No. 5 Georgia at No. 6 South Carolina
Saturday, 7pm ESPN
Line: South Carolina -2
Welcome to the SEC East Championship Game... Oh, wait Florida's in the mix? No matter what the Gators are doing the border battle between the "other" USC and Georgia sets up to be one of the biggest games of the season, let alone this week.
Normally this would be the matchup everyone is talking about, right? Well, maybe it's because it's Georgia and Mark Richt, who likes flying a bit more under the radar, but this battle just isn't seemingly gaining the national traction that should go with this game. Especially since the 'Ole Ball Coach is on the opposite sideline.
Interestingly it seems that Florida - LSU is getting all the headlines, yet these two teams are both ranked ahead of the Gators. No matter the hype, or lack thereof, this promises to be an old fashioned slobber knocker (yes, I just went all Jim Ross on you) and I for one can't wait to see this one between the hedges in Columbia, SC.
So, let's get to how these teams match up, huh?
For Georgia to Win: Well, first things first, it needs to find a replacement for WR Michael Bennett who's out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL. This affects one of the most underrated QB's in the country in Aaron Murray, who's completing 68% of his passes and has 12 TD's to just 3 INT's on the year.
Secondly they need to remain as efficient as they've been in the redzone (18 of 21). Converting on the chances they get on Saturday will be huge. Part of that will be riding the hot hand at running back between Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, who are averaging 7.9 yards and 8.2 yards a carry respectively. I know you're going to say, "but that flies right into the strength of the Gamecocks D" and you're right, but sometimes you have to go with your strength no matter what the opposition brings to the table, call it a surprise attack if you will.
Defensively they need to make Connor Shaw uncomfortable. Rattling him isn't easy, but he'll pick you apart if you don't get after him and do so early and often. That will also take the Gamecocks crowd out of it and make things easier on the offense as well.
For South Carolina to Win: Marcus Lattimore running and Marcus Lattimore receiving, and finally Marcus Lattimore rushing again. This team needs a huge day from their best play maker to win this game.
Sometimes the best defense is a methodical offense and if I were the Gamecocks I'd be playing a lot slower of a game on offense to keep the powerful Georgia O off the field. Lattimore is a key component to that and any other win for the Gamecocks. However, he'll need to rush for more than his 88 yard a game average to do it and that will be the interesting part to watch.
This game also needs to be low scoring, the Gamecocks are only giving up 11.2 points a game to opponents and Georgia's offense is high flying, averaging 48.2 points a game. If USC is going to win this one they need to keep them in the 20's at the very least.
Key Player, Georgia: You could say Aaron Murray, or any of the running backs, but I'm going to the other side of the ball and OLB Jarvis Jones. He's been one of the most disruptive forces on the Bulldogs defense with his 32 tackles, 8tfl's, and amazing 4.5 sacks already on the year. As I said before, getting to Connor Shaw and rattling him will be huge and Jones needs to play a key part in that happening.
Key Player, South Carolina: I said it right at the top, it's Marcus Lattimore. He needs to pound the ball early, often, and for a lot of yards to keep the ball away from the Georgia offense. It's just that simple to me. If Lattimore is stopped at home this game is a loss for the Gamecocks.
Key Stat: 2.2 yards per carry - that's the number of yards per carry the Gamecocks defense is giving up and they are about to face two running backs that each average around 8 yards a carry. Something has to give here right? Whoever wins that battle could win the game.
The more you analyze this game the more you realize it's who's offense dictates to who's defense wins the game. This will be one of the most hard hitting, brutal force games the SEC will see all season long and I can't wait to watch this one between the hedges.
But, if you're expecting this game to be an offensive shootout, don't. These teams win with defense and even if one offense is dictating it doesn't mean they are scoring a ton of points. If you like defense, watch this game unfold. It could be a master class in D.
For all his opinions, analysis, and college sports musings make sure you follow him on twitter @andycoppens.