In 2012, when South Carolina’s starting linebackers weighed an average of 239.7 pounds, Georgia rushed for 115 yards.
On Saturday, when the Gamecocks’ starting linebackers weighed an average of 213.7 pounds, the Bulldogs rushed for 227 yards and whipped South Carolina 41-30.
For this comparison, we are counting the spur position, which is a hybrid safety and linebacker, as a linebacker for run support purposes. Last season at those three spots, South Carolina started 224-pound Shaq Wilson, 254-pound Reginald Bowens and 241-pound DeVonte Holloman. This year, the Gamecocks went with 221-pound Kaiwan Lewis, 225-pound Marcquis Roberts and 195-pound Sharrod Golightly.
ESPN commentator Todd Blackledge said during the game broadcast that Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo told him last week that Georgia had an advantage due to the new linebackers’ relative lack of experience and size. A review of the game tape by GoGamecocks proved that was true.
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Todd Gurley, the Bulldogs’ 232-pound sophomore running back, barreled over the Gamecocks’ mid-level defenders much of the day on the way to 132 rushing yards. Sophomore Marcquis Roberts, making the second start of his career, took the bulk of the punishment but was far from the only one who was pushed backward by Gurley.
When Gurley didn’t have the linebackers on their backs, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray had them on a string. Any time the Bulldog quarterback ran play-action, faking a run before throwing, the Gamecock linebackers reacted by lurching forward.
On Georgia’s first drive of the game, the Bulldogs faced third-and-goal from the 3-yard line. By that time, Gurley had rushed for 29 yards. Georgia faked a pitch to Gurley to the right side. Tight end Arthur Lynch, lined up on the left end of the line of scrimmage, gave Golightly a half-hearted block and then went to the end zone, where he was wide open while every Gamecock defender moved in the other direction toward Gurley.
The Bulldogs’ inside slant passing game also was opened up by the fact that South Carolina’s linebackers felt like their first step had to be forward on almost every play.
The interior of South Carolina’s defensive line got almost no push, putting that much more pressure on the Gamecocks’ linebackers.
Gamecocks defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward did not go down without a fight. He brought pressure from multiple angles, and even tried a call very similar to the zone blitz Clemson used to intercept Murray two weeks ago a key the Tigers’ victory in that game. Clemson blitzed a linebacker from the right side of the defense and dropped left defensive end Corey Crawford into coverage resulting in an interception that sparked the Tigers’ 38-35 win.
On third-and-1 on the Bulldogs’ second drive of the game, South Carolina rushed a linebacker from the left side and dropped right defensive end Jadeveon Clowney into coverage. Against Clemson, Murray never saw Crawford and threw a pass intended for Lynch right to Crawford. Against South Carolina, Murray waited long enough for Lynch to clear the window occupied by Clowney before connecting with him for a 17-yard gain.
Other observations from The Tape:
-- Georgia’s wide receivers held their blocks against South Carolina’s defensive backs for a long time, allowing big plays around the corner, particularly on the toss sweep plays the Bulldogs ran with Gurley.
-- Georgia averaged 6.5 yards per play on first down, including 12.5 when it called a first-down pass.
-- In November, Atlanta-area cornerback Brendan Langley decommitted from South Carolina and picked Georgia. On Saturday, the Gamecocks threw at Langley eight times, completing six of those attempts for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Three different receivers – Bruce Ellington, Nick Jones and Shaq Roland – caught the passes, so the Gamecocks clearly were targeting the true freshman defensive back.
-- The Gamecocks’ two substitution infractions against the Bulldogs gave them five for the season.
-- Not only did Mike Davis have a big game against Georgia, but his big plays came at the right time. After the Bulldogs took a 17-3 lead, Davis had a 23-yard run to start the next possession. When Georgia took a 34-24 lead, Davis ran for 75 yards on the next play to set up a touchdown, and when Clayton Stadnik snapped a ball over Connor Shaw’s head to set up a second-and-17 at the Gamecocks’ 16-yard line, Davis caught a 29-yard screen pass the next play.
Davis, a sophomore from Atlanta, is the only player in the NCAA’s FBS with two rushes of more than 70 yards this season. He is one of only two players with two rushes or receptions for more than 70 yards.
-- On the fourth-and-goal that South Carolina failed to convert in the fourth quarter, junior offensive tackle Brandon Shell missed a block on Jordan Jenkins, which forced quarterback Connor Shaw to pitch to Davis on the option earlier than he would have liked, although given the gang of tacklers who were waiting on Davis, the block might not have made a difference.