September 11, 2008

SEC: Georgia hopes to avoid another upset

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Georgia ended the 2007 season as the hottest team in the nation, but its failure one afternoon early in the year prevented the Bulldogs from playing for the national title.

The Bulldogs' 16-12 loss to South Carolina in the second week of the season ended up costing Georgia the SEC East title and a shot at the national championship.

One year later, Georgia finally has a chance for revenge.

"They knocked us out of the SEC championship and maybe the national championship last year, so we feel like we've got a chip on our shoulder," Georgia defensive tackle Corvey Irvin said. "We got to look at that. We did big things last year, but we could have been even better."

The Bulldogs may be catching South Carolina at the right time. The Gamecocks are coming off a 24-17 loss at Vanderbilt and could enter this game without star wide receiver Kenny McKinley, who strained his hamstring last week.

Georgia's offense also has come a long way since that September afternoon when it couldn't accomplish much of anything against South Carolina.

Although Matthew Stafford failed to throw a touchdown pass against South Carolina last season, he now ranks among the nation's top quarterbacks and has thrown four touchdown passes without an interception this season. Knowshon Moreno hadn't cracked the starting lineup yet when Georgia last faced South Carolina, but he now is a legitimate Heisman contender and is averaging 8.7 yards per carry.

"Georgia really doesn't have any weaknesses on offense, defense or special-teams play," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "They're a very good team and well-coached. Guys hustle and play hard all the time."

The Georgia-South Carolina clash isn't the only rematch of an early-season SEC upset from last year. Auburn heads into Mississippi State this weekend one year after losing 19-14 at home to the Bulldogs.

This game also represents a chance for Chris Todd to further cement his status as Auburn's starting quarterback. Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said that Todd is getting about 70 percent of the snaps in practice this week, though Kodi Burns also could play this week.

"Chris is our starter and he will be given the reins," Tuberville said. "There won't be a short leash. We want him to be in the game and competing. Kodi is going to be ready to come in at any time, special situations and crucial situations when things aren't going too well.

"I'm glad that we've got two quarterbacks, but I'm also glad that we've got one guy that everyone can look at as the guy that's going to play well for us and lead this team."

  • BEST MATCHUP
  • Georgia QB Matthew Stafford vs. South Carolina defense. Stafford delivered his worst performance of the season against South Carolina last year. He never found a rhythm and went 19 of 44 for 213 yards with no touchdown passes and an interception in a 16-12 loss. This season, South Carolina is the team that enters with quarterback issues, but the Gamecocks still have a decent chance to pull the upset if they can keep Stafford off-balance once again. Then again, Stafford is a much better quarterback now than he was a year ago. South Carolina has two of the SEC's top defensive backs in CB Captain Munnerlyn and SS Emanuel Cook, but they're unlikely to keep Stafford under wraps all day unless their front four can pressure him into mistakes. South Carolina leads the nation in pass defense.

  • PLAYER TO WATCH
  • THE SCHEDULE
    Saturday
    UAB at Tennessee, 12:30 p.m.
    Georgia at South Carolina, 3:30 p.m.
    Western Kentucky at Alabama, 7 p.m.
    Auburn at Mississippi State, 7 p.m.
    Samford at Ole Miss, 7 p.m.
    Rice at Vanderbilt, 7 p.m.
    Middle Tennessee State at Kentucky, 7 p.m.
    North Texas at LSU, 8 p.m.

    Mississippi State QB Wesley Carroll. Who is he? Is he the guy who threw three interceptions and completed less than half his passes in a season-opening loss to Louisiana Tech? Or is he the guy who played mistake-free football most of his freshman season and threw two touchdown passes without an interception last week in a rout of Division I-AA Southeastern Louisiana? Mississippi State won't have a chance of beating Auburn for a second consecutive season unless the good version of Carroll shows up in Starkville this week.

  • WHO'S HOT
  • Florida DE Jermaine Cunningham has 2.5 sacks to rank 10th in the nation in that category. Florida P Chas Henry ranks fourth in the nation with an average of 48.3 yards per attempt. Georgia RB Knowshon Moreno already has rushed for six touchdowns. Michigan State RB Javon Ringer is the only player with more points this season. Ole Miss QB Jevan Snead has thrown six touchdown passes with only one interception. Vanderbilt's Chris Nickson ranks fourth among all quarterbacks across the nation with 91.5 rushing yards per game. Nickson also has thrown two touchdown passes without an interception.

  • WHO'S NOT
  • South Carolina LB Jasper Brinkley has only three tackles and dropped a potential interception in a 24-17 loss to Vanderbilt last week. Tennessee QB Jonathan Crompton is 19 of 41 for 189 yards with no touchdowns and an interception.

  • WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
  • "The only part that offended me is when he questioned Coach (Urban) Meyer, and I'll have Coach Meyer's back on anything. To say something like that about Coach Meyer isn't true at all. He's one of the best coaches in the game. You can talk about running the score up. I don't care. They're paid to stop us, and Coach (offensive coordinator Dan) Mullen is paid to score. And if they don't do that, oh, well. But you don't have to talk about Coach Meyer as a person and getting recruits and that stuff. It's not necessary." Florida QB Tim Tebow to GatorBait.net, responding to Miami coach Randy Shannon's criticism of Meyer's decision to go for a field goal in the closing seconds of a 26-3 victory over the Hurricanes last week.

    "(He's) a classless dirtbag." Former Miami defensive tackle Warren Sapp, speaking about Meyer's decision to go for the late field goal. Sapp made the comment during a conference call to promote Showtime's production of "Inside The NFL."

    "I knew he had it in him. We've got a real quarterback. That's how I feel about it." Ole Miss WR Shay Hodge to RebelSports.net about Snead's performance in a 30-28 loss to Wake Forest.

    "I find it interesting that Kentucky football is received as poorly as it is. I'm not saying we're a top-25 football team right now or not, but if some of the teams I've seen ranked are top-25 teams, then we are, too. You know, we haven't had a touchdown scored on us, we did win a bowl game last year, we did beat the No. 1 team in the nation last year. We proved we can compete in the SEC.'' Kentucky coach Rich Brooks, whose team has beaten Louisville and Division I-AA Norfolk State.

    "They're like, 'Good game, Mount Cody.' That's the nickname I've had since I got on campus. People come up and shake my hand and stuff. I like it. It's something different. I've seen a whole bunch of them Mount Cody, Zip Code Cody, Humungo." Alabama DT Terrence Cody discussing his nicknames to BamaOnline.com. Cody is listed at 365 pounds.

  • ETC.
  • South Carolina WR Kenny McKinley is considered doubtful for Saturday's game with Georgia after straining a hamstring at Vanderbilt last week. South Carolina's Jamon Meredith is returning from a two-game suspension this week, though it remains uncertain where he will play on the offensive line. In a loss to Wake Forest last week, Snead became the first Ole Miss quarterback to throw four touchdown passes in a game since Eli Manning in 2003. Alabama CB Javier Arenas' 87-yard punt return in a 20-6 victory over Tulane last week marked the fourth time he had scored on a punt return, tying David Palmer's school record. Arenas had five punt returns for 147 yards against Tulane, breaking Harry Gilmer's 61-year-old school record for punt return yardage in a game. Alabama OT Andre Smith has returned to practice after sitting out the Tulane game with a knee injury. Florida hasn't committed a turnover in its past four games. Kentucky is the only SEC team that hasn't allowed a touchdown this year. This is the first time the Wildcats haven't given up a touchdown in back-to-back games since 1993. Vanderbilt's victory over South Carolina last week marked the Commodores' first home win over a ranked opponent since they beat No. 25 Ole Miss 31-0 in 1992.

    MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10

    Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.




     

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