Each week during the season we hook up with a beat writer who covers the opposing team Georgia is playing to get a perspective on the upcoming game from the other sideline. This week we’ll be getting that view from Josh Kendall, who covers the South Carolina Gamecocks for The State newspaper in Columbia.
You can read Kendall’s stories on their South Carolina-dedicated website, http://www.gogamecocks.com/ and you can follow him on Twitter @JoshatTheState.
I’ve known Josh since he was a UGA undergrad covering sports for The Red & Black. Later, he would cover Georgia for the Athens Banner-Herald and Macon Telegraph from 1997-2008. He and his wife Janet and two boys, Jones, 8, and Joseph, 6, have been in Columbia, S.C., ever since.
So you could say Josh — a Bulldog covering Steve Spurrier — has a dream job or a dirty job, either one. I kid, of course, as Josh is known for covering his beat with cold objectivity, just as any Grady School grad would.
I sent Josh five questions via email about the Gamecocks and their nationally-televised matchup against Georgia, Saturday at Sanford Stadium (6:01 p.m., ESPN). Here, then, is what Josh had to say. …
1. First, I have to ask, how much personal grief did you catch from Spurrier for Mark Bradley’s comments in your preseason series on the Gamecocks?
Kendall: He was not happy, but it faded pretty quickly. I was actually on a week-long vacation in the mountains with no cell or email service so I was unaware of the whole thing until about five days after it happened.”
2. You probably know the Ol’ Ball Coach as well as anybody. If the Kentucky loss is an indication of how this season might go for him, do you think it will have an effect on his proclamation that he intends to coach “five or six more years?”
Kendall: That’s not a simple question. I think his decision, whenever it comes, will be based more on what kind of job he thinks he and his staff are doing with the team rather than purely wins and losses. He did not seem too upset to me after the Kentucky loss, which might be an indication that he believes he has a young group that has a talent disadvantage in some areas but is playing pretty hard and being coached pretty well. Last year’s team embarrassed him at times and that was a bigger issue I think in his mind than straight wins and losses. If this team is playing hard and he thinks really trying to do it right and still not winning, that might not bother him as badly as some people think.
3. How do you think the injury to Connor Mitch changes the Gamecocks’ offense? Is there a chance it actually could be a good thing? Why did Mitch beat him out in the first place?
Kendall: The struggles of the offense through two games have had little to do with the quarterback position oddly enough. Mitch was not great when he was in there, but the biggest issue is a lack of play-makers on the perimeter. They simply don’t have anybody beyond Pharoh Cooper who has proven he can make a play in the passing game. Combine that with some missed assignments in the run blocking and it’s been hard for South Carolina to consistently move the ball. I think Connor Mitch beat out Orth originally because he is the more physically talented kid and he showed a real improvement in the speed of his decision making. Orth is a great story and seems to be a good kid and his teammates like him and will play hard for him. However, he’s still a guy who had no Division I scholarship offers so he’s doing a lot of this with grit and guile.
4. Kentucky ran over the defense in the first half but not as much in the second. How much of that had to do with the Gamecocks making necessary adjustments? And how do you think they’ll match up to Georgia’s run game?
Kendall: South Carolina’s coaches and players swear they are really not making any wholesale adjustments at halftime, but the defense has been much better in the second half of both games. There are several theories. One is that they come out too “amped” up in the first half and don’t pay enough attention to their assignments. One is that they have really benefited from some reminder coaching sessions at halftime. Spurrier said he thought the Kentucky game came down a disguising issue pre-snap. So it’s still a mystery we haven’t solved on this end yet. As for Chubb, he should have a big day unless South Carolina improves its run fits. The Gamecocks will stack the box and make Greyson Lambert beat them for sure, but they had eight in the box against Kentucky in the first half and it didn’t matter.
5. If they stack the box to thwart the Bulldogs’ run game, how capable to you believe the South Carolina secondary to be at defending Georgia’s passing game, such as it is?
Kendall: South Carolina’s secondary is nothing to be scared of at the moment, but neither is Georgia’s passing game. I would say if the Bulldogs can’t make any plays downfield through the air against the Gamecocks it’s a big red flag for them. I say that for a couple reasons. No. 1, South Carolina is going to stop Chubb first, second and third and that means there will be opportunities in the passing game. No. 2, the Gamecocks are without starting cornerback Chris Lammons (knee) and clearly not very happy with what they have seen from backup cornerback Chaz Elder, who has barely played this year. Safety Jordan Diggs is coming off a tough first half against Kentucky.