South Carolina’s defensive line presents challenge for No. 1 Georgia



ATHENS — Georgia will face by far the toughest defensive line it has seen this season when South Carolina comes to town Saturday. That’s a concern for an offense that enters the game ranked 10th among SEC teams in rushing (129.0 ypg).

The Gamecocks are experienced up front, led by seniors Tonka Hemingway, a 6-foot-3, 285-pound defensive tackle, and Jordan “Stretch” Strachan, a 6-5, 243-pound defensive end.

Hemingway is quick and versatile, and South Carolina moves him around a lot along the front. He had eight tackles for loss and four sacks a year ago. Strachan, a Camden County product who missed last year’s game with a torn ACL, led the nation in sacks with 10.5 in 10 games in 2020. Last season, the Gamecocks had 20 sacks in 13 games.

“They’re always physical,” Georgia guard Tate Ratledge said. “They always have a good group that plays hard. I think it will be a good matchup.”

For the second consecutive year, South Carolina will be missing starting middle linebacker Mo Kaba. He missed last year’s game after sustaining an ACL injury the week before. He’s out this season after injuring a knee in the opener versus North Carolina.

Georgia has struggled somewhat to run the football on its “bread-and-butter” zone plays. The Bulldogs pride themselves on being able to run the ball effectively to the right side behind massive linemen such as Ratledge at guard and 6-7, 340-pound tackle Amarius Mims at tackle.

So far, at least, Georgia hasn’t produced the push it desires there. More domination from Mims at the point of attack is wanted – and expected.

“He’s a physical freak,” Ratledge said. “Like all of us, I’d like to see Amarius have a mindset for finishing people because I know he can do it better than anybody out there. I think he’s a phenomenal player, but I’d like to see him play a mean streak. I think that’s what I’m looking for. But he’s a great player and I love playing next to him.”

Georgia coach Kirby Smart this week acknowledged that Mims, while excelling in pass protection, needs to step it up on run plays.

“He and the rest of the offensive-line unit, we need really solid performance out of them in terms of protection and getting movement up front to create run game,” Smart said.

Mullet update

Speaking of Ratledge, he was rocking a well-coiffed mullet when he spoke to media early this week. Unbeknownst to many, quarterback Carson Beck often has been charged with cutting the funky hairdo that has brought Ratledge much attention. It started his freshman season as Barstool Sports recognized Ratledge for having the best mullet in college football.

“I try to get the sides cut every other week,” said Ratledge, who clearly had the sides cut this week. “I think it still gets a good bit of attention. I mean, I’m kind of tired of it by now, but it comes with it, I guess.”

Jared Wilson stepping up

A new regular on Georgia’s offensive line is Jared Wilson. The 6-3, 310-pound sophomore was the second substitute in the game for the Bulldogs on Saturday, entering the game for Xavier Truss at left guard. Wilson, a one-time North Carolina commitment from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, plays both guard positions and is backing up Sedrick Van Pran-Granger at center.

“Moving to center has been a lot, especially in this offense,” said Wilson, who did not play the position in high school. “Sed’s been a great mentor to me. I sit right beside him in the meeting room. So, anytime he’s writing something down I’m writing it down. Whenever coach Searels is talking to him, I’m listening, making sure I’m up on my p’s and q’s.”

Wilson called the battle to get into Georgia’s offensive line rotation “a long journey.” He said has finally broken through by focusing on the opponent week by week, going to work every day.”

He joined the chorus coming out of the Bulldogs’ camp this week that they want to make Saturday “a statement game.”

“We want to be relentless,” Wilson said. “We’re one of the best teams in the country – we think we are the best team in the country – and we want to come out and attack and prove who we are.”

A year ago

Georgia gave South Carolina one of its worst beat-downs in the 129-year history of the schools’ rivalry with a 48-7 victory at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia. Gamecocks coach Shane Beamer was asked Wednesday what, if anything, they can take from that game.

“Not much,” Beamer said, laughing. “That was a long day, for sure. They played really, really well, and we certainly did not. They had a lot to do with that. For us, that was tough.”

The Bulldogs rolled up 547 yards of offense and got three touchdowns from tight end Brock Bowers. South Carolina managed only 197 yards in three quarters against Georgia’s front-line players, and the Bulldogs recorded three interceptions.

“One, we got our butts kicked. Two, against an elite team like Georgia is, you’ve got to be able to take advantage of opportunities, and we did not take advantage of those,” Beamer said.