Sep 7, 2013; Athens, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs running back Todd Gurley (3) catches a touchdown pass in the second half against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Sanford Stadium. Georgia won 41-30. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Breaking Down the Georgia Bulldogs 2014 Opponents: South Carolina Gamecocks

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This is the second in a series of posts breaking down the Georgia Bulldogs 2014 football schedule, where we will take a close look week-by-week at UGA’s opponents.

This time we’ll take a look at what has become a yearly scrap for early season SEC East dominance against Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina Gamecocks.

The game betwen the Dawgs and the ‘Cocks has really become a nasty battle, with the game almost always playing a part in who wins the SEC East at season’s end. Spurrier continues to be a poison pill for the Bulldogs, just as he was at Florida. For a while, Georgia had a run of dominance against Carolina, but the Gamecocks have won four of the last seven meetings, including three straight (unheard of until that time) from 2010-2012.

Traveling up to Columbia, S.C. is never easy, and having the game fall once again very early in the schedule (Sept. 13) will test the young Bulldogs defense.

South Carolina Key Departures

OFFENSE: Connor Shaw-QB, Ronald Patrick-OG, Bruce Ellington-WR

DEFENSE: Chaz Sutton-DE, Jimmy Legree-CB, Kelcy Quarles-DT, Jadeveon Clowney-DE, Victor Hampton-CB

Connor Shaw was the best thing Steve Spurrier has had standing under center since Danny Wuerffel, and he’ll be tough to replace. Bruce Ellington was the team’s big playmaker on offense, and it will also be tough to match his production. That said, the Gamecocks’ losses on offense were minimal compared to the way their defense was gutted.

Jadeveon Clowney is a big loss, like him or not. He freed up a lot of other players to do damage by taking on double-teams and generating a lot of focus (and he still managed to wreak havoc). That, along with Sutton’s departure leaves Carolina with some inexperience at the end position. The only starting interior lineman on the defense is J.T. Surratt, so Spurrier has his work cut out for him reforming that line.

South Carolina Key Returning Players

OFFENSE: Connor McLaurin-FB, Mike Davis-RB, Shaq Roland-WR, Damiere Byrd-WR, Rory Anderson-TE, Corey Robinson-OT, Cory Waldrop-C, Brandon Shell-OT

DEFENSE: J.T. Surratt-OT, Sharrod Golightly-SPR, Kaiwan Lewis-LB, Marcquis Roberts-LB, Kadetrix Marcus-S, Brison Williams-S

With all the returning backs, wide receivers and linemen, the big question for the Gamecocks offense will be, who’s going to play quarterback? Senior Dylan Thompson will inherit the job, despite looking fairly pedestrian in the few chances he’s had prior to this season. Unless he’s gone through some sort of mystical transformation, expect Carolina to hand the ball to Mike Davis…a lot. Also look for a lot of bubble screens and slant passes to his talented group of receivers.

Apr 12, 2014; Columbia, SC, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks quarterback Dylan Thompson (17) throws the ball during the first half of the South Carolina spring game at Williams-Brice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Apr 12, 2014; Columbia, SC, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks quarterback Dylan Thompson (17) throws the ball during the first half of the South Carolina spring game at Williams-Brice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

On defense, the Gamecocks are going to have to do a lot of tweaking and overhauling on their front seven. Their secondary is returning almost completely intact, and they were a quality group of defensive backs. However, if the defensive line proves to be a liability, then the secondary may end up being an underworked group in terms of pass defense.

South Carolina Possible Impact Incoming Freshman

Carolina ended up with 21 commits in their 2014 class, nine of whom have already enrolled at the school. Of those who already enrolled and have seen some practice time with the team, 4-star OLB Bryson Allen-Williams and 4-star DT Abu Lamin have the greatest chance of making an impact on this defense.

On offense, 4-star TE Kevin Crosby could become a huge addition to the team, as well as 4-star WR Shaq Davidson. Both are a bit undersized – Davidson coming in at 6’0, 170 pounds and Crosby 6’0, 236 pounds – but both impressed scouts and coaches with great hands and speed.

Other possibilities include; 4-star DE Dante Sawyer, 4-star OG Donnell Stanley, 4-star CB Wesley Green, 4-star DT Dexter Wideman (and appropriate name for an interior lineman), and 4-star CB D.J. Smith; all of whom could easily work their way into a 1st or 2nd team rotation and have an impact on some early games.

Outlook for Game

It’s never pretty when the Bulldogs and Gamecocks meet, and given Spurrier’s ability to get under the skin of both Georgia fans and players, 2014 will be no exception. Ugly, gritty, nasty dirt-in-the-facemask football.

Georgia should be able to run the ball on a revamped South Carolina line, especially given the stable of running backs and returning offensive linemen the Bulldogs boast. Even if Carolina has talent to replace guys like Clowney, it will probably take them more than a few games to get their feet under them.

The other thing Dawg fans should be happy about is no Connor Shaw, who never put up huge stats against Georgia, but seemed to be able to complete passes whenever he needed. The concern for Georgia will be stopping Mike Davis, and keeping Carolina’s blitzes (which they always do) from confusing new starting quarterback Hutson Mason.

Scheduling disadvantage goes to Carolina, who opens the season with Texas A&M, then plays East Carolina before Georgia comes calling. The Bulldogs have an off week between Clemson and the trip to Carolina.

Another nail-biter, to be sure, but the Dawgs should prevail in close game. Take Richt’s puppies by 3.5.

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