It’s only Week 6 of the 2012 college football season, but Saturday’s game between South Carolina and Georgia will go a long way in determining the SEC East champion. In fact, it could be an elimination game in the division, especially since the Gamecocks still have road trips to LSU and Florida. Although the Bulldogs have to play Florida, their schedule is much more manageable.
Georgia dominated this series in the early 2000s, but the Gamecocks have won the last two games. Last season’s matchup was a crazy 45-42 battle, with South Carolina using 22 fourth-quarter points to seal the victory. Both offenses are averaging over 35 points a game this year, so it would not be a surprise to see a shootout once again in 2012.
Storylines to Watch in Georgia vs. South Carolina
Will Georgia’s defense continue to struggle?
Considering the Bulldogs returned nearly everyone from last season’s unit, most expected Georgia would have one of the nation’s best defenses. However, the Bulldogs have underachieved so far, allowing 370 yards and 22 points per game. This unit missed linebacker Alec Ogletree and safety Bacarri Rambo through the first four games, but both players returned against Tennessee and the defense allowed a season-high 44 points. Georgia is capable of playing much better than it has shown through the first five games and Saturday would be a good time to find last season’s form.
Can Georgia’s offensive line protect Aaron Murray?
Murray has been one of the top quarterbacks in college football through the first five weeks, ranking third nationally in passing efficiency and throwing at least two touchdowns in every contest. The Bulldogs rebuilt offensive line has performed well this season, but South Carolina will be the toughest challenge this unit has faced all year. End Jadeveon Clowney has been terrorizing opposing quarterbacks this season, recording 5.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for a loss. If he continues to perform at his current pace, the sophomore should be a first-team All-American at the end of 2012. Clowney isn’t the only threat on South Carolina’s defensive line, as Devin Taylor has 3.5 tackles for a loss and defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles has 2.5 sacks. South Carolina is averaging 4.4 sacks and is allowing just 77.6 rushing yards per game. Georgia’s offensive line has to play well on Saturday to allow Murray time to throw, as well as open up holes for running backs Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley. If the Bulldogs can’t block the Gamecocks’ front four, Georgia will have a hard time moving the ball.
How will Georgia replace Michael Bennett?
The Bulldogs suffered a huge loss in practice this week, as receiver Michael Bennett was lost for the year with a torn ACL. Bennett was the team’s leading receiver through five games with 24 catches for 345 yards and four touchdowns. Although he was a huge part of Georgia’s receiving corps, this team isn’t short on options for quarterback Aaron Murray. Seniors Tavarres King and Marlon Brown will have to step up, while the team expects sophomore Malcolm Mitchell to play more on offense after spending most of the first five games on defense. The Bulldogs have plenty of names and proven options but one needs to step up as the clear No. 1 threat for Murray.
Which team wins the rushing battle?
Georgia clearly owns the edge on the stat sheet, ranking 11th nationally in rushing offense with 248.8 yards per game. Although South Carolina ranks 56th nationally, running back Marcus Lattimore is the best in the SEC and looks nearly 100 percent in his return from a torn ACL. Lattimore hasn’t been needed to shoulder a heavy workload in the first five games but that could change in Week 6. In two games against the Bulldogs, Lattimore has 358 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Don’t be surprised if Lattimore has 30 carries and pushes for 150 yards. Although Lattimore should shine on Saturday, Georgia’s freshmen duo of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall shouldn’t be overlooked. Both players are averaging over seven yards per carry and can be a factor on passes out of the backfield.
This matchup should be one of the best games of Week 6. Both teams are still in the national title mix, and a victory on Saturday would give one squad an early edge in the battle to win the SEC East.
An x-factor to watch will be South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw, who is dealing with a shoulder injury and missed one game earlier this season. Playing through the injury isn’t affecting Shaw, but the Gamecocks’ offensive line needs to keep Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones or any other defender from getting any shots on the junior passer.
South Carolina’s home crowd should give the Gamecocks some early momentum. However, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray will hit a few plays in the fourth quarter against a suspect Gamecocks' secondary, which will be the difference in the game.
Final Prediction: Georgia 31, South Carolina 27
by Steven Lassan
Follow @athlonsteven 
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