- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
ATHENS, Ga. -- Although it hasn't been the case in the last two seasons, there is a strong possibility that the winner of Saturday's Georgia-South Carolina will go on to win the SEC East title -- particularly if Saturday's winner is the Gamecocks, who enjoy a more manageable conference schedule this season.
Let's take a look at five factors to watch in Saturday's game:
1. Clowney on the comeback: South Carolina's star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney took a heaping helping of criticism over his conditioning after failing to dominate against North Carolina last week. Gamecocks defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward predicted earlier in the week that we'll see “the real Clowney on Saturday” against Georgia, a team he has made some big plays against in his first two games against the Bulldogs.
What kind of impact does Clowney make on the typical game? Even in Clowney's somewhat disappointing performance last Thursday, North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner enjoyed much more success when Clowney was on the sideline. According to ESPN Stats and Information, he completed 52 percent of his passes when Clowney was in the game versus 75 percent when Clowney was out. He also had to throw much quicker when Clowney was in, with 12 of his 14 completions with Clowney in the game traveling 6 yards beyond the line of scrimmage or less -- and seven of them finding their target at or behind the line.
2. Murray under pressure: Georgia's offense thrives on big plays and long passes, but if the Bulldogs' offensive line can't shield its quarterback from the Gamecocks' talented pass rushers, performances like Murray's career-worst 109-yard effort against South Carolina last season become more of a possibility.
Murray's Total QBR is 46 against South Carolina -- including an 8.4 last year -- against which Georgia is 0-3 in his career. Georgia is 12-1 against all other SEC East opponents in Murray's three-plus seasons as the starter.
It will be interesting to see how Murray fares when South Carolina brings blitzes on Saturday. ESPN Stats and Information reports that Murray has zero touchdowns and two interceptions in 18 attempts when South Carolina has sent five or more pass-rushers on a play. Otherwise, he has four touchdowns and no interceptions in 63 pass attempts while facing four or fewer rushers.
3. Help from Harvey-Clemons: One of Georgia's best defensive players, Josh Harvey-Clemons, returns from a one-game suspension this week. That should provide an enormous lift for a defense that surrendered 467 yards to Tajh Boyd and Clemson a week ago.
Harvey-Clemons' ability at nickelback will allow him to rush Gamecocks quarterback Connor Shaw off the edge and spy against Shaw's underrated running ability. Shaw was dominant early against Georgia last season, completing 5 of 6 passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for two first downs on the Gamecocks' first two drives alone.
4. Young linebackers versus Gurley: Although he missed portion of the game with a quad injury, Georgia's Todd Gurley still rushed for 154 yards (12.8 ypc) and two touchdowns against Clemson. He said the injury will not be an issue against South Carolina, setting up a key matchup to watch pitting Gurley, Keith Marshall and bruising fullback Quayvon Hicks against green South Carolina linebackers like sophomores Kaiwan Lewis and Marcquis Roberts and freshman Skai Moore.
Moore performed well against North Carolina, posting seven tackles and one TFL, but it's a lot to ask of a freshman to consistently bring down Georgia's All-SEC tailback, who is an enormous step up from any runner the Gamecocks faced in Week 1.
5. History in play: South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier beat Georgia like a drum in his time as Florida's head coach, and he has recently resumed that mastery of the Bulldogs with the Gamecocks. South Carolina had never beaten Georgia three times in a row until last season's 35-7 win in Columbia -- with that 28-point margin of victory standing as South Carolina's biggest win ever against Georgia.
If South Carolina wins on Saturday, not only will it extend its historic success in a series that started in 1894, it will give Spurrier 16 wins against Georgia -- more than any opposing coach in history. Spurrier is 15-5 against Georgia overall and 4-4 at South Carolina.
Incidentally, only Florida State (9-5-1 against Spurrier teams), Auburn (8-10) and Tennessee (8-14) have beaten Spurrier more than Georgia in his Hall of Fame career. Georgia, Florida, Arkansas, Alabama and Clemson all have five wins against the Head Ball Coach.