Gamecocks and Bulldogs Set for SEC Eastern Division Showdown
Nov. 3, 2017
YOU ARE LOOKING LIVE: The South Carolina Gamecocks (6-2, 4-2 SEC) play their final road game of the 2017 season this week when they travel to Athens for a 3:30 pm ET showdown with the SEC Eastern Division-leading and second-ranked Georgia Bulldogs (8-0, 5-0 SEC) on Saturday, November 4. The game at Sanford Stadium (92,746) will be televised nationally on CBS.
IN THE BOOTH: Carter Blackburn will serve as the play-by-play voice for CBS, with Rick Neuheisel and Aaron Taylor providing the analysis. John Schriffen will be the sideline reporter.
TWO SHY OF 600: It’s been 125 years since the University of South Carolina laced it up for a December 24, 1892 meeting in Charleston against Furman, a 44-0 setback. 2017 marks the 124th season of intercollegiate football at South Carolina. It is the 111th-consecutive year in which South Carolina has competed on the gridiron. The University did not field a team in either 1893 or 1906. Carolina owns an all-time record of 598-571-44, a .511 winning percentage.
SEC, SEC: The Gamecocks are in their 26th year in the Southeastern Conference. South Carolina and Arkansas joined the league prior to the 1992 campaign. The Gamecocks earned their lone SEC Eastern Division title in 2010. The Gamecocks are 89-116-1 (.434) all-time in SEC regular-season play, but are 34-28 (.548) in conference action since the start of the 2010 season.
CAROLINA VS. GEORGIA: This is the 70th all-time meeting between these two bordering flagship state schools. Only Clemson (114) has faced the Gamecocks more often than Georgia. The Bulldogs lead the all-time series by a 49-18-2 margin, including a 28-8 advantage when playing in Athens. Since becoming SEC Eastern Division rivals in 1992, UGA owns a 16-9 advantage in the series, including an 8-4 mark in Athens.
IT’S GETTING LATE: This year’s match up will be only the third time since 1980 that the Gamecocks and Bulldogs have met after September (they played on Oct. 6 in 2012 and on Oct. 9, 2016), and is the second-latest date in the history of the series that extends back to 1894, exceeded only by the November 18 game in 1939.
ADVANTAGE CAROLINA: The Gamecocks have won four of the seven meetings with Georgia in this decade including three-straight from 2010-12 (17-6, 45-42 and 35-7). Georgia won in Athens in 2013 by a 41-30 count, but the Gamecocks bounced back with a 38-35 win in Columbia in 2014. The Bulldogs have won the last two meetings by scores of 52-20 and 28-14.
THE LAST TIME THEY MET: Hurricane Matthew forced a scheduling change, as the Gamecocks hosted Georgia in a rare Sunday afternoon game at Williams-Brice Stadium on October 9, 2016. The Bulldogs churned out 326 rushing yards on 50 carries in a 28-14 win. Carolina quarterback Perry Orth completed 26-of-36 passes for 288 yards, but was sacked five times. Deebo Samuel (4 catches, 90 yards) and Hayden Hurst (six catches, 86 yards) proved to be a solid one-two receiving punch.
THE LAST TIME IN ATHENS: The Georgia offense was hitting on all cylinders as the No. 7 Bulldogs posted a 52-20 win over South Carolina on Sept. 19, 2015, in Athens. Georgia quarterback Grayson Lambert connected on 24-of-25 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns, while Nick Chubb carried 21 times for 159 yards and two scores as the Bulldogs rolled up 576 yards of offense. South Carolina quarterback Perry Orth made his first career start and completed 6-of-17 passes for 66 yards. True freshman Lorenzo Nunez was a bright spot, earning significant playing time for the first time in his career. He rushed 10 times for a team-high 76 yards. Elliott Fry connected on field goals of 45 yards and a career-long 51-yarder.
WELL THAT’S DIFFERENT: After an 11-year stretch from 1998-2008 in which the teams did not score more than 38 points combined, the offense have had the better of it lately. In the last eight meetings, the winning team has scored at least 35 points six times and the teams have combined for over 70 points in five of those eight contests, including a record 87 points in 2011.
MAKING A POINT: After playing 34 times from 1971-2008 without scoring 30 points in any single contest, Carolina has tallied 30-plus points in five of the last eight meetings against the Bulldogs.
MUSCHAMP VS. GEORGIA: South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp owns a 1-4 record as a head coach against his alma mater. The 1994 Georgia grad lost by a 24-20 count in 2011, by a 17-9 score in 2012 and by a 23-20 margin in 2013 before posting a 38-20 win in 2014, all as the head coach at Florida. All four of those games were played in Jacksonville. He dropped his first game against Georgia as the Gamecocks’ head coach last season by a 28-14 count. This week’s game will mark Coach Muschamp’s first trip to Athens as an opposing head coach.
GEORGIA ON MY MIND: This is one game that Carolina co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Bryan McClendon had to have circled. A 2005 Georgia graduate, McClendon spent his entire coaching career with the Bulldogs prior to joining Will Muschamp’s staff on Dec. 23, 2015. During his time in Athens, McClendon served as the Bulldogs’ interim head coach and led his team to the 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl win over Penn State.
IT JUST MEANS MORE: The Peach State is well-represented on Carolina’s roster, as 24 players claim Georgia as their home state. That figures to 22 percent of the Gamecocks’ 109-man roster.
DANDY WIN OVER VANDY: A.J. Turner rushed for a career-high 121 yards on just 15 carries as South Carolina rolled up a season-high 212 rushing yards in a 34-27 win over Vanderbilt last Saturday in Columbia. Jake Bentley added two rushing touchdowns, the first two of his career, and threw for another in the win. It was the third-straight win for the Gamecocks, their ninth-straight victory over Vanderbilt, and was their sixth win of the season, making them bowl-eligible for the 12th time in the last 13 seasons.
PLAYING A RANKED OPPONENT: The Gamecocks will be playing their first ranked opponent of the season when they take on second-ranked Georgia. Carolina was 1-4 against ranked opponents in 2016, with the lone win coming against No. 18 Tennessee. The Gamecocks are 2-11 versus ranked foes since the start of the 2014 season, with the other win coming against sixth-ranked Georgia in 2014.
BEATING THE BEST: Georgia enters the game as the nation’s second-ranked team. A win over the Bulldogs would mark the second-best victory in Carolina history, based on Associated Press rankings. Five of Carolina’s top seven wins based on the AP rankings have come since 2009, including a win over top-ranked Alabama in 2010.
BEATING THE BEST ON THE ROAD: The last time South Carolina posted a win over a ranked team on the road was at No. 5 Missouri on Oct. 26, 2013, while the best road win in school history came at No. 3 North Carolina in 1981.
DID YOU KNOW?: South Carolina has played a top-5 ranked team in 11 of the past 12 seasons.
GUILTY OF POSSESSION: The Gamecocks have turned the ball over just six times all season. That ranks second in the SEC and tied for fifth in the country behind only NC State (4), UCF (5), Wake Forest (5) and Alabama (5).
HEY TURN ME OVER: South Carolina is tied for third in the SEC with 14 turnovers forced (7 fumbles and 7 interceptions). The Gamecocks are plus-8 in turnover margin, second in the SEC and tied for 12th in the country.
TURNOVERS LEAD TO POINTS: The Gamecocks are not only winning the turnover battle, but converting those turnovers into points. Carolina has tallied 62 points off their 14 turnovers, while allowing just three points following their six turnovers.
ROAD WARRIORS: The Gamecocks are 2-1 in true road games this season and 3-1 away from Columbia’s Williams-Brice Stadium. They have 2017 road wins at Missouri and Tennessee along with a neutral site win over NC State in Charlotte. Carolina won just one road game between the 2015 and ’16 seasons combined.
BIG ROAD CROWDS: This week’s game will mark the third time this season that South Carolina has played in one of the nation’s 10-largest college football stadiums. The Gamecocks have already traveled to Texas A&M’s Kyle Field in College Station (3rd-102,733) and Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium in Knoxville (4th-102,455) before this week’s game at Georgia’s Sanford Stadium in Athens (9th-92,746).
SEEING RED: The Gamecock defense has buckled down in the red zone. For the season, the Gamecocks have allowed just 15 touchdowns on 29 red zone opportunities, or just 52 percent of the time. Overall, Carolina is fourth in the SEC in red zone defense.
NO SCORING ZONE: The Gamecocks are allowing just 20.2 points per game this season, sixth in the SEC. If that number holds up, it would be their best mark since the 2012 squad allowed just 18.2 points per contest, and would mark the fourth-straight year in which the Gamecocks have shown improvement, going from 30.4 ppg in 2014, to 27.5 in 2015 to 26.5 last season. South Carolina is one of just nine Division I-A schools that has not allowed a 30-point game this season.
BETTER THAN AVERAGE: The Gamecock defense has been better than advertised this season, holding seven of eight opponents to fewer points than their season average, with three teams being held at least 10 points below their season mark. Georgia enters this week’s contest averaging 38.1 points per game.
ONCE, TWICE, THREE TIMES A TD: The Gamecocks set a school record with three defensive touchdowns in the win over Arkansas. Skai Moore returned an interception 34 yards, T.J. Brunson returned a fumble 73 yards, then Keisean Nixon returned an interception 45 yards for a score. It was the Gamecocks first game with multiple defensive scores since September 10, 2011 at Georgia, when Antonio Allen had a pick-six and Melvin Ingram scored on a fumble recovery. The three defensive scores were one shy of the NCAA Division I record of four, accomplished four times. The Gamecocks have scored five non-offensive touchdowns this season, three on defense and two on special teams.
POINTS FROM ELSEWHERE: The Gamecocks have scored five non-offensive touchdowns this season, two on kickoff returns, two interception returns and one fumble return. That is one shy of the school record of six non-offensive touchdowns, accomplished four times since 1970: 1971, 2010, 2011 and 2012.
RAISE THE FLAG: The Gamecocks are one of the least penalized teams in college football. Carolina has been flagged for just 38 penalties this season, an average of 4.75 per game, which ranks third in the SEC and 22nd in the country. Carolina’s penalties have totaled 278 yards or just 34.75 yards per contest, the fewest in the SEC and the fourth-fewest in the nation behind only Georgia Tech, Boston College and Minnesota.
MAKESHIFT LINE: Due to right ankle injuries to Zack Bailey, Cory Helms and Malik Young, offensive line coach Eric Wolford has had to piece together several different starting units. Nine players have started on the offensive line this season. For the first time since game 3 against Kentucky, Wolford had everyone available for last week’s game against Vanderbilt. The Gamecocks have used six different offensive line combinations in eight games, including four different starters at right tackle. The lone constant has been senior Alan Knott at center, who earned SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week accolades against Vanderbilt, although Donell Stanley has started every game, five at left guard and three at right guard.
MISSING IN ACTION: After having 19 of the 22 starters answer the bell in each of the first three games, injuries struck Carolina. In addition to the issues on the offensive line, wide receiver/kick returner Deebo Samuel is out indefinitely with a fractured leg (suffered vs. Kentucky), while starting Buck Bryson Allen-Williams (shoulder vs. Kentucky), starting running back Rico Dowdle (fractured leg vs. Tennessee) and tight ends K.C. Crosby (fractured leg vs. Arkansas) and Kyle Markway (ribs vs. Missouri) will miss the remainder of the regular season after undergoing surgery.
MY QUARTERBACK IS A BENTLEY: Sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley is the key to the Gamecock attack. The 6-3, 220-pounder is hitting on 61.4 percent of his passes this season (148-for-241) for 1,759 yards with 13 touchdowns and four interceptions. He completed a career-best 16-consecutive passes earlier this season against Kentucky, four shy of the school record of 20, set by Connor Shaw. He ranks third in the SEC in passing yards per game (219.9) and fourth in total offense (227.5), while his 13 TD passes ranks tied for fourth. Bentley, who is 10-5 in 15 career starts, has thrown for over 300 yards twice in his career. He set the school record for bowl games and Birmingham Bowl records for passes completed (32), yards passing (390) and total offense (381) while throwing three TD passes against USF in 2016.
ON TARGET: Quarterback Jake Bentley has completed 63.3 percent of his career passes (273-of-431). That has him ranked second on the Gamecocks’ career completion percentage list. He comes into this week’s game having thrown 136 consecutive passes without an interception.
MORE ON JAKE: Quarterback Jake Bentley shared 2016 MVP honors with Deebo Samuel, despite playing in just seven contests. Bentley has thrown for 3,179 career yards, becoming the 14th player in Carolina history to throw for over 3,000 yards. Chris Smelley is 13th on the list with 3,210.
FAMILY AFFAIR: Quarterback Jake Bentley comes from a football family. His father, Bobby, is the Gamecocks’ running backs coach and previously was a highly-successful coach at Byrnes (S.C.) High and at Presbyterian College. Jake’s step-brother, Chas Dodd (Rutgers), and brother, Shuler Bentley (Old Dominion/Murray State), both have played quarterback in college. Chas is on the Carolina staff as a GA in the weight room.
BORN TO RUN: The Gamecocks are without the services of Rico Dowdle, who suffered a broken leg in the win over Tennessee. While Dowdle’s absence will be felt, the running game will be in the capable hands of A.J. Turner and Ty’Son Williams. Mon Denson, a 5-10, 209-pound sophomore, becomes the third back in the rotation, and has proved to be effective in limited duty this year.
A.J. TURNS UP: After rushing just 20 times for 60 yards through the first six games, redshirt sophomore A.J. Turner (5-10, 184) has picked up the load in Rico Dowdle‘s absence, carrying 29 times for 207 yards and two touchdowns against Tennessee and Vanderbilt, including a career-best 121-yard effort on just 15 carries against the Commodores, the first 100-yard rushing game for a Gamecock this season. He also caught four passes for 24 yards against the ‘Dores. Turner logged 497 yards and three scores on 116 carries last season, including a 113-yard effort against Texas A&M.
THE PRODIGAL (TY’)SON: After spending the 2015 season at North Carolina, then sitting out 2016 as a transfer, redshirt sophomore running back Ty’Son Williams, from Sumter, S.C., has led the Gamecocks in rushing three times this season. He came off the bench at Mizzou to lead the team with 14 rushes for 78 yards in the win. He made his first collegiate start against Louisiana Tech and responded with 95 yards on 13 carries, a 7.3-yard average, including a 35-yard touchdown burst in the fourth quarter, the longest by a Gamecock this season. He logged 14 carries for 73 yards, including a 34-yard burst, at Texas A&M. After eight games, he is the team’s leading rusher with 353 yards on 68 carries, a 5.0-yard average.
MISSING DEEBO: Deebo Samuel did it all for the Gamecocks through the season’s first three games before suffering a broken bone in his leg against Kentucky. In the opener against NC State, he returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a score, and caught five passes for 83 yards including a pair of scores, finishing the day with 185 all-purpose yards. At Missouri, he returned another kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown, scored on a 25-yard rush and caught five passes for 45 yards, accumulating 167 all-purpose yards. He was named SEC Special Teams Player of the Week after both the NC State and Missouri contests. Samuel hauled in five passes for 122 yards, including a 68-yard scoring strike on the game’s first play from scrimmage against Kentucky, before suffering the injury.
MOVIN’ ON UP: Bryan Edwards played an excellent second fiddle to Deebo Samuel, but has now moved into the first chair in Samuel’s absence. Edwards has caught at least four passes in six of eight games this season, totaling 35 catches for 435 yards and one score. He ranks fifth in the SEC in receptions per game (4.4) and is 11th in receiving yards per game (54.4). His best effort is a six-catch, 122-yard performance against Louisiana Tech. The 6-3, 215-pounder from Conway, S.C., has 79 career receptions for 1,025 yards.
ORTRE FINDS THE END ZONE: True freshman wide receiver OrTre Smith has three touchdowns among his 15 receptions this season. His first career reception was a 9-yard TD pass late in the game against Kentucky, then he caught a 28-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter against Louisiana Tech before hauling in a 13-yard scoring strike at A&M in the third quarter.
HE MAY BE SHI, BUT HE’S NOT AFRAID: Shi Smith has also stepped up in the absence of Deebo Samuel. The true freshman had his best game as a Gamecock at Texas A&M, catching three passes for a team-high 86 yards, including a 45-yard touchdown pass for his first career score. He had a season-high five receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown against Vanderbilt. For the season, Shi has hauled in 20 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns.
DIAMONDS AREN’T FOREVER: Hayden Hurst played professional baseball in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ organization after being selected in the 17th round of the 2012 draft. Now a 6-5, 253-pound junior, the 24-year-old Hurst turned in the school’s best single-season receiving numbers for a tight end in 2016. His 48 receptions and 616 receiving yards topped the previous marks of 38 catches, set by Doug Hamrick in 1970, and 576 yards, set by Danny Smith in 1987. He also was selected a permanent team captain in 2016, becoming the first sophomore in school history to earn that distinction. He was a 2017 first-team mid-season All-SEC selection by The Athletic.
FROM HURST TO FIRST?: Hayden Hurst had back-to-back 76-yard receiving games, catching a career-high six passes at Texas A&M and a career-long 62-yard touchdown reception versus Arkansas, to move up on the all-time Carolina charts for a tight end. He became the school’s all-time leader in career receptions by a tight end with 79 in the win over Vanderbilt, passing Danny Smith’s mark of 78, which stook for 30 years. He ranks third in career yards receiving by a tight end (1,050).
GETTING IN THE SACK: The Gamecocks have recorded 17 sacks this season, with four coming in the season opening win over NC State and seven coming at Tennessee, the most in a game since 2012. Carolina recorded a total of 21 sacks in 13 games in 2016. Here are the individual numbers:
WONNUM RECOGNIZED TWICE: Sophomore Dennis “D.J.” Wonnum, has been selected as the SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week twice this season. In the win over Arkansas, he was credited with four solo tackles, including a tackle for loss, broke up two passes and had a quarterback hurry. He led a Carolina defensive line that limited the Razorbacks to just 106 yards rushing on 32 carries. At Tennessee, he logged six tackles, all solo stops, including a pair of sacks for a dozen yards. The Carolina defense held the Vols to just 253 yards of total offense, including just 120 yards after the first quarter. Wonnum is tied for sixth in the SEC with 8.5 tackles for loss and leads the Gamecocks with 4.0 sacks.
SAWYER STRIPS TOPS THE NATION: Senior defensive lineman Dante Sawyer leads the nation with four forced fumbles this season. The school record for a season is six, set by Bill Currier in 1976 and matched by Emanuel Weaver in 1981.
TACKLING MACHINE: Sophomore T.J. Brunson is the Gamecocks’ top tackler and ranks tied for 12th in the SEC with 59 stops, or 7.4 tackles per game. Brunson made his first start as a Gamecock memorable. The 6-1, 230-pound linebacker from Columbia, S.C. posted a game- and career-high 16 tackles in the win over NC State. It was the most tackles in a game for a Gamecock since Antonio Allen logged 16 stops against ECU on Sept. 3, 2011, a game that was also played in Charlotte. He also has logged double-digits in tackles against Kentucky with a dozen. Brunson logged just 12 tackles during the 2016 season.
SKAI SOARS: Skai Moore is back after missing the entire 2016 season following surgery to address a herniated disk in his neck. The 6-2, 221-pound linebacker from Cooper City, Fla., was the Gamecocks’ leading tackler in 2015 with 111 stops, tying for third in the SEC with 9.2 tackles per game. He also led the team with 6.5 tackles for loss and with four pass interceptions, tying for fourth in the SEC. Moore became the first Gamecock to reach the century mark in tackles since 2006, while his 111 tackles were the second-highest total recorded by a Carolina player in the last 25 years. He led the team in tackles for a third-consecutive season, becoming the first player to do so since 1992-94. He currently ranks second on the squad and tied for 18th in the SEC with an average of 7.1 tackles per game.
MOORE FROM SKAI: Skai Moore can become the first player in school history to lead the team in tackles in four seasons. That accomplishment is rare across the country, having been done just 14 times previously. He currently trails T.J. Brunson by two tackles (59-57) for the 2017 team lead.
A BAKER’S DOZEN: Skai Moore has a pair of interceptions this season, getting one against Kentucky, then returning another 34 yards for a score in the win over Arkansas. He has logged 13 career picks, which ranks second on the school’s all-time list, one behind Bo Davies’ school record of 14.
ALL THE WHITE STUFF: True freshman Parker White, who also handles the kickoffs, is trying to fill the big shoes of Elliott Fry, the school’s all-time leading scorer. White is 14-for-14 on PATs and 9-for-17 in the field goal department, but has hit six of his last seven attempts. His first career made field goal was a 31-yard game-winner in the final seconds against Louisiana Tech.
THIS IS CHARLTON YOUR PUNTER: Redshirt sophomore Joseph Charlton, has averaged 44.0 yards, sixth in the SEC and 23rd in the country, over his 32 punts, with 11 measuring over 50 yards, including a career-long 73-yarder at Missouri, the longest punt by a Gamecock since Marty Simpson had a 79-yard punt in 1992. More importantly, the Gamecocks are averaging 41.1 net yards per punt, fifth in the SEC and 16th in the country.
THE RETURNS ARE IN: Rashad Fenton has enough kick returns to qualify as the school’s all-time record-holder for kick return average at 26.4 yards, surpassing Kent Hagood (24.7 from 1981-85). Fenton has 554 yards on 21 returns while Hagood logged 519 yards on 21 returns.
BREAKDOWN DEAD AHEAD: The breakdown of the Gamecocks’ 109-man roster features 12 seniors, 21 juniors, 30 sophomores, 16 redshirt freshmen and 30 true freshmen.
FRESH FISH: South Carolina has played eight true freshmen. Those newcomers include Sherrod Greene, Brad Johnson, OrTre Smith, Shi Smith, Damani Staley, Aaron Sterling, Chad Terrell and Jamyest Williams. Greene, OrTre Smith, Shi Smith and Williams have started.
WINNER, WINNER: The Gamecocks face a dozen opponents that combined to win 61.6 percent of its games last season, going 98-61 overall. That ranked as the fourth-highest opponent winning percentage among FBS teams. The opponents have not disappointed, logging a .611 winning percentage (58-37) thus far in 2017.
THEY PAY TO SEE THEM PLAY: South Carolina is averaging 78,180 fans at Williams-Brice Stadium (80,250) through four home games, 15th in the nation.
TOTING THE SHEEPSKIN: The Gamecocks have four student-athletes who have earned their undergraduate degree. The quartet includes Ulric Jones (interdisciplinary studies), Skai Moore (interdisciplinary studies), D.J. Park (criminal justice) and Dante Sawyer (interdisciplinary studies).
WORKING OVERTIME: The Gamecocks are 2-3 all-time in games decided in overtime. They won their first overtime game at Missouri, 27-24, in two overtimes on Oct. 26, 2013 in Columbia, Mo., and won in “The Swamp” over Florida by a 23-20 count in 2014. All three overtime losses have come against Tennessee by a field goal: a 23-20 setback on Sept. 27, 2003 in Knoxville, and a 27-24 loss in Knoxville on Oct. 27, 2007 and a 45-42 loss in Columbia on Nov. 1, 2014.
UP NEXT: The Gamecocks finish their 2017 SEC slate on Nov. 11, when they host the Florida Gators. Florida leads the all-time series by a 26-8-3 count, including an 11-6-1 advantage in Columbia. Carolina has won four of the last seven contests after winning just four of the first 30 meetings between the two schools.