ATHENS — Assuming Georgia and South Carolina are going to play somewhere this week — and Hurricane Matthew will decide that — it will be two desperate teams and two determined coaches that will do battle.
South Carolina (2-3, 1-3 SEC) has effectively been eliminated from the SEC’s Eastern Division race and Georgia (3-2, 1-2) would be with a loss to the Gamecocks on Saturday. The game is scheduled to be played at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C. However, whether the game actually is played there is up in the air depending on the weather.
South Carolina Governer Nikki Haley has said she does not expect it to be played there. Classes at the University of South Carolina have been canceled and evacuations of the coastal areas of the state are already under way.
If the game can’t be played in Columbia, Athens and Atlanta are being considered as alternative locations. That had not been determined as of Wednesday morning.
“I get hourly updates on the weather and what’s going on with it,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “It’s going to turn for the better, hopefully, as far as the storm slowing down a little bit. But I’m keeping up to date on it. I want to stay abreast in case it may affect some kind of practice plan we’ve got.”
It would be beneficial to Georgia for the game to be moved. The Bulldogs have lost their last three games played at Williams-Brice Stadium, and they were favored in two of those. Games there have tended to come down to the wire.
Here’s what else to know about this matchup:
BUDDIES DO BATTLE
Saturday’s matchup will have Coach Smart and his good friend Will Muschamp matching wits. The two coaches both played defensive back at Georgia under coach Ray Goff and remain the best of friends.
Muschamp and Smart coached together at Valdosta State and LSU and have followed parallel professional paths that included stints working for Nick Saban. They will be going against each for the fifth time overall on Saturday but the first time as opposing head coaches. Smart is 4-1 in previous meetings, all as Alabama’s defensive coordinator. Muschamp won as Auburn’s defensive coordinator in 2007.
CHUBB IS FULL GO
Unlike last week, when it was unclear even after the Tennessee game had started what Nick Chubb’s availability would be, we know he’s going to play against South Carolina on Saturday.
The Bulldogs’ star tailback warmed up beforehand but ended up playing just one play on Georgia’s second offensive series against the Vols. He had one carry for three yards and did not play again. But Chubb practiced all week this week and will be in the game plan for the Gamecocks.
“We’re not holding him back in any kind of way,” Smart said.
That’s good news as South Carolina’s defense just held Texas A&M well below its season average in points and yards in what ended as a 24-13 loss in College Station. However, the Gamecocks enter Saturday’s game 13th in the SEC in rushing defense at 202 yards a game and are allowing 4.8 yards a carry. So Chubb’s presence could be helpful.
The Bulldogs are fifth in the SEC in rushing offense (193.6 ypg). Sony Michel led the way with 91 yards on 61 carries in a loss to Tennessee this past Saturday. Freshmen Brian Herrien (41-259-3 TDs) and Elijah Holyfield (5-29) are also available to run the ball for Georgia.
There is a quarterback controversy a-brewing and this one doesn’t involve Georgia. South Carolina has yet to resolve its quarterback situation this season. The Gamecocks have played five games so far and freshman Brandon McIlwain has started three of those, while senior Perry Orth has started the two others. Both have played in every contest.
Orth is generally considered the better passer of the two, though he has completed 57 percent of his passes for 373 yards with no TDs and one interception. McIlwain is more athletic and has run for 98 yards and two touchdowns. He has thrown for 567 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
As of midweek, South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said Saturday’s starter had not been decided, though they “have an idea” how they want to deploy their quarterbacks.
The Gamecocks have struggled on offense all season. They’re last in the SEC in scoring at just 14 points per game and are last in rushing (104.8 ypg). Helping their situation this week, however, is the expected return of two of their best receivers. Freshman Bryan Edwards and sophomore Deebo Samuels both have been out with hamstring injuries.
If there is one area in which the Gamecocks have a clear advantage over Georgia it’s in the kicking game, particular with placement kicks. Senior Elliott Fry is 7-for-10 on field goals for South Carolina and he has incredible range. Against Vanderbilt earlier this season, he made a 48-yarder before hitting a 55-yard game-winner in the final minute to lift the Gamecocks to a 13-10 win. He has made 74 percent of his kicks for his career (60-of-81) and 80 percent from inside 50 yards.
Conversely, Georgia is 4-for-9 on field goals for the season while it has gone back and forth between kickers Rodrigo Blankenship and William Ham. The Bulldogs’ longest field goal this season is 29 yards. UGA has also struggled with its kick coverage. Its last in the SEC with a net average of 38.2 yards, or an average of field position of the 27-yard line for opponents.
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