Gamecocks

South Carolina wide receiver Deebo Samuel (1) is aiming for another big game as the No. 24 Gamecocks host No. 3 Georgia on Saturday. AP/Sean Rayford

COLUMBIA — This is what they’ve waited for.

Will Muschamp wants to win a championship at South Carolina. The rather barren trophy case in his building doesn’t matter to him.

Saturday's game doesn’t win a championship. It does put the Gamecocks in prime position to do so.

Standings are standings, and having basically a two-game lead on the Bulldogs would be marvelous. More importantly, a message would be sent. That’s to USC’s players and to the nation, that the Gamecocks are for real in Muschamp’s third season, and that they’re coming for the baubles and recognition so often handed to what seems like every team but USC.

The whispers during the summer about this game have evolved to a crescendo, national media crediting Muschamp for the turnaround and USC becoming a trendy pick to upset the Bulldogs. The promise of a quaking Williams-Brice Stadium brings memories of other home matchups with the Bulldogs — and the Gamecocks, checking into the Top 25 this week for the first time in four years, have won all five home games when each team was ranked.

"In this environment Saturday, if you can't get excited for it, something's wrong with you," Muschamp said. 

Four keys to the game:

The Marcus Initiative

The Gamecocks will play three tailbacks, perhaps four, but Rico Dowdle will be the first man out there. If USC can get the same wedge and rushing attack it had last week, it can control the clock and keep Georgia’s offense off the field.

Dowdle has the talent and the durability to rush multiple times. Perhaps it won’t have to be the 37 totes Marcus Lattimore had against Georgia in 2010, but if his number is called 37 times, Dowdle can live up to the breakout tag so many have predicted.

School’s out

Jake Bentley’s most notable win the past three years is over a Michigan squad with no offense that finished 8-5 (Tennessee was 16th two years ago, but the Volunteers were tanking and nobody was surprised when the Gamecocks won). He didn’t have a great team around him some of the time, he wasn’t great some of the time.

That can all end Saturday. If Bentley is on from the start, orchestrating his offense like the puppet-master he’s charged with being, he can truly emerge into a South Carolina Quarterback.

Right now he’s a quarterback at South Carolina.

Side to side

The Gamecocks’ linebackers and cornerbacks are faced with a nearly impossible assignment. They have to limit Jake Fromm’s throws to the edges.

Fromm is going to throw there. That’s certain. It’s tough to keep him from doing so with the pass-rush, it’s tougher to keep the receivers from getting it.

Every play is risk vs. reward. The smart move is to play contain and try to limit the damage.

But one good jump, one good read of Fromm’s eyes, could mean an interception and a clear field.

Saran and Reynolds

Wrap. No matter what.

Forget the arm tackles and trying to knock the guy into next Tuesday. The Gamecocks have to tackle.

Georgia’s game plan is to get the ball to their speedy running backs or speedy receivers, who can make one cut and be gone. No matter where the ball goes, a USC defender has to be there, and has to have both arms and all 10 fingers working to grab a hunk of white jersey or silver britches and hang on.   

Prediction

It’s the popular upset pick, but this game starting at 3:30 p.m. symbolizes the ultimate result. USC is not quite ready for prime time.   

Georgia 24, South Carolina 21

Follow David Cloninger on Twitter @DCPandC.