Kickoff: 5:45 PM
We handled an obviously dangerous opponent in a trap game against a team considered on the rise and we did so easily. Not bad for week 1 given our considerable questions on both sides of the ball. We shut down a solid offense and played as we should have against a bad D. This week…Spurrier…enough said.
About the OSU game
The biggest question going into Saturday was how would our OL respond given their youth, relative inexperience and new OL coach. We answered the question relatively well (only 2 sacks, controlled the clock but didn’t run effectively), but we’re hardly out of the woods on the OL front. Keep in mind we were facing one of the weaker DLs we’ll face although they will end up being pretty good in terms of QB pressure but they’ll likely struggle against the run. Because of that, our gameplan took a lot of pressure off the OL by utilizing quick passes and a power running game. We’ll be facing a whole different animal this weekend, but considering how they handled their first test, I honestly feel better than I thought I would.
OSU was a team that had protected the QB pretty well in 2006. With essentially the same OL, we managed 11 TFLs and 5 sacks (over a quarter of the number they gave up in the entire 2006 season). Given that probably our number 2 question mark this season was DE production, it was nice to see our DEs pull in a few sacks and more than a few tackles behind the LOS.
Our offensive gameplan was clearly to pound it at them, mix the pass in and keep their offense off the field. It worked. We won the possession battle, holding the ball for over 36 minutes. When Richt came to
· Any Spurrier coached offense is going to be dangerous. He’s a master schemer and does a great job getting his team prepared to attack whatever they’re up against. He’s got a rep for slinging it around 100 times a game but he’s actually very balanced run/pass (as most successful offenses are). I think he took the shutout last year as a personal offense, so he’s looking for revenge.
· At QB, USC trots out a 5th year senior with a penchant for skipping classes in LaGrange native Blake Mitchell. Mitchell sat the opener due to University policy on class attendance but will return for another shot at UGA. He’s a streaky passer and has struggled in his biggest rivalry games, throwing a mere 1 TD to 8 INTs against UGA and Clemson over his sophomore and junior seasons. He’s not immobile, but his runs will be pure adlib, we won’t see many called QB draws. For his career, he’s got a better than 61% completion percentage and 28 TDs to 21 INTs. Decent numbers, but not spectacular. He also wears quite possible the largest facemask in football…it’s a good 6” from his face. Behind him they have a pair of inexperienced guys in Chris Smelley (questionable due to a shoulder) and Tommy Beecher. Both looked good in week 1, completing over 70% each, but neither is a real threat to unseat Mitchell at this point.
· The SC RBs are very good. They are a different type of RB than we faced in week 1, where speed and shiftiness were the descriptors. Mike Davis and Cory Boyd are both much more physical backs. Davis, a Junior, is 5-9, 212 and has been extremely consistent, averaging right at 4.7 yards each of his first two seasons. He’s not a big breakaway threat. In 100 carries last season, his long was 25 yards, but he’s going to bring toughness and is generally consistent. In 261 career carries he’s yet to fumble. The more dynamic back in their rotation is Senior Cory Boyd. Boyd has averaged 5.0 ypc each of the last two seasons he played (bookending the 2005 season where he was suspended). Boyd made the infamous “back like cooked crack” quote on national TV last season after returning from suspension. He’s also a threat out of the backfield receiving the ball, hauling in 35 catches each of his last two seasons for over 10ypc. He was 3rd on the team in receptions in 2005. At 6-1, 214, he’s got good size and won’t shy away from contact, but he’s fast enough to hurt you a couple of different ways. He’s got great body lean and always seems to move the pile. True freshman Brian Maddox is the future star but they’ll likely rely on Davis and Boyd for the bulk of their attack Saturday.
· The Gamecocks are faced with the daunting task of replacing all-everything WR Sidney Rice who took his game (and his 70+ receptions and nearly 1,100 receiving yards) to the NFL. Rice was a big, fast, physical WR that dominated in the redzone but excelled in space as well. SC doesn’t really have a WR that replaces Rice (hard to do that anyway), but the WRs they return are more the size that Spurrier featured in his prolific UF offenses of the 90s. Jr. Kenny McKinley is a burner and his stats last season actually compared very favorably to Rice, as he had nearly 900 receiving yards and averaged over 17 ypc although he’s not the same redzone threat. His 5 TD grabs was tops among returning players. He started off 2007 on the right foot, with 6 catches and a TD in week 1. A slew of complimentary WRs fills out their depth chart but none has really done anything to separate themselves yet. SC does have a pair of fine TEs, with senior Andy Boyd being a newfound target and backup Jared Cook (former WR) being a threat as well. Boyd pulled in 3 grabs for 48 yards and a TD in week 1, nearly eclipsing his career output. Cook is a very good athlete, snagging 2 catches as well last week and averaging 17 ypc. Spurrier spreads the ball around much more now than he did in the past, getting WRs, RBs, TEs, etc. involved in the passing game.
· The SC OL is in a bit of flux after losing 3 starters from last year’s unit, losing a guy to academic issues and relying on a converted DL to start the opener. Basically, this group has some solid size, but is limited on experience and is still trying to gel. Justin Sorenson is a mountain of an OT at 6-7, 325…it should be fun watching him go against Howard…fun in a, “wow, look how much bigger he is than Howard” kind of way. Starting RG James Thompson still has some academic issues, so Lemuel Jeanpierre (the converted DL) got the nod there in week 1 but played so poorly Spurrier has inserted massive R-Fr Kevin Young for his first career action. OC William Brown is the most experienced of the group, with 3 letters. Across the front, they average well over 300 pounds, mostly because of Sorenson and Young. Their two-deep has guys named Lemuel, Gurminder and Hutch…first names.
· Bottom Line: This group is dangerous if for no other reason than the man calling the plays. Spurrier is a brilliant tactician and he hates UGA more than your average GT fan (which is considerable). Their OL is no better than ours in terms of experience or talent, so the key for them will be to keep Mitchell upright and give him time. They have solid skill position guys and will likely look to attack us somewhat similarly to the way we went after OSU. While they won’t be able to just line it up and run straight at our interior like we showed we could against OSU, I do think they’ll use short drops and screens to slow our pass rush and prevent heavy pressure on Mitchell. Look for them to use the TE a good bit as well as they have 2 good ones and OSU was able to be effective using theirs. Also look for Boyd to split out as a WR from the backfield.
· Key Matchup to watch when they have the ball: Can we pressure Mitchell? We had incredible success getting after Reid last week and usually when we got pressure it was in bunches. If we can have similar success this week against a less mobile QB (although Reid refused to run), we could be in really good shape. Their considerable talents at RB and TE will put some strain on our LBs, who played really, really well Saturday.
· SC returns several key members of a defense that finished towards the bottom of the pack in the SEC last season. They sported the SEC’s 9th ranked total defense (9th in rushing and 8th in passing). They were slightly better in terms of scoring defense, ranking 6th in that category. They are a year more experienced though, although the secondary took a few hits. The SC defense always seems to come prepared to play us, even when they are outmatched, so I fully expect a war this Saturday as they aren’t exactly outmatched this go ‘round.
· Along the DL, SC will start squatty sophomore Eric Norwood at one end. He’s 6-0, 260 but manages to get in the backfield regularly, recording 7 sacks and 2 other TFLs last season, good enough for freshman All-American honors despite never starting until last week. Opposite him will be a pair of guys listed as co-starters in freshman Travian Robertson and other squatty senior Ryan Brown. Look for Robertson to get in on passing situations for sure although he played most of the snaps Saturday against the run-oriented ULL team. Spurrier hinted that he wasn’t pleased with the DE play Saturday and he could opt to rotate in either of two more true freshmen for significant playing time, both of whom were recruited heavily by UGA, Cliff Matthews and Clifton Geathers. At DT, a pair of juniors get the nod in Marque Hall and Nathan Pepper. Both have good size. Hall is returning this season from an injury suffered in the UGA game last year. Backups inside are a JUCO transfer and a true frosh, so depth is a concern.
· The strength of the SC D is the LB corps. They are deep here and will likely play several solid options throughout the game. MLB Jasper Brinkley is one of the best players in the league. He’s a hoss at 6-2, 260. Last year he had more than double the tackles of SC’s #2. His brother
· Like the first two levels of the SC D, the secondary is going through some changes after week 1. The two corners remain the same in undersized, feisty So. Captain Munnerlyn and Jr. former WR Carlos Thomas. You might remember Munnerlyn as the guy who mugged Massaquoi at the goal line last season and didn’t get called for it. The changes occur at safety where Sr Brandon Isaac moves over from SS to FS and So Darian Stewart moves over from the backup spot at FS to man the SS spot (got that?). Isaac missed last season due to a shoulder injury. Stewart played in every game last season but only managed 7 tackles.
· Bottom Line: This defense is a step up from the one we faced last week. They don’t have a dominant defensive line that would really scare me, but they are an SEC DL and that’s scary enough. Jasper Brinkley is already on his way to dominating tackles totals again this year despite a bum ankle and I fully expect him to be all over the field. They have some serious speed at CB, making those bubble screens we threw so often last week both a little more likely to get picked and a little less effective if the blocks aren’t executed properly.
· Key matchup to watch when we have the ball: You might as well pencil some variation of this in all year…watch our OL to see if they are able to open holes for our RBs and protect
The SC Game Overall
Any time we play Spurrier I get worried. He wants to beat us more than any team on his schedule every year. He hates UGA going way back to his playing days. Add on top of that the fact that we shut them out last year and he’s going to really be focused this week (not that he wouldn’t otherwise, but still). It’s obvious the shutout bothered him significantly because he mentioned several times this offseason that it really wasn’t a shutout as they were inside the 5 twice and just didn’t get it in. Hey Steve, that still counts.
Many SC fans are quick to point out how much Stafford struggled last year in
As for the mode of attack this week, I think you’ll see some similarities in that we’ll continue to use screen passes and short quick drops to avoid protection issues. I don’t think we’ll run it as much as we did last week, but we’ll still key everything off the run, which opens our play action. The 2:1 run to pass ratio was skewed because of Richt’s decision to kill the clock in the 4th quarter. 3rd down conversions will be big as always…we were very good there last week. Our rushing game had its moments, but we were largely ineffective in terms of getting consistent holes for our RBs to run through. If we struggle again in terms of run blocking, our offensive success will come down to
On defense, Spurrier will employee a similar attack. Our defense got surprising pressure Saturday. 5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss lead the SEC despite the higher level of competition that we faced versus what most teams did. We’ll try and get pressure without blitzing, as we always do, allowing our LBs and safeties to be in better position to defend the run as well as their backs and TEs in pass coverage. Spurrier’s offenses have always hinged on smart play by his QBs (which explains why he rotates them so freely). I can’t imagine Mitchell not starting on Saturday (Spurrier won’t announce until Thursday), but I suppose I could imagine him not finishing…Spurrier has yanked many a QB, many more talented than Mitchell, and he wants this game in a bad way. OSU rarely went deep yet we still managed to pressure their QB, mostly with multiple hats on the poor kid. If Spurrier feels confident enough in his protection to go with some deeper or slower developing routes, it will be interesting to see what happens.
No matter what you think, expect a battle. Under Richt, the average score in this series is 18-10. That’s a LOW scoring output and is indicative of how hard these games have been over the years. Last year’s 18-0 game wasn’t really sealed until late although our 3 turnovers certainly aided keeping them in the game, just like theirs aided keeping them out. If everything clicks and we continue to win the turnover battle we should win, but that’s by no means a given, especially with so many questions up front.
· With Lumpkin out with a broken thumb, it means Knowshon will get that many more touches and after Saturday, I think we can all agree that’s probably a good thing. He brought an energy and intensity to the field that I can’t remember seeing in a while. He reminds me a LOT of Cadillac Williams and not just because of the number (24). He’s quick, strong, not overly big, and just runs really hard. He makes folks miss and has the speed to hurt them once he gets past the first level. He’s going to be fun to watch for a while. While losing Lumpkin hurts, he wasn’t the starter and
· Sturdivant looks like he’s got the athleticism and feet you look for, but he’s got a ways to go before we can count LT as a strength.
· The WRs need a big pat on the back, as they played nearly flawlessly. Downfield blocking was impressive across the board. Only one drop that I can recall and it was on a quite sharply thrown ball. This group is fast and not afraid to mix it up. Tony Wilson in particular looked great.
· We get back
· Outside of Lumpkin we’re pretty healthy…it’s kinda nice.
· Marcus Howard will wear #17 this week in honor of Antavious Coates, whose 4th career ACL injury has ended his career before it really got started. You may remember that Michael Johnson wore #4 a few years ago to honor Kentrell Curry for a similar reason. I love that stuff.
· I’ve gotta say, I didn’t think I would, but I loved the pregame videos this year. Not for everyone I know, but I enjoyed them. Very professional and well paced. Couple of comments though… How can the Munson video (which could use some polishing) not have the
· The ESPN crew pretty well fumbled several things during their broadcast. Did you catch the image of Mikey Henderson amongst the OL in place of Haverkamp? They also made the comment that Thomas Brown missed all of last season. How do you make that mistake? The same crew will be doing the game this week so hopefully they’ll be more together.
· It was weird seeing the Dawg Walk line take a couple of turns before it got to the road so it could meander around the construction for the new Tate Center expansion. That’s gonna be UNREAL when they get done with it.
· Not sure if you heard or not, but
· Apparently the new kickoff rules didn’t affect the SC-ULL game. SC’s star kicker/punter Ryan Succop had 4 of his 5 kickoffs go for touchbacks. That’s impressive. Coutu has a strong leg, connecting on 3 FGs of 40 yards or more in last season’s contest (and he has a career long of 58 I believe), but as expected, we went for the directional approach and aside from one return it worked well. As has become the norm for us, we almost took a punt all the way back. Don’t look for that to happen this week though as SC does that weird punt style that leads to punts that aren’t easily returnable.
· I’m a Braves fan, those of you that know me know that’s the case, but I almost wish the Braves would just hold a press conference and say they’re removing themselves from the pennant race. I think it would be classier and it would allow me to stop getting my hopes up every time they win (increasingly rare these days). This is actually just a reverse psychology ploy. I’m so tired of the Braves toying with my emotions.
· Kudos to longtime writeup reader Chad McDaniel who pointed out that Locke’s dad from Lost (and the guy who looked just like T. Boone Pickens) was also one of the bad guys in Roadhouse that worked at the Double Deuce. How did I not make THAT connection? The tagline for that movie apparently was “The dancing’s over. Now it gets dirty.” They just don’t make ‘em like that anymore. I apologize to you all as that was a much funnier correlation.
Have a safe weekend,