Josh Kendall

Gamecocks focusing on one thing that can stop Bulldogs run game

From the looks of Javon Kinlaw’s Twitter account, South Carolina’s defensive game plan for Saturday’s showdown with No. 2 Georgia already has been completely installed.

“Brush your teeth physical this week,” the Gamecocks sophomore defensive tackle posted on his social media account Tuesday.

Kinlaw put the statement in quotes, indicating he had heard it from someone this week. South Carolina coach Will Muschamp wouldn’t confess to being that someone, but it sounds like the kind of thing Muschamp would say, especially with his team on the verge of playing one of the country’s most bruising running games.

“You’ve got to have a physical mindset in this ballgame,” Muschamp said. “You’ve got to understand that part of it. Everything you do, you be physical. So I appreciate him listening well.”

The Bulldogs offensive attack is not complex or subtle. Georgia (8-0, 5-0 SEC) has marched to a perfect record behind a quartet of running backs that recall the school’s glory days. The top two backs – Nick Chubb and Sony Michel – are among the top five rushers all-time in school history. Their Nos. 3 and 4 backs – D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield (the son of former heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield) – each average more than 7 yards per carry.

“They are NFL backs,” South Carolina safety Chris Lammons said. “If we want to win this game, we have to stop those guys.”

The Gamecocks (6-2, 4-2 SEC) rank sixth in the SEC in rushing defense, allowing 137.6 yards per game on the ground. The Bulldogs rush for 284 yards per game, the second-highest total in the SEC this year behind Alabama.

“There’s no question this will be our toughest task as far as the type of offense we’re facing, the physicality that Georgia plays with, the elite backs that they have and the perimeter guys and skill kids that they have, so there’s no doubt this will be our toughest test of the year,” Muschamp said.

That’s why Muschamp is preaching physicality to his team this week more than usual, if that’s possible.

“We have to get their cleats out of the dirt,” defensive end D.J. Wonnum said.

If the Gamecocks can slow down the run, they might be able to pull off the upset. The Bulldogs, who are quarterbacked by freshman Jake Fromm, pass for 162.6 yards per game, which ranks last in the conference.

“They can’t pass,” Lammons said.

Or it might just be that they don’t have to. Georgia throws the ball 17.5 times per game, which ranks last in the SEC and 124th in the country.

“All they are going to do is see who is going to stop the run, basically,” Lammons said. “They are running the ball. We just have to make tackles, can’t miss tackles because if you miss tackles on their backs, they can pop a big one.”

The Bulldogs average 6.01 yards per carry, which ranks eighth in the nation.

“They have a good coach, and the offensive line is pretty good. The backs themselves are really good. You combine all three and you have an issue,” South Carolina linebacker T.J. Brunson said. “It’s going to be fun trying to stop the run. It’s going to be a challenge, and it’s something I feel like we’re going to do a pretty good job of.”

Georgia runs mostly out of a one-back set utilizing power running schemes and stretch routes, but decoding the play is not the problem, the Gamecocks say.

“I think, as much as anything,” Muschamp said, “it’s a mentality of understanding the edge you’ve got to have going into a game like this.”

Which is physical, in everything.

Game info

Who: USC (6-2, 4-2 SEC) vs. Georgia (8-0, 5-0)

When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.

Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Ga.

TV: CBS Radio: 107.5 FM

Related stories from The State in Columbia SC