Josh Kendall is a man that should need no introduction around here. So let me introduce him.
Josh has been covering South Carolina for The State media company since the 2010 season, and prior to that he covered Georgia for years, first for the Athens Banner-Herald and then the Macon Telegraph. (Hey, that's my job now!) Josh is a pro's pro, a beat writer personified who knows football and knows the team he covers.
So we're very pleased that he took the time to answer our questions about the game. (You can also read my answer to Josh's questions about the game on his blog.) If you're not already, I'd advise you to follow Josh at @JoshatTheState.
Here's our Q&A:
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Let’s get the Jadeveon Clowney question out of the way first. Georgia can just hope Clowney’s conditioning really isn’t good, or it can come up with a plan to effectively contain him. Did North Carolina – or anybody else the previous two years – show a blueprint?
Kendall: LSU is touted as the gold standard of how to block Clowney from what I have heard, but I am not enough of a technician to break down their plan for you Xs and Os wise. North Carolina did a lot of things from double-teaming him to chipping him with a back to blocking him one-on-one at times, and I expect everybody to mix it up the same way. There's no question Clowney's endurance was an issue against North Carolina. I would expect it to be much better this week, but how much better we will not know until Saturday.
The past few years it wasn’t just Clowney who burned Georgia, but “supporting cast” guys like Devin Taylor and Melvin Ingram. They’ve moved on to the NFL, so how effective is the rest of the Gamecock defense if the Bulldogs do choose to double- and triple-block Clowney?
Kendall: Chaz Sutton at the other defensive end is a guy I expect to play his way into next year's NFL Draft. A lot of people like him, and I think he could have a double-digit sack season this year. Kelcy Quarles is their best tackle. These new young linebackers are worth watching too. They aren't as big as they will be and they'll make some mistakes but they are athletic and they are fast.
Let’s say Aaron Murray does have some time to pass the ball. Tell me about South Carolina’s secondary and how it might match up with a talented Georgia receiving corps, even without Malcolm Mitchell.
Kendall: At corner, Vic Hampton has a lot of athletic ability and lot of moxie. He also has shown more ball skills in the last half dozen games, dating back to last year. On the other side, Jimmy Legree has good size but has been inconsistent. I would think UGA coaches might think there will be an opportunity there at some point. The secondary depth has some talent but is inexperienced.
Connor Shaw has hurt Georgia the past couple years with his ability to extend a play and either run for more yardage or wait for an open receiver. The key would seem to be to keep him in the pocket, but when have opponents been effective in doing that?
Kendall: I thought he was the key to the game last year and it wasn't close. All those first downs he scrambled for in the first half really broke Georgia's spirits I thought. North Carolina had some success by rushing three and playing zone behind it, and I thought they would do more of that as the game went on. The problem, of course, is Mike Davis at that point.
Georgia went 0-3 against Marcus Lattimore, who is gone now, but Mike Davis looked pretty good against North Carolina (115 yards on 12 carries.) South Carolina also has a very good line. How close are the Gamecocks’ to having just as effective a running attack as they did the previous three times they played the Bulldogs?
Kendall: I think their run game will end up being better than the last two years actually. Marcus Lattimore in 2011 and 2012 was not the same as Marcus Lattimore in 2010. Last year, South Carolina was 13th in the SEC in yards per carry at 3.67. Last week, they averaged more than 6 per carry. Granted that was against North Carolina but still. Offensive line coach Shawn Elliott really likes this group's run-blocking, and I think you see why.
Finally, are there any X-factors in this game that you think will determine things?
Kendall: I think you hit on the most important one with Shaw. His legs were the difference in that game, and if Georgia lets him do that again, it will lose again. Todd Gurley's strength is the other, I think. If he's 100 percent and has his maximum explosiveness, he could make a play against a young linebacking corps.
Thanks to Josh for his insight. And for more discussion on the game, join our live chat here on the blog, Friday at 3 p.m. (That's three hours later than last week.)