ATHENS — If you’re looking for somebody to inform you about Georgia’s opposing team, and that opposing team happens to be South Carolina, then you absolutely have to reach out to Josh Kendall.
As most around here know, the Bulldogs do indeed play South Carolina in a nationally-televised SEC tilt this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in Columbia, S.C. (TV: CBS; Radion: 750-AM and 95.5-FM). As luck would have it, I’ve known Kendall, who covers the Gamecocks for The State Newspaper in Columbia, for the better part of 20 years, I guess. So he’s in contacts. So I asked him if he’d answer a few questions — five, in fact — about the Chickens for the good readers of DawgNation.com. Fortunately, he obliged.
Some quick background on Kendall first. He’s a UGA graduate and I met him way back when he was cutting his journalistic teeth like we all did at one time at The Red & Black student newspaper. Kendall bounced around a while at smaller papers after graduation, but he landed the Georgia beat at The Athens Banner-Herald not too long after I abandoned that job to go to work for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. So for a while we were on different planets in the same orbit.
For the last eight years or so, though, Kendall has been covering South Carolina for The State. Nowadays, he is considered the foremost authority on the Gamecocks. He covers the team with the strong, hard-line objectivity that he was taught at UGA’s Grady School. Kendall is always the one offering up the hard-hitting questions on the South Carolina beat.
Like the one he approached Deebo Samuel with on Tuesday.
“What are your early impressions of Deandre Baker?” he asked the Gamecocks’ star wide receiver.
“Who?” Samuel replied.
“Eighteen, I think, their cornerback,” Kendall informed the stud wideout.
“I really haven’t watched much of him,” Samuel said.
Not sure what it means that South Carolina’s primary receiver doesn’t who the Bulldogs’ All-SEC cornerback is, but at least Kendall recognizes a key matchup when he sees one.
You can be sure that Kendall will have all angles of Saturday’s Top 25 matchup covered for his considerable Gamecock readership. If you’d like to keep up, you can follow Kendall on Twitter @JoshatTheState and/or check out his work on The State’s website.
Kendall’s most important job, though, is being father to his two young sons. Don’t tell anybody, but I’ve heard they may be Dawgs’ fans.
Now, for some of that Josh Kendall insight:
1. What is it about Georgia that seems to rile up the South Carolina fanbase so?
Kendall: Traditionally this has been an early SEC game for the Gamecocks, if not the very first one, and since Georgia leads the overall series 50-18-2 what that has most often meant is that whatever offseason optimism South Carolina fans about the season kind of ends with this game. That happens enough times and a fan base tends to develop a distaste. I’d say, for most Carolina fans, Georgia is second behind only Clemson in terms of rivals or teams the fans most want to beat. On top of that, recently there have been some great games in the series so I think that adds to it.
2. What has been the impact of new offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon, and do you expect this former Bulldog to be especially motivated for Saturday’s game?
Kendall: I think promoting McClendon to full-time OC was a risky move for Will Muschamp although Muschamp doesn’t agree. That doesn’t have anything to do with McClendon. It’s the fact that Muschamp has a poor track record of OC hires and hiring someone with no prervious play-calling experience is a bold move under those circumstances. I think that speaks to the faith that Muschamp has in McClendon.
It’s still too early to tell how successful Bryan will be in the job. The Gamecocks looked good in the second half against Michigan in the Outback Bowl and good against an overmatched Coastal Carolina team last week. That’s all we’ve got to go on at this point. The players seem to have taken to his aggressive personality and like the idea that the offense can run with a faster tempo. Saturday’s game will be the first test for an offense that McClendon and new quarterbacks coach Dan Werner spent the offseason overhauling so it should be interesting.
3. Georgia coach Kirby Smart referred to Deebo Samuel as “the most underrated player in college football.” How lucky were the Dogs to miss him last year, and what can you tell us about this dynamic wideout and play-maker?
Kendall: He’s electric. The Gamecocks never really got over his loss last year. They averaged 10 fewer points in games he didn’t finish than in games he did finish last year, so that’s a pretty good indicator. He runs like a running back after the catch, and the Gamecocks will use him basically like a running back at times. McClendon proved against Coastal Carolina that he’s going to be stubborn about getting Samuel the ball a certain number of times each game, whether it’s through a shovel pass or calling back-to-back plays designed for him. I’m hopeful that he can stay healthy the entire season — which he hasn’t done yet in his career — because he’s a really fun player to watch.
4. What’s the inside scoop on South Carolina’s defense? Are there areas of particular concern or strength over there?
Kendall: The concern about the defense is depth, particularly on the defensive line this week. I’m not sure Carolina has enough defensive linemen to hold up against Georgia’s offense at the moment. On top of that, the secondary still is a work in progress. South Carolina is starting a true freshman (Georgia product Jaycee Horn) at nickelback. On the positive side, defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw and middle linebacker T.J. Brunson are elite level players in the SEC and capable of wrecking almost any play. Getting this defense ready as a unit for Saturday will be a challenge for Will Muschamp, and one that I imagine he relishes.
5. What are some of the interesting storylines on South Carolina heading into the meat of the 2018 football season?
Kendall: I think everyone knows that quarterback Jake Bentley’s dad Bobby is the running backs coach at USC. Bobby Bentley was a legendary high school coach in the state, coaching Marcus Lattimore, among others, before moving into college coaching. Senior cornerback Keisean Nixon is a veteran of Snoop Dogg’s youth football program and remains very close to Snoop (or Mr. Dogg).
KENDALL’S PREDICTION: “Georgia, 38-24. I think UGA’s O-line will be too much for South Carolina.”
So there you have it. Be sure to tune in for AN OPPOSING VIEW each Wednesday at DawgNation.com.
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