moved to Columbia a few years back. Josh and I have some great “road” stories we could share, like the snow storm we encountered while covering a Georgia basketball game at Villanova some years back, but we’ll save that for another day.
I sent Josh five questions via email about the Gamecocks and their nationally-televised matchup against Georgia Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium (3:39 p.m., CBS). Here, then, is what Josh had to say. …
1. Having covered both Georgia and South Carolina for a number of years, how would you say the Gamecocks and their fans view this rivalry from that side of the border? They seem to get awfully stoked for it.
Kendall: South Carolina fans view Georgia in much the way Georgia views Florida, the team that for a long time dashed their hopes of having a big year. Because this game has traditionally been played early in the year, it seemed for a while like Georgia was always the team that ruined all the ‘This is going to be the year’ talk for South Carolina. So wins over the Bulldogs are a big deal, and the three-game winning streak prior to last season was something the Gamecocks really valued. Where Georgia has four or five games that are considered big rivalries (and even the biggest rivalry depending on the fan’s geography), there’s no doubt among South Carolina fans that Georgia is No. 2 on the rivalry pecking order behind only Clemson.
2. Mike Davis looked a lot more like the back Georgia fans remember from last year against East Carolina than he did against Texas A&M. What was the deal? Was he really able to recover that much from bruised ribs in a week or was there some other issue at hand?
Kendall: I think Mike Davis is healthy, but it’s hard to say for sure because he is very coy about injuries. Georgia should expect a healthy Davis and a motivated Davis, and the motivation is a big part of it. He’s an emotional guy who is energized by big games and big runs. If he is able to get a big run early in the game, I expect him to have a big game. On the flip side, if Georgia can keep him bottled up early, he might get frustrated. Part of this answer involves an offensive line that hasn’t run blocked as well as expected. The line moved East Carolina late in the game, but it has to prove now he can do it against SEC personnel.
3. It would appear the Gamecocks are throwing the football A LOT more under Dylan Thompson than they did under Connor Shaw. Do you think that’s because of his unique skill set and the strategy for the season or has it simply been the nature of the first two games and falling behind to A&M?
Kendall: I think it’s a combination of those factors and one more, which is that a lot of plays that were called as pass plays the last two years ended up as Connor Shaw run because Shaw was so confident (and rightfully so usually) in his legs and sometimes not as patient as Spurrier would have liked going through his passing progressions. The Gamecocks might call the exact same ratio of pass vs. run plays this year and end up with 15 percent more passes just for that reason, but there’s also no doubt Dylan Thompson is a more traditional dropback passer than Shaw was. One of the things Spurrier has always liked about Thompson is that he “takes his steps and lets it go,” which is a big Spurrier mantra. As Dylan’s accuracy improves, South Carolina’s offense will improve.
4. If you’re Georgia, how do you go about attacking this South Carolina defense? Obviously those two spread offenses threw the ball all over the place. Should the Bulldogs adjust accordingly or keep feeding No. 3?
Kendall: I don’t see how you do anything other than feed No. 3 until South Carolina proves it can stop that. In addition to having assignment issues, the Gamecocks have had tackling issues. That’s a bad trend with Todd Gurley rolling in, so I’d start with the running game if I was Georgia, but you know South Carolina is going to make it awfully tempting for Georgia to throw the ball by loading the box with plenty of defenders. The Bulldogs don’t have a wide receiver who scares anybody as much as Gurley so that seems to be the obvious play.
5. I heard a lot of people in Birmingham pointing to South Carolina’s offensive line as one of the best in the SEC this year. What is your assessment of their play so far?
Kendall: Not as good as it should have been, but not terrible. Left guard A.J. Cann, their preseason All-SEC guy, described it this week as “average.” It needs to be better than average on this team because this team is looking for places where it has a clear advantage and can make plays. The offensive line/Mike Davis need to be that area. The right guard spot, where they lost their starter (Mike Matulis) to a camp knee injury, has been a sore spot so far, but it looks like they have settled into a regular rotation now so we’ll see if that helps.
So let’s hear a prediction. …
Kendall: There’s no reasonable explanation to be made for South Carolina winning this game, but that’s not to say it won’t happen. The Georgia offense just doesn’t play well in Williams-Brice, and Steve Spurrier still bedevils the Bulldogs on occasion so I don’t expect a blowout by any means. Overall, though, Georgia looks like the better team at the moment. Georgia 24, South Carolina 23