Something’s gotta give in the quarterback standoff Saturday when Georgia hosts South Carolina.
Georgia QB Aaron Murray’s struggles – actual and imaginary – against ranked teams have been well-chronicled this week in the aftermath of the season-opening loss at Clemson.
Gamecocks QB Connor Shaw has yet to score a huge road victory. (Remember, it was QB2 Dylan Thompson who led South Carolina past Clemson last year.)
One of these senior quarterbacks will buck the trend Saturday. His team will in turn control the road to Atlanta to represent the SEC East.
Florida still looms in the SEC East race. However, the loser of this game will need help to win the division. The winner won’t.
Most of the pressure resides on the home sideline this weekend. Murray’s legacy is not the only thing on the line when kickoff comes. So, too, are the Bulldogs’ SEC and national championship hopes.
Considering that Georgia fell one play in the SEC Championship Game away from appearing in the BCS National Championship Game last year, being virtually eliminated two games into 2013 wouldn’t bode well for anyone.
That goes double for Georgia coach Mark Richt.
Even after turning in a fantastic season a year ago, a loss – and an 0-2 start – would create the resumption of whispers capable of quickly turning to yells. No matter what happens, until Richt bring a national championship, a vocal minority of fans that believes he is simply the wrong man to lead the Bulldogs to their first title since 1980 will remain bloodthirsty.
Murray, meanwhile, needs a good performance in a win to bring the stats in big games back on to his side.
(One Bleacher Report post this week took up for Murray, using his last three games against ranked teams as its basis. I’m not here to bash Murray’s performance against Clemson, though his two turnovers were critical in a three-point game. Murray simply didn’t play the type of football a Heisman contender plays on big stages. Furthermore, bolstering Murray’s resume by leaning heavily on his performance against Nebraska while ignoring his 2012 performances against Florida and South Carolina seems misguided. Murray’s reasonable-looking stats over the past three games are improved greatly by his performance against a Nebraska defense that surrendered 70 points to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game and 34 in the 2013 season opener to Wyoming. Murray posted especially poor numbers in going 1-1 against the Gators and Gamecocks last year.)
Add to the fact that Georgia hosts another upper-echelon SEC team in two weeks when LSU coming calling and it’s easy to see how this season could spiral out of control.
Both programs entered the 2013 season with equal right to believe they could win the SEC East and earn the likely showdown with the great Alabama for the league crown.
Yet the pressure on the Gamecocks isn’t nearly as significant as that on Georgia.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has already led the program to greater heights than many thought possible. Shaw has been a gritty overachiever who never had the recruiting hoopla surrounding him than did Murray.
It isn’t a nothing-to-lose situation because Gamecocks fans have started to ramp up expectations and hopes, but the team in white will likely breathe easier in the moments leading up to kickoff.