Saturday, October 6, 2012
Big plays on first down helping Georgia
By Mackenzie Kraemer, ESPN Stats & Info
(No. 6 South Carolina Gamecocks host the No. 5 Georgia Bulldogs, Saturday at 7 ET on ESPN.)
One of the most marquee games on Saturday is the SEC East showdown between Georgia and South Carolina. And the spotlight won’t shine any brighter than it does on the explosive Georgia offense. The Bulldogs' 43 plays of 20+ yards (26 pass, 17 rush) are six more than any other FBS team and 15 more than any other SEC team.
Something that might exacerbate the issue for the home Gamecocks is that they have been vulnerable to big passing plays, having allowed 17 completions of at least 20 yards (tied for third most in the SEC). The Gamecocks have been much stingier against the run, allowing just two runs of 20+ yards, which is tied for the fewest in the SEC.
Georgia has also had a great deal of success on first down, averaging an FBS-best 9.6 yards per play -- including 14.0 yards per pass attempt. When the Bulldogs throw on first down, they have converted first downs 49.2 percent of the time, best in FBS.
Statistically, that should suit Georgia just fine since the key to moving the ball against South Carolina on first down is throwing the ball. The Gamecocks allow just 2.0 yards per rush on first down; however their defense allows 7.5 yards per pass attempt on first down. That ranks 11th in the 14-team SEC.
SOUTH CAROLINA’S BEST HOPE
Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is the key for South Carolina up front. Clowney is second in the SEC in both tackles for loss (9.5) and sacks (5.5). He had his breakout game last season against Georgia with two sacks and a forced fumble that Melvin Ingram returned for a touchdown.
If South Carolina can slow Georgia down and force it into converting on third down, then the Bulldogs could be at a disadvantage. That's because Georgia lost leading receiver Michael Bennett to a season-ending knee injury on Tuesday. QB Aaron Murray often looked to Bennett on third down this season, completing 19-of-32 throws on third down with eight of those completions going to Bennett.
The loss of Bennett hurts, but the return of WR/CB Malcolm Mitchell to offense on a near-full-time basis should help replace Bennett’s third-down production. Last season, Murray was 14-20 throwing to Mitchell on third downs, with all 14 completions going for first downs.