Limit the damage. When it all boils down Saturday, that’s Georgia’s game plan against South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
Of course, that mentality also applies to the big picture.
After a season-opening loss to No. 4 Clemson on Saturday, No. 11 Georgia will host No. 6 South Carolina at 4:30 p.m. Saturday in its home opener inside Sanford Stadium. Simply put, Georgia can not afford to drop to 0-2 and still accomplish its lofty goals this season.
Or, can it?
You know the angles from the Gamecocks’ perspective. Earlier this week, I caught up with Seth Emerson, who reports on the Bulldogs for The Macon Telegraph and Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Emerson was kind enough to answer a few questions about the Bulldogs. Read his take on Georgia below.
RW: Psychologically, how has Georgia handled the shock of starting this season 0-1?
SE: They’re not panicking, at least judging by outward appearances.
Part of the reason is the man at the top, Mark Richt, is so steady and even-keel. But the other reason is that the offense is filled with veterans who have been through the 0-2 start in 2011, and the debacle in Columbia last year. Compared to that, this is nothing in terms of adversity. And compared to the way the SEC championship ended last year, the loss at Clemson makes for an easy recovery.
The defensive players, meanwhile, were actually encouraged by their performance at Clemson, considering their inexperience and the Tigers’ potent offense. They gave up 38 points, but they also got off the field a lot more than not, which was better expected.
RW: With the loss of WR Malcolm Mitchell, what happens to Georgia’s passing game?
SE: It loses its biggest breakaway threat, and you can’t downplay that. Mitchell had the ability to beat the defender downfield and haul in a long pass, or go over the middle and catch a tight one in coverage, or take a short screen and go all the way. He’s a special talent.
That said, there are plenty of other options in the receiving corps, which is the deepest unit on the team. Michael Bennett was the team’s leading receiver last year before tearing his ACL five days before the South Carolina game. So the Gamecocks haven’t really had to deal with him yet. Chris Conley is similar to Bennett: A big, well-built guy with some speed and a reliable pass-catcher. Rantavious Wooten is a speedy threat. Jonathan Rumph, who didn’t play at Clemson but is healthy now, is tall (6-foot-5) and is also from Cayce, for what it’s worth.
But the X-factor is Justin Scott-Wesley, a redshirt freshman. Scott-Wesley is a track star (literally, he competed for Georgia’s track team), but lately has emerged as a legitimate receiver. He doesn’t replace Mitchell, but his emergence softens the blow.
RW: Schematically, how do you expect offensive coordinator Mike Bobo to go about trying to block Jadeveon Clowney?
SE: Earlier this summer Bobo joked that they would go the Burt Reynolds-“Longest Yard” approach. Failing that, the strategy, according to Bobo, is the following: “Don’t turn a bad play into a catastrophe.”
Basically, they know Clowney is gonna make plays, they just don’t want them to be fumbles, rushed interceptions or drive-killing sacks. There will be attempts to block him, which Bobo isn’t giving away, and I suspect sophomore fullback Quayvon Hicks – who also had a strong game at Clemson – will be involved.
RW: Was Georgia’s poor defensive performance Saturday more to do with Clemson’s offense, or are there some flaws that will linger?
SE: Youth and inexperience, and the lack of Josh Harvey-Clemons. Most of the first-unit had never started before, including three true freshmen, and more freshmen came off the bench. Harvey-Clemons was suspended for the game, but he’s back now and it will be interesting to see how much of an impact he has. Harvey-Clemons, a sophomore, is officially a safety but will be all over the field, with the capability to play all the way back at safety or start on the line with his hand on the ground.
One worry, I think, is how the front seven had trouble stopping Clemson’s run. You expected that Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins would make a lot of plays. But Georgia needed to stop Clemson from establishing the run, and Roderick McDowell had a big game.
RW: What is the one thing Georgia’s offense and defense must do to win?
SE: The offense needs to avoid turnovers. I’m not sure what you can do about Clowney, what with the struggles of the offensive line. But I do think that if Clowney has a similarly quiet game as he did against North Carolina, Georgia has a chance to capitalize a lot more, what with Todd Gurley, Aaron Murray, Arthur Lynch and the aforementioned receivers.
Defensively, the key is stopping Connor Shaw from making plays with his feet. He’s killed Georgia that way the past two years, whether it be scrambling for first downs or extending plays and finding an open receiver.
RW: Bonus: Who wins, and why?
SE: Before the season started, my sense was Georgia would beat South Carolina, perhaps convincingly, the difference this year being the absence of Lattimore and Clowney’s supporting cast. But Georgia’s offensive line struggled so much in the opener, and Mike Davis and South Carolina’s offensive line looked so strong, that now I think you have to pick the Gamecocks.
But my gut still tells me Georgia is going to play a lot better, and win. My head tells me South Carolina will win. My heart does not exist, as I am an objective reporter just hoping the game finishes before 8 p.m.