Bulldogs eager to see what fuss is over South Carolina’s Spencer Rattler

ATHENS — Dozens of transfers made their way into the SEC from other conferences in the offseason. None of them brought a higher profile with them than South Carolina’s Spencer Rattler.

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The 6-foot-1, 215-pound junior was considered the consensus No. 1 quarterback when he signed with Oklahoma out of Pinnacle High School in Phoenix in 2019. Playing in 23 games over three seasons for the Sooners under Lincoln Riley, Rattler posted a 15-2 record as a starter. He completed 70.1% of his passes for 4,595 yards with 40 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

However, after opening the 2021 season as the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, Rattler struggled and was benched during the second quarter of the Texas game in favor of Caleb Williams. He would not play the rest of the season.

After announcing he was transferring, Rattler landed with South Carolina, coached by former Oklahoma tight ends coach Shane Beamer. His performance in the first two games with the Gamecocks (1-1, 0-1 SEC) has produced mixed results.

Preparing to face No. 1-ranked Georgia in Columbia on Saturday (noon, SEC Network), Rattler has completed 61.8% of his passes (47-of-76) for 603 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. But he appeared to figure some things out and get his game going in a 44-30 loss to No. 10 Arkansas on Saturday. Rattler threw for 283 of his 376 yards passing in the second half and went 14-for-19 for 188 yards in the fourth quarter.

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The Bulldogs will arrive in Columbia carrying plenty of respect but not intimidated.

“It’s just Tuesday, so we’re still looking at the tape, but as far as Spencer Rattler, we all know he’s a great quarterback,” sophomore defensive back Javon Bullard said. “But, you know, we’re just going to try to do the things we’ve got to do as a defense.”

Said linebacker Jamon “Pop” Dumas-Johnson: “South Carolina is a great team and has a great quarterback and great players, but it’s a challenge we’re willing to accept.”

Georgia has already faced one high-profile quarterback this season. The Bulldogs opened the season against Oregon’s Bo Nix in their Chick-fil-A Kickoff game in Atlanta. The former Auburn quarterback completed 21 of 37 passes for 173 yards, but the Ducks failed to reach the end zone and Georgia intercepted him twice on the way to a resounding 49-3 victory.

Through two games, the Bulldogs have yet to allow a touchdown. They lead the nation in scoring defense (1.5 ppg) and the SEC in total defense (220.5 ypg).

But Rattler makes South Carolina especially dangerous. While he’s considered an athletic quarterback, it’s an especially strong arm that makes him special. He is well known for being able to hurl the football 70 yards. Deep balls over the middle are his specialty.

The Gamecocks finally got loose for one in the Arkansas game. Antwane “Juice” Wells, a transfer from James Madison, hauled in a 64-yarder for a touchdown. Wells leads South Carolina with 15 catches for 244 yards. Running back MarShawn Lloyd also has a 43-yard reception. Receiver Jalen Brooks leads the team with a 19.5 yards per-catch average.

“They’ve got a really good receiving corps, fast wideouts, and guys we struggled with last year,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “Their quarterback has an elite ability to throw the deep ball. He can throw the ball over 70 yards, stretch the field, and he is an athlete.”

The Bulldogs will face South Carolina with a secondary that includes three first-year starters, including freshman safety Malaki Starks. As always, though, defending a great quarterback doesn’t just come down to coverage. The Bulldogs will look to pressure Rattler.

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Georgia hasn’t been proficient in that regard, so far. The Bulldogs enter the game with one sack this season, which was recorded by freshman defensive end Mykel Williams against Samford on Saturday. However, Oregon and Samford came in with a game plan to get rid of the football extremely fast.

The Gamecocks no doubt will consider a similar strategy because defensive pressure has been an issue for them early on. Rattler has been sacked eight times on a total of 93 dropbacks, according to Pro Football Focus. With nine sacks allowed in total, PFF gives South Carolina a pass-blocking grade of 56, which is 13th among the 14 SEC teams.

“You have to affect the quarterback; it is not just covering people,” Smart said. “It is how do you disguise, how do you rush the passer, how do you affect the quarterback, can you negate big plays and run after catch? They have some great big guys who can catch the ball and run with it afterward.

“They have some really good skills players. We are looking forward to the challenge. They certainly have a tremendous quarterback and a tremendous skill set out there on the perimeter to get the ball to.”

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