ATHENS – Georgia linebacker Ramik Wilson was asked back in July, at SEC media days, whether he remembered what happened the last time they played at South Carolina.
“We got killed,” Wilson said, shaking his head. “It was bad. Very bad.”
This week, as Georgia prepares to return to the scene of its 35-7 trouncing, head coach Mark Richt has long since decided how to approach the memory of that game with his players.
“I’ve already brought it up with them,” Richt said Sunday. “There’s no doubt it’s an issue. We’ve got to play better there.”
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
South Carolina has soundly defeated Georgia twice in a row at Williams-Brice Stadium, but the game two years ago is the one that left, as Richt put it, a “bigger lasting impression.” The two teams both came in 5-0, ranked No. 5 and No. 6 in the nation, but it was 21-0 by the end of the first quarter.
This time, Georgia (1-0) enters with a number of edges in its favor: Its coming off the big win over Clemson, as well as a bye week to rest, South Carolina (1-1) has a struggling defense, and Georgia has the star tailback, Todd Gurley, who could gash it.
But South Carolina still has that home field advantage. Georgia had actually won four straight in Williams-Brice prior to 2010, but the recent trend has Richt bracing his players for the environment. It’s a place where the press box has been known to shake.
“We’ve just gotta be able to focus on our jobs and not something around us. You can get carried away with that thing,” Richt said. “Two years ago when they started doing great things and we didn’t have any answers it just compounded and we really could never get on track.”
It’s not that Georgia isn’t used to playing in hostile environments, including the bi-annual trip to Auburn. But that game is always near the end of the year, whereas South Carolina historically has been one of the season’s first couple games, and thus an early shock to players.
The exception was two years ago, when it was in October and the sixth game of Georgia’s season. But to that point Georgia’s only away game had been at Missouri, where capacity is about 10,000 less than at Williams-Brice.
One of Richt’s top concerns, from a technical standpoint, is his offense being able to communicate before the snap. That didn’t help two years ago in what was an awful game for the offensive line. This year there are two new starting guards, sophomores Greg Pyke and Brandon Kublanow.
But Richt even expressed worry about how his fifth-year starting quarterback will deal with it.
“Even Hutson Mason, I don’t know if he’s been in a game that’ll be quite this loud,” Richt said. “And the quarterback is the guy who’s really got to handle the noise more than anybody. He’s gotta direct traffic and communicate and stay poised. So it’s going to be interesting to see how he handles it. But he’s not gonna be the only one handling it for the first time. There’s a few other guys on this team who are gonna be trying to handle it for the first time.”
All that said, it’s a coach’s job to worry, and a linebacker’s job to be confident. That’s how Wilson was in July, after shaking his head at what happened in 2012.
“That’s not gonna happen this year,” Wilson said. “We’ve got a new team, we’ve got all the pieces, a lot of great players all around. Offense, defense. Running backs. So there’s no doubt in my mind we should do good things this year.”
Mitchell and Scott-Wesley likely out
Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley have not officially been ruled out for Saturday, but Richt came close to doing so on Sunday. After calling their ability to practice “day-to-day” for about a week, Richt was less optimistic on Sunday.
“I don’t even know if it’s day-to-day. I’d say right now it’d be doubtful,” Richt said.
Mitchell has yet to practice since undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in late July. Scott-Wesley, who like Mitchell was recovering from an ACL tear from last season, has also been dealing with an ankle injury the past couple weeks.
The two receivers, perhaps the team’s top deep threats, were able to run on the side during one practice last week. But they have taken no further steps towards being able to return to practice.