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South Carolina 17, Georgia 6: What Have We Learned, Class?

Takeaways from a frustrating loss in Columbia, and what they mean for the rest of Georgia's season.

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1. Aaron Murray is the real deal. Coming into the South Carolina game, much of the concern on the Georgia side centered on how their redshirt-freshman QB would perform in his very first SEC game, particularly without A.J. Green as a sure-fire safety valve. As it turns out, the coaching staff probably should've taken the leash off him way earlier: After throwing just eight passes in the first half, Murray went an efficient 10-of-13 in the second, including a beautiful 55-yard rainbow to Kris Durham in the third quarter that set the Dawgs up for perhaps their best scoring threat of the afternoon. Not only were his stats impressive, Murray was damn near unflappable under center, reading the field and directing traffic like he'd been at this for years. In his postgame comments, Richt basically admitted they should've shown more faith in their signal-caller, so don't be surprised to see Murray let 'er rip over the next few games.

2. The defense needs to go back in the oven for a few more minutes. You can't get too upset at a unit that sacks the opposing quarterback five times and holds the other team to just 17 points (particularly when last year's game against said team was a wild 41-37 shootout). But that still doesn't excuse the sloppy tackling that allowed Gamecock RB Marcus Lattimore to rack up 182 yards and two touchdowns. At times, the defense's shoulder-bump tackle technique and failure to wrap up was reminiscent of the worst moments of the 2008 Georgia-Georgia Tech game. It's difficult to say whether this represented the unit's struggle to pick up Todd Grantham's new 3-4 scheme or lingering malaise from the tail end of the Willie Martinez era, but either way, Grantham's work clearly isn't over yet.

3. It's time for Bulldog Nation to undertake an early-season reality check. When the Dawgs pasted UL-Lafayette 55-7 on the same day Florida struggled to keep from tripping over its own shadow against Miami-Ohio, words like "SEC championship run" started popping up on message boards and in water-cooler conversations. Clearly, that kind of speculation was premature. As embarrassed as Dawg fans are to concede a win to South Carolina in anything, it's way too early to write the season off after just one loss; however, it's also way too early to be speculating about SEC East titles or BCS bids. The defensive overhaul was never going to be ironed out in just a couple weeks' worth of games, so it's time to settle down, let the next few games play out, and look for continuing improvement.

Overall impressions: As you may have guessed from the above, I'm not as dejected over this loss as I probably could have been. The way I look at it, there were two huge question marks looming over the Dawgs as they entered 2010 -- how would the new QB work out, and what could we expect from the new defense -- and the former, as far as I'm concerned, is all but answered. The latter obviously isn't, but nobody could realistically think that Georgia would master the switch to the 3-4 in the span of a single offseason. Under the previous defensive coaches, the same mistakes Georgia was making at the beginning of the season would continue to be exhibited at the end; under Grantham, there's at least reason to hope that the team will show improvement over the next couple months. It's way too early to write off Grantham's 3-4 experiment as a failure, in any case.

That's obviously cold comfort with Arkansas bringing perhaps the SEC's most potent offense to town next weekend, but it's hard to make an empirical case that this year's team is any worse than last year's, which still managed to best the Razorbacks in a wild shootout fought nearly a thousand miles away from home. Knocking off the Razorbacks -- who have ascended to #13 in the country despite barely being remotely tested by either of their first two opponents -- would go a long way toward alleviating some of the acid reflux resulting from the South Carolina loss. There are still a lot of football games ahead for this team, and they've got the tools to win most of them.

Player of the game: Clearly, the honors have to go to Aaron Murray, who was practically mistake-free even in the pressure-cooker environment of Williams-Brice Stadium (though, granted, the coaching staff didn't give him many chances to make any mistakes in the first half). Murray, like Quincy Carter, David Greene, D.J. Shockley and Matt Stafford before him, got his first taste of life in the SEC from the Gamecocks -- and his stats were head and shoulders above any of them. Yes, be frustrated over the Dawgs' puny point total from this past weekend, but be very, very excited about the numbers this kid will be able to put up down the road.

Stat of the game: 37, the number of carries Marcus Lattimore got against the Dawgs, the most a Gamecock has gotten in a single game in more than 35 years. Anyone who's observed Steve Spurrier's career knows how loath the Ol' Ballcoach is to take the game out of the hands of his quarterback, but even Spurrier knows what a good thing he's got going in his shiny new freshman RB. If anything should cause long-term worries for Dawg fans, it's the prospect of having to deal with this kid for two or three more years.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.