Columbia, SC (Sports Network) - A top-10 showdown is on tap in Columbia this weekend, as the fifth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs take on the sixth-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks in a key SEC East matchup at William-Brice Stadium.
Mark Richt's Bulldogs were the favorite to win the SEC East prior to the start of the season and the team has certainly lived up to the hype thus far, going 5-0 in the month of September, including outlasting a tough Tennessee squad last week in a shootout, 51-44 to move to 2-0 in SEC play. With the win, Georgia has now won 15 straight regular-season games, the second longest active streak in the nation (LSU - 18).
Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks are on a similar path to start the season, also sitting at 5-0, although the team is already 3-0 in-conference. Last weekend, South Carolina posted a 38-17 road win at Kentucky to remain undefeated on the year. South Carolina is seeking its first 6-0 start since the 1988 season and has won 11 straight games against SEC East opponents. Spurrier is in search of his 250th career coaching win, amassing 202 at the collegiate level and 47 at the pro level thus far.
For the first time in this series both teams are ranked in the top-10.
The Bulldogs hold a 46-16-2 series advantage, including a 19-8-2 edge in Columbia. However, South Carolina has won each of the last two meetings.
It was a balanced attack that proved to be the difference for Georgia against Tennessee last week, as the team amassed 568 yards of total offense, getting 282 yards on the ground and another 286 through the air. Quarterback Aaron Murray was 19-of-25 passing, for 278 yards and two TDs, while tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall combined for 294 yards rushing and five TDs.
Offensive balance has been the key in Athens this season, with Georgia averaging 48.2 ppg, on 536.0 ypg. The team has the ability to move the chains both rushing (250.4 ypg) and passing (285.6 ypg).
Murray has been consistent under center, completing just under 70 percent of his passes (.682), for 1,370 yards with 12 touchdowns and three interceptions. Murray has a number of viable options in the passing game, headlined by Michael Bennett (24 receptions, 345 yards, four TDs), Tavarres King (16 receptions, 307 yards, three TDs) and Marlon Brown (16 receptions, 264 yards, three TDs).
Gurley has made an immediate impact and is one of the nation's top freshmen, leading the SEC in rushing (107.2 ypg), averaging 7.9 yards per carry, with nine touchdowns. Marshall, also a freshman, has shared the workload and been productive himself, averaging 85.6 yards per game on 8.2 ypc, with five TDs.
The Georgia defense has played second-fiddle to the offense this season, despite plenty of star power. The team has shown some chinks in the armor and showed several flaws last week against Tennessee, but the Bulldogs have been active getting upfield, with 35 TFLs and eight sacks thus far.
The undeniable star on the defensive side of the ball for Georgia is All- American linebacker Jarvis Jones. The 6-foot-3, 241-pound junior is regarded as one of the nation's finest defenders. He currently ranks third on the team in tackles (32), while leading Georgia in TFLs (8.0) and sacks (4.5). Sophomore LB Amarlo Herrera has had a strong start to his year as well, leading the way in tackles (36).
Spurrier knows a thing or two about moving the football and his 2012 Gamecocks are getting it done with balance as well. The team is averaging just over 400 yards per game (409.0), getting a good mix of the run (171.8 ypg) and the pass (237.2 ypg).
It starts with All-American candidate Marcus Lattimore in the backfield. The junior tailback has returned from a knee injury that cost him half of 2011 and has looked solid thus far, averaging 4.8 yards per carry and leading USC with 446 yards and eight TDs. Lattimore is also a viable option coming out of the backfield with a team-high 16 receptions.
Spurrier needs Lattimore to be a factor in this game.
"Two years ago he broke a bunch of tackles. It was one of the most amazing days I've ever seen a running back have," said Spurrier at his weekly press conference. "Last year we had holes for him. He broke a few here and there, especially in the second half. It wasn't as many broken tackles last year as it was the first year. He has played very well against them. If we're to win he probably needs to have another big day."
Both Connor Shaw (571 yards, five TDs) and Dylan Thompson (510 yards, five TDs) have seen time under center. Top receiving threats not named Lattimore, include Bruce Ellington (12 receptions, 207 yards), Ace Sanders (12 receptions, 110 yards, three TDs) and Damiere Byrd (nine receptions, 246 yards, two TDs).
The Gamecocks are getting it done defensively as well this season, limiting foes to a mere 11.2 ppg (sixth nationally) and just 288.8 yards per outing (13th nationally). Running the football against USC is an act of futility, ranking seventh nationally at a meager 77.6 ypg.
Senior linebackers Quin Smith (26 tackles, two TFLs, one sack) and Shaq Wilson (25 tackles, two INTs) lead the team in tackles, but the playmaker that NFL brass is salivating over is sophomore rush end Jadeveon Clowney. The 6-foot-6, 256-pounder has 21 stops on the year, with nearly half of those coming behind the line of scrimmage (9.5), with a team-high 5.5 sacks.
It is sure to be an electric atmosphere in Columbia, as both teams look to move forward in the SEC.
"Normally when we play South Carolina, both teams are undefeated in league play because it's always been the first one," Richt said in Tuesday's press conference. "This year, both teams have found a way to stay undefeated. So I know it's definitely an exciting time for their program and for our program."
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