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Friday, September 10, 2010

Mailbag time

In the five weeks and five days I’ve been in Athens, not that I’m counting, the following has happened:

- The investigation and suspension of the football team’s best player.
- Two player arrests.
- The hiring of a new athletics director.

Other than that, it’s been pretty quiet.

But if I had stayed in Columbia I would now be covering a full-fledged NCAA investigation. So all in all, let’s just say I’m glad my first road trip as a Georgia beat writer – back to Columbia – will be a short one.

I received a lot of questions about this game, and other stuff, and I’ll try to answer as many as them as possible. Here we go.

Dave Cleveland from Covington, Ga., had six questions, and I’ll answer them in quick-hitting style:

1) How does the talent at USC compare to UGA? I would guess that starters compare favorably but UGA has more depth. Would you agree?

Yes. South Carolina has some studs – Alshon Jeffery, Cliff Matthews, Marcus Lattimore, Stephon Gilmore – but Georgia probably has a longer list of players with long-term upside.

2) How many years do you think Spurrier has left in him at South Carolina?

If this investigation is serious, and/or this season doesn’t go well, he may decide he’s tired of it and throw in his visor after this one. Otherwise, I know he and Jerri want to stick around until they have that one “special season.”

3) How do football facilities at USC compare to UGA's with the recent improvements?

USC is undergoing a major facilities improvement, while I have to dodge construction every day around campus in Athens. It’s hard to compare in total until all the construction is done at both places. Both places pour a lot of resources into football.

4) Who has the edge in coaching with this week's matchup?

That’s so hard to answer. Steve Spurrier at the top of his game is the best on offense, but the Gamecock offense has struggled lately. And Todd Grantham is starting his defensive coordinator career. Mark Richt and Mike Bobo are more than solid, and Ellis Johnson is well-respected.

5) Who do you think is a better playmaker: Gilmore at USC or Branden Smith at UGA?

Call it a split. Gilmore can throw the ball, something Georgia should watch out for, but Smith is dangerous when he gets the ball.

6) Finally, deep down inside, who do you think will win Saturday's game?

Deep down inside, I think it comes down to turnovers.

- This is probably too early to ask BUT, what differences and similarities have you seen in the two fanbases so far? And give us a rundown of just how widely divergent the teams fanbases see the gap between the two programs, as well as the gap between the UGA perception of UGA against the SEC perception of UGA, in general. I feel like I’d look at UGA as a sort of soft team who never lives up to the billing if I were a generic college football fan. Basically, the same way I felt about Tennessee growing up. (early 90s)
- TomReagan

Georgia’s fans seem to take criticism of their team a bit better. They don’t blame the media as much, or think the world is out to get them. (Some do, though, and not every Gamecock fan thinks that.) But they are both very, very passionate fan bases. They both know their football.

I think Gamecock fans have a lot of open respect for Mark Richt, and begrudging respect for Georgia’s consistency through the last decade. But like Bulldog fans, they think the team hasn’t reached its full potential at times.

I'm curious about the suspension situation on the Gamecock side of the ball. Is Saunders coming back? Or is he minority whip to AJ Green at this point? How has UGA been planning to deal with Saunders and the tall USC receivers? And what do you think about the O-lines for both teams? Our line didn't look as dominant as hoped, and that's been blamed on the injuries and ailments that plagued a number of them, but do they feel confident heading into Columbia? On the other hand, the Carolina O-line had all sorts of question marks in the summer, but how did they do in the opener?

Saunders is out. USC’s tall receivers are still going to be a problem, especially since Georgia’s corners are on the smaller side. You might see some safety help, since Jakar Hamilton, Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree match up better. The key for Georgia is going to be getting to Stephen Garcia enough that the throws are off-line. Once it’s in the air, USC’s receivers should have the advantage.

As for the lines, I’ll believe the Gamecocks are better when I see it. The front five has been that team’s main problem ever since Spurrier took over, and they’re now on their third line coach in as many years. Georgia’s veteran group was a bit off its game in the opener, but it should still be much better than South Carolina’s. That said, the Gamecocks have some good defensive linemen. (Matthews, Ladi Ajiboye, Devin Taylor.)

Seth - Since you've lived in Columbia the past few years how about giving those of us traveling to the game this weekend a good idea of restaurants, bars, pregame rituals, etc. to check out.

Well, I don’t want to single any place out, especially because it might amount to an endorsement. I’d just say your best bet, if you want to be around “the action” is the Vista, which is near the Statehouse. Five Points is more of a student hangout, if that floats your boat. Your pregame ritual will consist of sitting in traffic if you don’t get there very early, especially for a noon start. Don’t be surprised if the stands are only three-quarters full by kickoff, even though it’s a sellout.

What are your honest thoughts on Garcia? Does he handle blitzes well? If you shake him early, what’s his response? Give me anything you got...

As opposed to my dishonest thoughts? Haha. As I’ve said, I think the key for Georgia is getting pressure on Garcia and forcing him into mistakes, or into freelancing, which the Gamecock coaches hate. In the opener against Southern Miss, Garcia showed a poise in the pocket that’s been missing. He can do things with his feet, just like Aaron Murray, but the Gamecock coaches would prefer he only run on quarterback keepers.

Seth, How much would you pay for a copy of Roger's memoirs, "Sterling Gold"?

A lot. It’d be gold, Jerry, gold! I heard Michael Wilbon say last Sunday's "Mad Men" episode may have been one of the five best dramatic hours of television, ever. I'm not sure I disagree.

What is the latest on Trinton Sturdivant?

Well, that’s not a South Carolina question – but I am after all currently the Georgia beat writer. Sturdivant should be good to go this Saturday. He just had stomach trouble before the Louisiana-Lafayette game.

What color uniforms will USC wear?

I suspect garnet shirts, white pants. But they do get tricky sometimes, maybe black pants. Garnet on garnet is real ugly in my opinion.

If you're the expert on the cocks, does that make The State's writer the expert on the dogs?

Ironically, yes. Josh Kendall, who covered Georgia for years, including for The Telegraph, now has my old job. And I’m sure he’s going to do well, just like he did here.

What is the difference between coach Spurrier's and coach Richt's approach to preparing for a game?

Similar. Behind the scenes, I’m sure they’re both meticulous. And both tend to leave their defensive coaches alone. Richt is more involved with special teams than Spurrier.

I know SCarolina has a good kicker but I believe, with or without AJ, UGA should have a nice advantage on special teams. The Boykin returns last year played a big part in our W. What are your thoughts on SCarolina special teams as I believe otherwise you could argue the game is pretty equal, although I still believe talent wise, UGA has better/more talent and depth.

Georgia should have the special teams advantage. Don’t underestimate the value of Drew Butler. South Carolina is solid in the kicking game with Spencer Lanning, and has some good athletes that could uncork some returns. But their punt and kickoff coverage has been suspect at times.

How is it a guy like the OBC, who prides himself on running a clean program and frequently calls out others in public who don't, allows his team to get caught up in this hotel mess? This is very uncharacteristic for Spurrier. Who dropped the ball?

That’s what the NCAA will probably look into. You’re right that Spurrier has enjoyed a good reputation for running clean programs. We don’t know all the facts yet, but this would be a good time to just say that any coach would have a hard time keeping track of what all his players are doing in their off hours.

Alright Seth I've got some questions for you. It seemed to me that the glaring omission from the offense on Saturday was the option. Stafford ran the option effectively in his time here and even Joe Cox had his moments with the play. So it seemed to me that it would be a larger part of the offense this year, especially with the quality run game we're projected to have and the wheels on Murray. So, do you think Bobo is taking a page out of the 'Ol Ball Coach's playbook and is going to spring the option on him this week? Is this something they practice each week? And is South Carolina any good at defending the option?

I suspect that Georgia did hold the option out intentionally, but Ellis Johnson and South Carolina will be preparing for it. The Gamecocks have the speed on defense to stop it, so it would just be a matter of being ready for when it comes and what direction it goes.


John said...


Please update us on any more suspensions for South Carolina in regards to the NCAA probe. I have to think more players will be sitting as a precautionary measure. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Come on Seth, South Carolina's program is no where near UGA in comparison... especially football. They just won their first national title in anything this past year (baseball). No knock on USC, but that's just a fact. USC has historically been an SEC bottom dweller.

UGA's following is 20x fold larger than USC's and one of the highest revenue programs in the nation.

I'm happy they have a more competitive team this year. They looked great last week. Hope the Dawgs pull out another win this year.