You will not be surprised to hear that neither of our Manic-Depressive Previewers had a particularly good Saturday night in Atlanta. Following Georgia's profoundly unsatisfying loss to Boise State in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff, Depressive Doug spent the rest of the night with his head in his hands, mumbling, "I knew it. I knew it. I knew it. I knew it," while Manic Doug headed out to pounce on the female Boise State fans who didn't know any better than to party in Buckhead. (Sample pick-up line: "Hey, baby, I'm a Georgia fan, you want to console me? C'mon, baby, I know Andy Staples, 'n' that means I can get you Chick-fil-A on a Sunday. Yeah, you heard me. C'mon, don't be like that." This went about as well as you think it did.)
Enough of that nonsense -- it's time to talk Gamecocks, and a game that could either redeem the Bulldogs' season in a single evening or sign the Do Not Resuscitate order on Mark Richt's career in Athens. One guess as to which of our previewers is predicting which.
Manic Doug: Well, you were right about the Boise State game. Go ahead and gloat if you want.
Depressive Doug: What's that? Sorry, I was busy composing a blog post about how the decline of the Mark Richt regime is proof there's no god.
MD: Wow, dude, that's . . . pretty overdramatic, even for you, especially considering that you're the only one of us who bothers to go to church regularly.
DD: Well, look at it this way: Would a just and benevolent god let one of His most devoted followers go out like this?
MD: Uh . . . are you talking about Richt, or yourself?
DD: Duh, I'm talking about Richt, of course.
MD: Well, you can mope all you want about the end of the Richt Era -- I know that's not gonna happen, because he's gonna redeem himself and make the Dawgs 1-0 in the SEC after this weekend.
DD: Predicting a win, are you. Color me shocked. But what on earth makes you think we're in any position to knock off the reigning SEC East champions?
DD: Hey. You there? Hello?
MD: Yeah, no, sorry, it's just the concept of South Carolina as division champion is still a little surreal to me -- I needed a minute to make sure I wasn't tripping. OK, but anyway: Did you see Carolina play last week? While we were busy fighting tooth and nail against the No. 5 team in the country, the Gamecocks were screwing around with a Conference USA team that went 5-7 last year and fielded the worst defense in Division I-A. As in, 120th out of 120 teams. East Carolina allowed an average of 478 yards per game last season, but on Saturday they managed to hold South Carolina to only 351.
DD: I don't know what you're so happy about, considering that the 'Cocks still scored 56 points.
MD: Yeah, because ECU turned the ball over five times. Meanwhile, Carolina managed to lose four fumbles themselves. They may be the defending East champions, but this is still one sloppy football team we're talking about.
DD: That may be true, but so what? Can you honestly say we're any better at this point?
MD: I'm the last person who's gonna sit here and say we played a great game in the Georgia Dome. But what was the main reason we lost that game? Because Kellen Moore is a phenomenally smart, accurate passer who took what we gave him and whom we never found an answer for. Tell me: You see any Kellen Moores on Carolina's roster? I'll tell you who I see: Stephen Garcia, whom Spurrier doesn't trust any further than he can throw him, and Connor Shaw, who managed to get yanked after only one quarter against that bad ECU defense.
DD: No, nobody on that QB unit's going to be winning any Heismans anytime soon, I grant you. But they don't have to, because they have Marcus Lattimore. Whom you may remember from going buck wild on us last season.
MD: Look, no offense to Lattimore, but no way does he go off for 182 yards against us again. We're way bigger up front this time around, we know the 3-4 better, we're tackling better . . . I mean, say what you want about the various failings of our defense Saturday night, but our guys wrapped up against Boise's running game. Doug Martin averaged more than six yards a carry last season; against us he averaged only 2.4.
DD: I hear you, but I still bet Lattimore gets triple digits against us on Saturday. And I think you're underestimating Garcia -- his strength against us the last couple years has been exactly the kind of mid-range passes Moore killed us with the other night, and now he's got a legit home-run threat in Alshon Jeffery.
MD: And nobody else on that receiving corps. We double-cover Jeffery and blitz the crap out of Garcia and Lattimore, we'll be fine.
DD: [sighs] OK, fine, let's say that your facile, dramatically oversimplified diagnosis of South Carolina's offense is accurate. Even if we do all those things and contain the Gamecock offense, we're still gonna have to come up with some points of our own. And how do you suggest we do that, given that our offensive line couldn't get out of its own way on Saturday?
MD: I wouldn't worry too much about that. The Gamecocks didn't notch a single sack last week, which I'd worry about if I were a USC fan, considering that East Carolina's offensive line started one senior and four sophomores on opening day.
DD: OK, that I didn't know, but even if our line keeps Aaron Murray's jersey clean they're still going to have to run-block, and that's something they haven't done well in nearly two years.
MD: No, we didn't open many holes up the middle last week, but we did have some success bouncing Isaiah Crowell outside -- I gotta think our coaches noticed that.
DD: I have no idea what to think our coaches notice from game to game anymore. Saturday night we kept running plays out of the shotgun even though our good ol' QB-under-center, I-formation sets were what worked for us. That was the thing that crushed me the most about Saturday night's game -- all our old problems returning as if they'd never been addressed at all: offensive line looking sloppy and out of shape; defense looking gassed when we were barely into the second half. There's just no way that doesn't come back to bite us against the No. 12 team in the country.
MD: Aaaahh, you're way too hung up on rankings, you know that?
DD: If I were that hung up on rankings, I'd bust out the fact that it's been a year since Georgia had one. Oops, I just did, didn't I?
MD: Man, maybe we should turn the title of this feature into the "Passive-Aggressive Preview." OK, let's take it back to South Carolina for a second: Yeah, they're good, but as we saw on Saturday, they're not that good. A lot of people saw them break through to the SEC title game for the first time ever and thought, "Oh, wow, they've finally broken through," but when you take a close look at 'em they're just the same mediocre product the Gamecocks have been putting out for years, only last year they had the good fortune of every other team in the division, including us, sucking out loud. They've still got a traveling carnival sideshow at QB; their offensive line has gotten a little better, but they still allowed 30 sacks last year and only paved the way for the third-worst per-carry average in the conference. And oh, yeah, their defense even fell off last year, particularly against the pass. So you'll have to pardon me if I'm not bowing down before them.
DD: Well, you've certainly mastered the art of cherry-picking statistics -- you should think about running for public office someday. But before you do that, howsabout you cherry-pick yourself a game prediction so we can get out of here.
MD: Jeez, what's your hurry?
DD: Appointment with my therapist this morning.
MD: I should've known. OK, so what we're looking at is the same low-scoring trench battle we usually end up in with these guys, only unlike last year our defensive front is a lot more capable when it comes to bottling up Marcus Lattimore. He's gonna get his yards, but he's not gonna be nearly as consistent a chain-mover as he was against us last year. Meanwhile, Stephen Garcia is gonna be the same hot mess he's always been; whereas Kellen Moore played it smart and nibbled us to death with the short-to-medium pass, Garcia's gonna try and be the hero, which means I think we pick him off at least a couple times, depending on how well we blanket Alshon Jeffery. I think Aaron Murray won't be spending as much time running for his life this weekend, too, which means he'll have more time to get the ball to Orson Charles and Malcolm Mitchell, who looked amazing last week, by the way. I think we pull ahead with a score early in the fourth quarter, then hold off the Gamecocks on a couple late drives and pull off the win, 19-17.
DD: See, you lost me the minute you said "trench battle," because if you saw how bad we were dominated on both sides of the line of scrimmage last week there's no way you'd be confident about a game that comes down to trench warfare. I actually agree with you that we'll handle Marcus Lattimore better this time around than we did last year, but other than that I see a virtual replay of the 2010 game -- ineffective rushing attack, offensive line that can't hold up at crunch time, and a defensive back seven that allows one big play too many at a time when we can least afford it. Look, it's clear by now that Steve Spurrier openly loathes Stephen Garcia just as much as he's loathed every QB of his who's had the gall to not be Danny Wuerffel, but while Spurrier may be arrogant, he's not stupid; I'm sure he watched plenty of tape of the Boise game and is gonna tell Garcia to do basically what Kellen Moore did. The Gamecocks know they're not gonna need a ton of points to beat us this year, so they'll let Lattimore get what he can get and then burn us with third-down passes that get only as many yards as they need to keep the down markers moving. It's Georgia that gets stood up on a couple late drives, and we lose a heartbreaker, 17-12.
MD: So our predictions average out to South Carolina 17, Georgia 16, which means you've doomed us to projecting the Bulldogs' first 0-2 start in 15 years. You happy about that?
DD: Of course I'm not happy about it. Do I look happy?
MD: Not in the slightest, now that you mention it.
DD: It's not that I enjoy living like this, it's not that at all. But these are the cards that I've been dealt.
MD: Screw that. Choose to be happy, mother#$%er! I tell you what: When Georgia wins, you can honor me for my correct prediction, and cheer yourself up in the process, by taking us both out to dinner.
DD: You know what, fine. If we somehow pull off the win this weekend and keep our season from sliding off into the abyss, dinner's on me. You got a preference? We can do the Last Resort Grill in Athens, or we can stop in Atlanta on our way back, there's this new place in Virginia-Highland I've been meaning to check out . . .
MD: I was thinking Hooters, actually.
DD: [sighs again] Yeah, of course you were. Don't ever change.