83F Sanford Stadium, Athens, GA
Georgia's only conference losses the past two seasons have come against South Carolina, with those defeats seemingly inspiring back-to-back runs to the SEC championship game.
That doesn't mean the 11th-ranked Bulldogs are planning to test that theory again.
Georgia looks to avoiding starting 0-2 for the second time in three seasons by ending a three-game losing streak to the sixth-ranked Gamecocks on Saturday in Athens.
Much like this year, the Bulldogs opened 2011 with a pair of marquee matchups, falling 35-21 to No. 5 Boise State at the Georgia Dome before a tough 45-42 home loss to No. 12 South Carolina the following week.
After a 5-0 start to 2012, Georgia was routed 35-7 at No. 6 South Carolina on Oct. 6 to end its hopes of an undefeated season. The Bulldogs, though, recovered to go 7-1 in SEC play before falling in the conference title game each year.
Coach Mark Richt isn't shying away from the importance of this meeting, especially after his team fell 38-35 at then-No. 8 Clemson last Saturday to open the season.
"It's no fun to lose, and it's no fun to lose early. With the type of schedule that we have, there's a risk of that," Richt said. "That's football, and that's the way it is. We'd prefer not to be sitting like we were a couple years ago after Boise State and South Carolina. We're going to do our best not to be in that position, but the goal is to win the SEC Eastern Division.
"It's a big game for both teams. Obviously it's the first conference game for both teams to set the tone for the future."
South Carolina had a leg up in the division race after beating Georgia last season, but it dropped its next two to No. 9 LSU and No. 3 Florida to finish a game behind the Bulldogs.
The Gamecocks aren't thinking beyond this matchup, though, especially after a sluggish 27-10 win over North Carolina to open the season last Thursday. They held the Tar Heels to 293 total yards, but most of the defense seemed out of shape trying to keep up with the up-tempo UNC offense.
"We can win some ugly looking games," coach Steve Spurrier said. "Hopefully we can improve and get ready for Georgia because that's going to be a big one."
Heisman Trophy candidate and defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney shrugged off criticism for appearing tired throughout the game and vowed to improve. Spurrier isn't worried about the reigning SEC defensive player of the year, either.
"J.D. is ready to play," Spurrier said. "I think one thing he learned is that the camera is on him all the time now. It wasn't on him last year, it was on him on the replays after he made sacks, big plays and stuff like that. He knows that and hopefully he is ready to go. Hopefully we can get him a little bit better prepared physically to go the distance against Georgia."
Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray hopes he won't see much of Clowney in the backfield as he looks to help Georgia bounce back from last week's tough defeat. He finished 20 of 29 for 333 yards and an interception while rushing for a touchdown with 1:19 left.
He also will be without one of his favorite targets in receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who tore his right ACL while celebrating Todd Gurley's 75-yard TD run in the first quarter.
Mitchell will have surgery and is out for the season. Michael Bennett had five catches for 65 yards in his place.
"Bennett did play the majority of the game at the position and we've just got to see if that's the best situation for Michael or Georgia," Richt said. "We'll be trying to figure out what's the best way to line everybody up."
Gurley finished with 154 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries last week, but he rushed 13 times for 39 yards last year against South Carolina. Murray completed 11 of 31 passes for 109 yards and an interception in that contest.
South Carolina's Connor Shaw went 6 for 10 for 162 yards and two touchdowns against Georgia, also running for 78 yards and a score. Richt said the Bulldogs need to be wary of Shaw's dual-threat ability.
"You've got to be careful with him. The thing about Connor is that he's going to run quarterback draw, he's going to run zone read and he's going to run when it's not there in the passing game," Richt said. "It's kind of three different types of runs for that kid, and you have to have a plan for all of them."