ATHENS - As we continue to break down, analyze and just get a feel for the Georgia-South Carolina showdown, there aren't many better people to talk to than Josh Kendall.
Josh, as many of you are aware, held this very job I currently occupy, covering Georgia for many years. And I worked at his current paper, The State media company in Columbia, S.C, covering the Gamecocks. (It wasn't a direct trade, but I suspect The State got the better end of the deal, and I didn't even steal a stapler on my way out.)
You can follow Josh's work at thestate.com, or gogamecocks.com, or via his Twitter handle at @Joshatthestate.
Josh was kind enough to answer my questions about the Gamecocks and this game. As you will see, he has some very insightful responses. I hope this helps everyone:
1. Georgia players, for the most part, haven't tried to downplay the magnitude of this game, with several seniors calling this the biggest game they've played in. What's been the feeling around Columbia, whether it be players, coaches or fans?
JK: South Carolina's players are trying hard to take the opposite approach, which comes from Steve Spurrier, who is big on saying every game counts the same. Even quarterback Connor Shaw -- a Flowery Branch, Ga., native -- is toeing the party line. The city, on the other hand, is about to lose its mind. Georgia is to South Carolina what Florida is to Georgia, the guy who usually ruins all the fun, so the Gamecock fans want this game very badly.
2-a. Marcus Lattimore: How close to 100 percent does he look?
JK: It's hard to say if Lattimore is 100 percent or not. He hasn't looked as dynamic but part of that is the fact that the run blocking has been very inconsistent and part of it is that he hasn't gotten a ton of carries in a game, which is what he thrives on. He says his knee is healthy, and Spurrier says it's not quite 100 percent but really, really close.
2-b. Georgia's strategy on Lattimore may be to do what it can stop him early and take him out of the game, hoping that Spurrier abandons the run. The Spurrier of old may have done that, but is the new Spurrier so committed to the run he will hold steady, even if the Gamecocks are trailing?
JK: Spurrier is much more committed to the run than Georgia fans give him credit for at least, particularly after it saved their bacon in the second half against Kentucky, but I do think there's a magic number there and I think it's 17 points. Spurrier mentioned after the Kentucky game that had the Wildcats led 24-7 at the half (as they should have) instead of 17-7 (as they did) he would have felt more like he had to come out throwing in the second half.
3. Connor Shaw is a guy who not only can run, but seems to have a knack for knowing the best time to run. And Georgia players have observed he throws about half the time after moving out of the pocket. But as for Shaw's passing, how effective is he in a traditional, pocket-passing sense?
JK: He is not a polished pocket passer. His strengths are intelligence and escapability, but he can throw the deep ball very accurately at times so he's very dangerous. If the Bulldogs can make him do all of his work from the traditional pocket, where a lot of his sight lines are limited, it will work in their favor.
4. South Carolina's defense: Everyone knows about Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor, and the Gamecocks are the runaway leader in the league with 22 sacks. The few times that teams have had success against that pair, or the Gamecock pass rush in general, what has worked?
JK: Not many people, at least many people who attempt any sort of true passing game, have avoided the ends. The key probably is to limit the damage on the sacks, i.e. don't fumble it away and don't start backpedaling and lose 12 instead of 6.
5. Statistically the Gamecocks are better against the run (second in the SEC) than the pass (seventh). But what's your take on how the Gamecocks match up against Georgia's freshmen tailbacks and the Bulldogs' newly-installed air-it-out game?
JK: Kentucky had success running the ball in the middle of the defensive line in the first half half last week, but the Wildcats were the first team to really attempt a direct running game, so that's an area of concern for the Gamecocks. No one has tested them deep yet and part of that is due to the pass rush. The secondary came into the year as a question mark but has played very well thus far. Although, most of what it has been asked to do is make plays in front of it.
6. Finally, my take on this game is the teams are very evenly-matched, and the game will be decided by who doesn't turn it over, or makes the least mistakes. Sound about right, or am I a blithering moron?
JK: Nope, you're right on, I think. My official prediction such as it is, is that I think Georgia will win this game if it plays a clean game, but I don't believe the Bulldogs will play a clean game because I haven't seen them do it recently in a big game.