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Georgia-South Carolina is the Test Before the Test

There was a time in Georgia’s 31-14 win over Vanderbilt in Nashville on Saturday—somewhere between Lorenzo Carter’s ejection for targeting and the Vanderbilt punter’s muffed snap and mad dash for a first down—that every Georgia fans looked at one another and said, “Oh, crap. Not this again.”

The Bulldogs lost 31-27 the last time they traveled to Nashville two years ago, a game that featured a similarly questionable targeting ejection on Ray Drew. Just as that loss two years ago crushed any hope of an SEC Championship the Bulldogs had, it looked like Saturday’s game had the potential to derail this season before it has truly begun.

One thing Georgia does have now that it didn’t have two years ago is Nick Chubb, whose 189 rushing yards and 10th consecutive 100-yard game propelled Georgia to the comfortable but unconvincing win.

Greyson Lambert had a chance to silence any detractors and write his name in permanent ink at the top of the depth chart after a solid performance against Louisiana-Monroe, but instead, he played like butt. The transfer from Virginia didn’t complete any passes in the first half, frequently over- or under-throwing his receiver and finishing with just 116 yards passing. As good as Chubb looks—and my God, does he look good—he and Sony Michel can only do so much for the offense without a legitimate passing game. (Mark Richt nearly gave Dawg fans a heart attack when he revealed Chubb “tweaked” his ankle, but the back isn’t expected to miss any time.)

New offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s conservative play-calling didn’t help either, as Georgia only converted four of 13 third downs. This ain’t the NFL, Brian. Have some spine.

Without the offense to propel the scoring, Georgia needed scoring contributions in the other two phases of the game. Isaiah McKenzie provided some scoring from special teams with a 77-yard punt return for a touchdown, while Dominick Sanders returned an interception 88 yards for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. The team shouldn’t have to depend on the big plays to score, but it’s good to know Georgia has that ability.

The rest of the play on special teams and defense was mediocre. Marshall Morgan missed two field goals, while Georgia couldn’t recover an onside kick. The defense intercepted three passes, but it also gave up 231 yards in the fourth quarter. A win is always cause for celebration, but Vanderbilt put the problems with this Georgia team on display for the whole world.

Luckily for Georgia, the SEC East looks like one heaping pile of garbage. Tennessee allowed Oklahoma to score a schadenfreude-inducing 17 unanswered points and force overtime before the Vols eventually lost 31-24. Florida is still trying to find its feet under new head coach Jim McElwain and only managed to beat East Carolina 31-24. South Carolina lost to Kentucky 26-22 in a game where the Wildcats looked equally poor. If Georgia can’t win the SEC East this year, give up hope of Georgia ever winning the SEC East again.

Next up, Georgia comes back to Athens welcome good ol’ hatin’-ass Steve Spurrier and South Carolina. The Gamecocks are not the team we’ve seen the past couple of years. Both offensively and defensively, South Carolina has regressed. For a few years, Georgia and South Carolina were similarly skilled. Now Georgia is clearly the more talented, better team. Period.

But Georgia will probably never be lucky enough to get past Spurrier with an easy win. The loss to Kentucky will cause the Gamecocks to circle the wagons. Richt and Georgia should be prepared for anything, because Spurrier will reach deep into his bag of tricks to come up with a way to beat Georgia and give itself a chance to compete in this piss-poor SEC East.

Beating South Carolina will pretty much eliminate the Gamecocks from the SEC East picture. If Georgia loses, there’s a good chance it won’t win the East, making it the third consecutive year in which Georgia was the most-talented team in the division, but still couldn’t win it.

Think of this game against South Carolina as the test before the test. If UGA can’t beat South Carolina, it can’t beat Alabama two weeks later. So the Bulldogs better be ready. The South Carolina game won’t win them the SEC East, but it could very well lose it.