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New No. 1 Georgia meets South Carolina in SEC opener

Sep 10, 2022; Athens, Georgia, USA; Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) passes against the Samford Bulldogs during the second half at Sanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Defending national champion Georgia is back to No. 1 in the nation as it battles South Carolina in Southeastern Conference play on Saturday in Columbia, S.C.

The Bulldogs (2-0, 0-0 SEC) outscored their first two opponents 82-3 to jump over Alabama, which struggled to beat Texas 20-19 last weekend.

Georgia impressed during a season-opening 49-3 domination of Oregon and followed up with a 33-0 win over FCS program Samford.

The return to the top spot doesn’t mean much to Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart.

“It’s never a big deal. It only matters at the end of the year,” Smart said. “I mean, I don’t know that we’ve spent many weeks outside of the top 10. And it never mattered whether we were inside the top 10 or outside of the top 10. It just is irrelevant.”

Smart is more concerned with Georgia’s performance against South Carolina (1-1, 0-1).

Georgia has won six of the past seven meetings, including five of six during Smart’s tenure.

The Bulldogs are averaging 525 yards of total offense per game, which ranks 10th-best nationally. Quarterback Stetson Bennett has passed for 668 yards and three touchdowns. Bennett is 31 yards away from becoming the eighth Georgia quarterback to reach 5,000 career passing yards.

The Bulldogs’ defense is off to a strong start, leading the nation in scoring defense (1.5 points per game) and ranking eighth in total defense (220.5 yards per game). The unit is tied for sixth in fewest first downs allowed (12 per game).

Georgia allowed 128 yards and three first downs against Samford.

Despite holding two consecutive opponents out of the end zone, inside linebacker Smael Mondon said the defense has work to do.

“It wasn’t a perfect game. We know that,” Mondon said of Saturday’s win over Samford. “There are always things you can clean up. You will never play a perfect game, but as long as you strive to be perfect, I feel like you are going to get better week in and week out.”

The Gamecocks will be looking to get better after falling 44-30 at then-No. 16 Arkansas on Saturday.

South Carolina was carved up for 295 yards and five touchdowns on the ground while Arkansas racked up 20 of its 28 first downs via the rushing attack.

The Gamecocks are allowing 247.5 rushing yards per game, which ranks 129th nationally out of 131 teams.

South Carolina also struggles to run as it averages 59.5 per game, which ranks 125th.

“We got to be able to run the football,” Gamecocks coach Shane Beamer said. “(Against Arkansas), we liked our matchups in the passing game for sure. We got to be able to help our defense out.”

South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler has completed 61.8 percent of his throws for 603 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. Antwane Wells Jr. has 15 receptions for 244 yards and one score.

Wells’ 189 receiving yards against Arkansas were tied for 10th most in school history.

South Carolina lost two starters, outside linebacker Jordan Strachan and middle linebacker Mo Kaba, to season-ending ACL injuries against Arkansas.

“I’m extremely disappointed and heartbroken for both of these young men,” Beamer said. “They both worked really hard to prepare for this season and were off to great starts for us. Their best football is still in front of them.”

Cornerback Cam Smith was lost with an upper-body injury against Arkansas and his status will be firmed up later in the week. Safety R.J. Roderick (arm) could return after being hurt in a season-opening win over Georgia State.

Smart is optimistic on the status of Georgia receiver Adonai Mitchell (ankle) after an injury against Samford. Mitchell did not practice Monday.

–Field Level Media