COLUMBIA — The names South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward mentioned were legends, unusual comparisons for a sophomore running back so early in his career.
WHO: No. 6 South Carolina (1-0) at No. 11 Georgia (0-1)
WHEN: 4:30 p.m.
WHERE: Athens, Ga.
LINE: Georgia by 3
Bo Jackson. The former Auburn great, winner of the 1985 Heisman Trophy, arguably the most athletic man ever to play college football.
Herschel Walker. The original model, winner of the 1982 Heisman Trophy, still considered Georgia's greatest running back.
Two of college football's all-time tailbacks aren't casually tossed into conversations. Make these comparisons and risk football blasphemy.
With Bulldogs sophomore Todd Gurley, Ward referenced the game's greats so nonchalantly, so matter-of-factly, it was hard to second-guess.
“He can run over you. He breaks a lot of arm tackles,” Ward said, describing a running back who looks like The Incredible Hulk in shoulder pads. “He's real strong in the lower body, and we've got to make sure we wrap him up. I told our guys on the perimeter, 'We can't hit him high. You hit him high, he's going to keep going.' So, we've got to play at his ankles.”
That's the strategy when No. 6 South Carolina (1-0) travels to Athens for a 4:30 p.m. kickoff Saturday against No. 11 Georgia (0-1).
There's history at stake. No USC player has finished a four-year career undefeated against Georgia. A win Saturday would be the Gamecocks' fourth straight in the rivalry. But, don't let the goose egg in the Bulldogs' win column fool you. Between the hedges, the Gamecocks face arguably their toughest test this season.
Georgia features perhaps the nation's best offense. The Gamecocks can't allow Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray to get comfortable in the pocket. They can't allow tight end Arthur Lynch — or any number of complementary receivers — to find a rhythm.
“Certainly, they've had good offense the last several years with Aaron Murray there,” Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said.
The senior quarterback hogs headlines, but Gurley is the one player that holds the key to Georgia's offense. Stop him, and the Bulldogs are unlikely to go anywhere.
“The thing with Georgia, they want to establish the run early,” USC senior defensive end Chaz Sutton said. “If they can establish the run early, then they can have success. But as long as we can stop the run and get after the quarterback on third down, we should be able to control the game up front.”
Stopping Gurley was important before Georgia star wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell's season ended with a knee injury (torn ACL) last week. Mitchell's absence removes the Bulldogs' deep threat, allowing the Gamecocks to stuff defenders in the box against the run.
It's the same formula USC used last season, when it held Gurley to 39 yards on 13 carries during a 35-7 win in Columbia. Regardless, it's easier said than done.
With 1,385 rushing yards last season, Gurley joined Walker as only the second Georgia freshman ever to exceed 1,000. He made it look easy, with nine 100-yard games and a freshman-record 17 rushing touchdowns.
The sophomore picked up the pace on opening weekend, running for 154 yards and two touchdowns at Clemson. There was thunder, and there was lightning. Gurley, a 232-pound back, gave Georgia its first score of the season on a 75-yard touchdown run.
USC sophomore safety T.J. Gurley watched the prime-time game, mesmerized. He saw tacklers bounce off Georgia's darting boulder, unable to bring him to the ground.
Afterward, when T.J. Gurley had turned the TV off, he knew what was in store for the Gamecocks' defense this week.
“Really, we've just got to stop No. 3, Todd Gurley,” the safety said. “We've got to hit him before he gets started, because when he gets started he's a real big back, and he can make moves.
“He's got big thighs, so when you hit him, you've got to alligator tackle. You can't just go in throwing the shoulder. ... If we can't stop the running game, it's gonna be a long night.”