Georgia’s young secondary braces for intense challenge from South Carolina

Georgia football-Tyson Campbell-Georgia secondary braces for challenge against South Carolina-Georgia Bulldogs
South Carolina is expected to come after Georgia freshman cornerback Tyson Campbell with their high-octane passing game Saturday in Columbia.

ATHENS — Georgia coach Kirby Smart said freshman cornerback Tyson Campbell did a decent job in his first career start against Austin Peay this past Saturday. But when talking about what Campbell and the rest of the Bulldogs’ DBs will face against South Carolina this weekend, one could almost hear that Bachman Turner Overdrive 1970s classic playing in the background.

You know, “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet.”

Smart gushed Monday about the abilities of South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley and receiver Deebo Samuels and fretted over the challenge they’ll present. That’s not to mention that they’ll be under the guidance of first-year coordinator Bryan McClendon, a person with which Smart and the whole of the Bulldog Nation should be well familiar.

Tyson Campbell was a consensus 5-star prospect and the No. 2-ranked defensive in the nation when he signed with Georgia out of American Heritage High School in Plantation, Fla. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Of Bentley, Smart said: “A leader, he understands the game. … like having a coach on the field. He’s more athletic than you give him credit for. He scrambles for first downs when things are covered. He handles pressure well. He knows where to go with the ball. He’s unbelievable in the RPO game. I mean, he’s a really good quarterback.”

Of Samuel, Smart said: “He’s probably the most underrated player in all of college football, because I don’t know that everybody in the country knows what the SEC knows about Deebo Samuel. I mean. the guy is phenomenal. When you look at what he’s done, even two years ago, he gave us fits in that game. … You see what he’s already done in one game, how explosive he’s been whether at running back, receiver. And they’re creative in finding ways of getting him the ball. He’s a 10-touch, 15-touch-a-game guy.”

Of McClendon, he said, “I’ve always had a lot of respect for him as a leader, really good recruiter. He did a great job with receivers when he was with those guys, and now he’s calling (plays). He called it in the bowl game, and … was very patient, committed, called a great game, especially the second half. (He) kind of won that job by the job he did and got a great amount of respect.”

In a nutshell, this won’t be anything like Austin Peay. The Governors brought an run-based option offense to Athens from the FCS and had zero success against the Bulldogs, running or passing.

Similarly, South Carolina wasn’t challenged in its 49-15 win over Coastal Carolina. The Gamecocks were balanced on offense with 294 of 557 total yards coming via the pass. Bentley went 22-of-29 for 250 yards and a career best four touchdown passes. One of those went to Samuel on a highlight-reel, one-handed catch on the boundary that got lots of play on SportCenter. Junior running back Rico Dowdle had 105 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries and Ty’Son Williams added 82 on 11 attempts. The team averaged 6.9 yards per rush.

McClendon is, of course, a Georgia football letterman who played receiver for the Bulldogs and coached both wide receiver and running backs. He also served as Georgia’s interim head coach after Mark Richt was dismissed in December of 2015 and led the Bulldogs to a win over Penn State in the TaxSlayer Bowl that year. Therefore he remains at 1-0 the only undefeated head coach coach in UGA football history.

The most notable difference in the Gamecocks’ offense under McClendon was how much up-tempo they ran. That came as no surprise to the Bulldogs.

“It’s the way of the world,” Smart said. ” If you have the kind of quarterback he has who can lead and coach on the field and do the things he does, it’s a big advantage. I think the key is can you go up tempo and still run the ball, which they can. … That’s why they’ve been able to speed things up because they’ve got a quarterback that can make good decisions with the ball in his hands, and he makes them right a lot of times.”

Without question, though, the key matchup for Georgia is going to be between its young DBs and the Gamecocks’ receivers. Samuel is the primary weapon but not the only one. Bentley also likes to target 6-3, 220-pound junior Bryan Edwards, who had four catches for 53 yards in the opener and scored on a 24-yard touchdown. Sophomore Shi Smith also had four catches. Speedster Randrecous Davis of Atlanta — a one-time UGA commit — can also get behind a defense and had a 27-yard score in the opener. In all, the Gamecocks heaved the ball down the field 35 times, catching 25 of them.

Georgia will counter with a secondary that includes three new starters, including Campbell. And while Bentley has the experience to go anywhere with the football, there’s no doubt he’ll be looking the way of freshman often rather challenging Georgia’s senior cornerback Deandre Baker.

“They’re an SEC team,” junior safety J.R. Reed said. “They kind of remind me of our team and what we’ve got going on offense, with the receivers and running backs and smart quarterback that they have. It’s a big game. We can’t make any mistakes back there in the secondary.”

As for Campbell, Reed feels like the lightning fast youngster can hold his own.

“He just takes his job very seriously,” Reed said. “You don’t always see that in a young guy. He’s very mature in his mentality and the way he takes ownership and takes charge of his place.”

Smart liked what he saw from Campbell this past Saturday, too. But he hopes to see improvement. If not, he’s prepared to go with Eric Stokes or Mark Webb, who also played left cornerback in the opener.

“He did a good job of what he was asked to do. He communicated well,” Smart said of Campbell. “I think he got settled down more as the game went on. He’s got a lot of speed, a lot of toughness. He’s a competitor. He hasn’t been in the environment he’s going to be in Saturday. But, I mean, a lot of teams across the country have young DBs, and the only way they grow up is to go play. So he needs to go play. And we’ve got other guys that can roll in and play.”

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