Seth Emerson, who covers Georgia for The (Macon, Ga.) Telegraph (and used to work at The State) and I exchanged questions this week in an attempt to give you an idea of what’s going on on the other side of this rivalry. Here’s what I asked Seth and how he responded:
1. What's the mood like in Athens? Are they saying, 'Here we go again on our way to 0-2' or do they feel good about cleaning up some things and playing better against South Carolina?
Depends on whether you’re asking about the team or its fans. The fan base, or at least those armed with Twitter accounts and the number to talk radio shows, actually seem unaware that the season did not end at Clemson. But I still think it will be a loud Sanford Stadium on Saturday – at the start. If the home team struggles, the frustration will rain down from the bleachers.
The players, however, are relatively upbeat. They weren’t shattered even just after the loss at Clemson. They were disappointed, but there were no reports of fights in the locker room. Part of the reason is the man at the top, Mark Richt, is so steady and even-keel. But the other thing is that the offense is filled with veterans who have been through the 0-2 start in 2011, and the debacle in Columbia last year, and still saw their team get back to Atlanta. The defensive players, meanwhile, are pretty young and were actually encouraged by their performance at Clemson, considering their inexperience and the Tigers’ potent offense. So as Richt said, no one’s jumping off a bridge.
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2. Is Todd Gurley 100 percent healthy?
Direct quote from Gurley on Tuesday night: "It's straight. I'll be ready for Saturday I don't think I was 100 percent before Saturday. No one is ever 100 percent. But I'll be back where I left off."
He was going pretty strong in the fourth quarter against Clemson, so unless he aggravates it this week in practice it shouldn’t be a factor.
3. Could we see some shuffling on the offensive line?
Just minor shuffling, if any. Senior Kenarious Gates remains the left tackle, though he could be shifted to guard if necessary, as he was at Clemson. No one has told me this, but I get the sense John Theus (who started every game at right tackle last year but didn’t start at Clemson) will get a lot more snaps against South Carolina.
But I don’t really know that there’s much Georgia can do here, personnel-wise. The only starting O-linemen who didn’t have a glaring penalty, sack or missed block was right guard Chris Burnette, and he couldn’t play every snap because of his shoulder, which was surgically repaired in the spring. The Bulldogs are just going to have to hope for a big Week 2 improvement, or game plan around the deficiencies on the line.
4. How much will the return of Harvey-Clemons help the defense?
A lot, if those who have seen him play are to be believed. Harvey-Clemons barely played as a freshman last year because of all the veterans on defense, but he made so many impressive plays in practice that some on offense wondered why the defense couldn’t find a place for him. He was the defensive MVP in spring practice, and was set to play a key role at Clemson until his one-game suspension.
Georgia will either use Harvey-Clemons at strong safety or the star position (the equivalent of the spur in South Carolina’s defense.) Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham loves Harvey-Clemons because he can play all the way back in pass coverage or start at the line with his hand on the ground. He’s a guy that will be sent in on pass rush, but also spy on Connor Shaw’s ability to run it. He has lateral quickness the way Alec Ogletree did.
I don’t know that Georgia would have beaten Clemson with Harvey-Clemons, but it’s not a crazy thought. Now the Bulldogs have him for South Carolina, and it should be a huge lift.