The biggest challenge No. 24 South Carolina will face in its bid to upset No. 3 Georgia on Saturday in Williams-Brice Stadium will be the Bulldogs offensive line. Literally and figuratively.
“It’s a massive unit,” Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp said.
Against Austin Peay last week, the Bulldogs started Andrew Thomas, a 6-foot-6, 320-pounder who was a freshman All-American last year, at left tackle; Solomon Kindley (6-4, 335) at left guard; Lamont Gaillard, a 6-2, 308-pounder who is considered the best center in the SEC, at center; Ben Cleveland (6-6, 335) at right guard, and Isaiah Wilson, a 6-foot-7, 340-pound former five-star recruit at right tackle. The unit, which was ranked the nation’s third best in the preseason by Athlon Sports, is the biggest, collectively, that South Carolina linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams has seen since Auburn’s 2014 offensive line. (The Tigers rushed for 270 yards per game in the SEC in 2014.)
“They are very big, very physical. They try to come down hill and punch you in the mouth,” Allen-Williams said of the Bulldogs. “You have to make sure you do your job by hitting your gaps and staying in your gaps. If their running backs get one crease, they can take it to the house. We have to make sure we do our job.”
Georgia rushed for 284 yards in its opener against Austin Peay.
“They come in here like they are going to bully you, but we have to stand our ground,” South Carolina defensive end Aaron Sterling said. “We ain’t going to be bullied.”
That’s what Muschamp hopes.
“You got to play with a great pad level, that’s number one,” Muschamp said. “You start standing up with this bunch, you’re going to get pushed around. You better play behind your pads. Our guys understand that.”
Georgia’s offensive line will be a problem for every opponent, but it’s a particular problem for a Gamecocks team still building its depth along the defensive front. If starting defensive end D.J. Wonnum returns from an ankle injury this week, South Carolina probably will start Wonnum (6-5, 258) and Allen-Williams (6-1, 230) at end and Javon Kinlaw (6-6, 305) and Keir Thomas (6-2, 276) at tackle. If Wonnum can’t play, the Gamecocks get even smaller as he likely will be replaced by the 258-pound Daniel Fennell or 245-pound Sterling.
“They are going to try to force their will on us,” Sterling said. “We can’t back down from it.”
The Gamecocks’ concerns up front are exacerbated by the fact that they are expected to have as many as three true freshmen in the rotation at defensive tackle — 285-pound J.J. Enagbare, 285-pound Rick Sandidge and 359-pound Josh Belk.
“We’re still kind of muddling through this week and talking in terms of, ‘How are we going to match up in some situations?’” Muschamp said. “So we’re still working through that.”
They have until Saturday to figure it out.