No. 1 Georgia’s quest to three-peat as national champions heats up on Saturday when it welcomes in South Carolina to mark the start of SEC play. After the Bulldogs cruised to an 2-0 start by a combined score of 93-10, the Gamecocks represent the toughest test yet for the two-time reigning champs.
It’s a series in which Georgia has held the upper hand recently. Under coach Kirby Smart, the Bulldogs are 6-1 against the Gamecocks — including 2-0 against former Smart assistant Shane Beamer. Georgia has even more on the line in terms of streaks, having won 29 consecutive regular-season games (a run going back to Nov. 2020) and 19 straight overall. While Georgia carries streaks from previous years, the team on the field in 2023 has been mostly defined by the new contributors.
Quarterback Carson Beck has been effective in his first starts, guiding an offense that’s piled on points early and built big enough leads to rest by the start of the fourth quarter. It’s not just Beck, though. Georgia’s leading rusher is true freshman Roderick Robinson II, and sophomore Mekhi Mews is one of the team’s leading receivers after logging just two receptions in four games last season.
That group faces SEC competition for the first time on Saturday with the Gamecocks in town looking to bounce back following their season-opening loss to North Carolina. South Carolina is now 1-1 after a win against Furman, a top-10 FCS team, but faces its own raised level of competition going up against the reigning champs.
Georgia vs. South Carolina: Need to know
Georgia dealing with injuries to key players: Junior Ladd McConkey, the team’s top option at wide receiver last season in terms of receptions and receiving yards, has not played in the first two games while dealing with a back injury. His status for Saturday’s game is up in the air. Running back Daijun Edwards has dressed out for both games but has not played as he continues to recover from an MCL sprain suffered during fall camp. And just when the defense was finally getting close to fully healthy, starting safety Javon Bullard left the Ball State game with an ankle injury. His status for Saturday’s game is in doubt.
While there are talented players throughout the depth chart, the “next man up” mentality is going to put someone on the field who hasn’t been as key to the back-to-back title runs of 2021 and 2022. If Bullard, the College Football Playoff Defensive MVP in both the Peach Bowl and national championship last season, cannot go against South Carolina, it will be David Daniel-Sisavanh and Dan Jackson sharing his duties at safety.
Gamecocks dealing with their own injury issues: Star wide receiver Antwane “Juice” Wells has been limited this season with a lower body injury and logged just one catch for 5 yards. While Rattler’s top target from a year ago has been off the field, senior wide receiver Xavier Legette has emerged as one of the top pass-catchers in the SEC. Legette leads the SEC and ranks second nationally with 148 yards receiving per game, while also leading the SEC with 180 all-purpose yards per game and ranking second in the conference with 7.5 receptions per game. Opposite Legette is Ahmarean Brown, who was knocked out of the Furman game with an injury. Wide receiver is not the only position room seeing shake-ups because of injury. As a team about to play Georgia, Mississippi State and then Tennessee (in Knoxville) in consecutive weeks, South Carolina cannot afford too many more injuries.
Spencer Rattler will test retooled Georgia defense: The Bulldogs defense has been excellent and maintained the program standard in its performance, but those impressive numbers are going to be tested against Rattler. The Gamecocks quarterback ranks third among FBS signal-callers at 349 yards passing per game, trailing only Colorado’s Shedeur Sanders and Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. He’s also completing 84.3% of his passes with three touchdowns with no interceptions. For Rattler, this is a chance to add another upset special to his résumé after taking down Tennessee and Clemson in 2022.
How to watch Georgia vs. South Carolina live
Georgia vs. South Carolina prediction, picks
Odds via SportsLine consensus
It’s going to be difficult for South Carolina to maintain its offensive production against Georgia, especially given the apparent advantage in the trenches when it’s time to put the Gamecocks to the test against the Bulldogs’ front. I think Georgia’s strange sack drought — just one sack all season — ends on Saturday and the defense shines in a Bulldogs win. Pick: Under 55
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