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Georgia Football 2017 Opponent Preview: South Carolina Gamecocks

Cy Brown

Welcome to your one-stop shop for Georgia football news and takes every Monday through Friday. Today, we look ahead to Georgia’s game with South Carolina this season, aka Smart vs. Muschamp II. Unless Ol’ Will explodes first.

Kirby Smart vs. Will Muschamp II is coming to Athens

Kirby Smart got the better of South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp last season in the first-ever matchup between the two former Georgia Bulldogs. (Unless you count pickup basketball.) The 28-14 win in Columbia was the lone bright spot in one of the worst stretches for Georgia football in some time, with losses to Ole Miss and Tennessee on one side and defeats to Vanderbilt and Florida on the other.

But even with the horrendous form Georgia showed in midseason last year, no one ever really doubted beating South Carolina. Steve Spurrier was more interested in golfing than recruiting in his final years in Columbia, so Muschamp inherited the weakest team South Carolina has fielded in a decade or more. He managed to go 6-7 with that squad, which is bigger achievement than it might seem.

Muschamp is still in the midst of rebuilding South Carolina, and he still has a long way to go, but things are starting to look up. The Gamecocks seem to have their quarterback of the future ready to go, and Muschamp can do nothing if not coach up a defense. They should be better than they were a season ago. They won’t be ready to challenge for the division title, but they should be good enough to make life difficult for every SEC team they face this season.

Offense

Sophomore Jake Bentley is the aforementioned QB of the future. The son of South Carolina running backs coach Bobby Bentley, Jake didn’t play until the seventh game of the season last year, the game following the loss to Georgia, and immediately took hold of the starting gig. In 7 games, he led the Gamecocks to a 4-3 record. He passed for 1,420 yards and 9 touchdowns, including 390 yards and 3 TDs in the Birmingham Bowl loss to South Florida. Bentley only threw 4 interceptions and completed 65.8 percent of his passes. That was enough to get the hype train rolling in Columbia.

Now, the challenge will be to live up to that hype and lead the Gamecocks for a full season. He’ll have some good targets to throw to in WRs Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards, as well as TE Hayden Hurst, all of whom had more than 500 yards receiving last season. One debate you’ll surely here a lot of is over who’s the better sophomore QB — Bentley or Jacob Eason? Former Bama QB/SEC analyst Greg McElroy already threw his hat in for Bentley last year.

One thing Bentley doesn’t appear to have at the moment, though, is a decent offensive line or a competent running game. South Carolina allowed 41 sacks last season and averaged an SEC-worst 3.68 yards per carry. Bentley may be good, but if the Gamecocks have to rely solely on him and can’t lean on their run game any more than they did last year, this offense has a low ceiling.

Defense

The biggest boon South Carolina will get in the coming season? Skai Moore is back. The All-SEC linebacker led the team in tackles in each of his first three seasons in Columbia, but a herniated disk ruled him out for all of 2016. There is no doubt he’ll be good upon his return. The question is whether he’ll be good enough to make up for South Carolina’s lack of depth at linebacker.

The Gamecocks only had three LBs on the roster this spring, although four more are coming in with this recruiting class. There also are holes all over the defense, with replacements needed for departed starters at both defensive end spots, as well as for one linebacker. It’s uncharted territory for Muschamp, who always had elite defensive talent at Florida, as well as pretty much any spot he ever landed as an assistant. If Moore can’t stay healthy — a major concern for a player who suffered as serious an injury as he did — the Gamecocks defense will be back to square one.

What to expect vs. Georgia

Georgia and South Carolina will meet between the hedges this season, which alone should give Georgia an advantage. The other advantage Georgia will have is in its backfield: Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. With so much lost in a front seven that finished 87th in the country in run defense, it’s hard to imagine at this time that the Gamecocks will be able to stop Georgia on the ground. With all the debate there will surely be about Eason vs. Bentley and Smart vs. Muschamp, it’ll likely be the Dawgs’ two starting tailbacks who will have the biggest effect on the outcome.

FPI Projection — Georgia has a 77.6 percent chance to beat South Carolina.

Previous opponent previewAppalachian State | Notre Dame | Samford | Mississippi State | Tennessee | Vanderbilt | Missouri | Florida

Yante Maten returning to Georgia

Guess who’s back, back again. Yante Maten’s back. Tell a friend.

Maten is coming back to Athens after flirting with the NBA draft. His decision will raise Georgia basketball fans’ hopes and expectations for the team heading into next season. It will also (hopefullY) give us plenty of more yams, like this one Maten demolished Belmont with as a sophomore.

UGA baseball’s SEC tourney opener postponed

Rain forced postponement of Georgia baseball’s do-or-die SEC Tournament opener against Mississippi State that was scheduled for Tuesday night. The game will be played at 10:30 a.m. ET on Wednesday in Hoover, Ala. So, if you’re reading this late Wednesday morning or early afternoon, head over to the SEC Network to see if Georgia can extend its season by a few games.

10 Dawgs named to preseason All-SEC teams

Athlon Sports released its preseason All-SEC teams on Monday, and 10 Georgia Bulldogs made the cut. Two players were named first-team defense, four made second-team offense, two were on third-team defense and two were honored on the fourth-team defense.

First-team defense

Roquan Smith, LB

Trent Thompson, DL

Second-team offense

Nick Chubb, RB

Sony Michel, RB

Isaac Nauta, TE

Isaiah Wynn, OL

Third-team defense

Malkom Parrish, CB

Dominick Sanders, S

Fourth-team defense

Jonathan Ledbetter, DL

Lorenzo Carter, LB

ICYMI

Good dog

Dog the Lobster Hunter: