ATHENS, Ga. — Garrison Smith and Mike Davis were teammates briefly at Douglass High School in Atlanta.
Davis transferred to Stephenson in Stone Mountain before crossing the state line to play for Steve Spurrier at South Carolina.
Smith, a Georgia defensive lineman, is familiar with the 5-foot-9, 215-pound Davis’ ability to break out for long runs.
“He’s very talented,” said Smith, who had three tackles and one for loss against Clemson. “Running is in his blood. … He’s good and you can’t take that away from him.”
Davis’ older brother, James, finished his career at Clemson after the 2008 season with 4,309 all-purpose yards, including 47 rushing touchdowns, and also played at Douglass High School.
On Saturday at Sanford Stadium, Smith will be trying to drag down the Gamecocks’ starting running back, who rushed for 115 yards on 12 carries in the season-opening win against North Carolina a week ago. That included a 75-yard touchdown run.
“You just got to be ready for it,” he said. “Good ol’ SEC football.”
The Gamecocks had 228 rushing yards in their season opener. Smith was safe in calling South Carolina a more downhill team, especially when factoring in Brandon Wilds, who had three 100-yard performances in Marcus Lattimore’s stead last year, and quarterback Connor Shaw, who was the Gamecocks’ leading rusher last season.
“All that stuff, basically, accentuates what they do from a running game standpoint,” Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “With the playmakers that they already have, it makes their offense a lot better.”
Georgia’s run defense ranked 10th in yards allowed (182.14) after last season, behind even Kentucky, and was 77th in FBS. Even North Texas, a team Georgia faces on Sept. 21, allowed fewer rush yards a game (163.25) than Georgia. So it would seem starting off the season by missing tackles and giving up more than 200 yards rushing to Clemson would be a cause for concern.
Not so, says linebacker Amarlo Herrera.
“Everybody misses tackles. You just see more than some,” said Herrera, who had eight tackles at Clemson. “There’s games where we missed more tackles than that since I’ve been here.”
The defensive performance at Clemson was a recipe of equal parts missed tackles and lining up out of place, says linebacker Jordan Jenkins.
“I know we can fix it,” said Jenkins, who had 4.5 tackles in the season opener. “That’s why we’re going to be going full pads a good bit this week and getting after it a little this week.”
The push toward fundamentals is needed, Georgia coach Mark Richt said, as is giving Georgia’s younger players another week to get acclimated.
South Carolina averaged 6.0 yards per rush against North Carolina. Clemson averaged 4.4 yards per carry against Georgia.
“We can improve,” Herrera said. “They really didn’t have long runs. They had short-yardage runs and all that built up. As long as we’re not giving up long runs.”
Then there’s the issue of South Carolina’s offensive line, which returns four starters from a year ago. All five starters tip the scales past the 300-pound mark.
The average weight of Georgia’s starting defensive linemen: 278.3 pounds. The Bulldogs will continue to use a rotation of linemen to combat the Gamecocks’ blocking schemes as well as fatigue.
It makes a “noticeable difference” to have subs, Smith said.
“You don’t have to worry about getting so winded and being so tired,” the senior said. “You can get a couple plays off and then go back in and keep playing hard.”
Herrera said he likes playing teams that runs a similar offensive scheme as the Gamecocks. You know what you’re going against.
“You already know what South Carolina wants to do — they want to run the ball and take shots,” he said.