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Border battle puts the pressure on Bulldogs, Gamecocks

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

If you buy into the hype, then you've probably heard that this is a do-or-die week for South Carolina and Georgia.

For South Carolina, the No. 6 Gamecocks have to prove they're ready to contend again for an SEC East title. For Georgia, the No. 11 Bulldogs must fight back after last week's gut-punch loss against Clemson.

Even the players on both squads are under pressure. Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray has to prove he can win the "big game" to a skeptical media and fan base. Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has to come back to mythical, Herculean form after what many considered an average performance last week in the North Carolina game.

And did we mention that this early battle for the SEC East is considered to be one of the biggest games of the weekend?

Oh, and it's just week two. Welcome to college football.

At any rate, the Gamecocks travel to Athens, Georgia this week in this SEC opener for both teams.

The Bulldogs are seeking redemption after last year's embarrassing 35-7 prime time loss against the Gamecocks. And 2011's 45-42 loss. And 2010's 17-6 loss.

The Gamecocks, meanwhile, look to extend their winning streak against Georgia to four straight games in the annual border battle.

They're also looking to set the tone for the rest of the season. It's an early season test, no doubt.

But Coach Steve Spurrier isn't expecting a blowout victory from his squad. A three-point spread from Las Vegas definitely puts an exclamation point on the coach's expectations.

"It'll probably be a close one," said Spurrier. "The team that makes a play at the end and so forth will probably be the winner." 

A win for the Gamecocks all depends on keeping three people in check: Murray and the two-headed running back monster of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.

Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward knows the test starts with limiting Marshall and Gurley.

"We've got to stop the run. Last season was last season. We've got a different team. We've got to go out and prove ourselves again. You can't build off what happened last year because you have different guys," said Ward. "They understand they have a tough task ahead."

But the tough task of holding Georgia's explosive run game is book-ended by putting pressure on Murray and his play-making capabilities.

"We always want to affect the quarterback," said Ward. "As a defensive coordinator, you have to find out who's running the engine of the train and of course Aaron Murray is. He makes this team go."

Ward may be expecting his players to help control the tempo of the game, but South Carolina's offense will have to make some plays too. 

Quarterback Connor Shaw, the Flowery Branch, Georgia native, will get his first career start against the Bulldogs in his home state. It's an important game for him as well.

"I've been looking forward to this one for a while," said Shaw. "It's going to be exciting for us Georgia boys. We all know the importance of this game, so it's going to be an exciting game for us."

The Gamecocks have recruited heavily in the state of Georgia, and many of those "Georgia boys" are important parts to the team's delicate workings. Take for example, running back Mike Davis.

Davis, who is from Lithonia, Georgia, has made it clear that he's excited about playing against guys he's known for a long time. The Gamecocks will likely be depending on him to replicate his performance against UNC last week where he ripped the Tar Heels' defense for 115 yards and one touchdown. 

With this type of game coming so early in the season, the pressure is on for both teams. And as Spurrier said, it may come down to one play in the waning moments of the fourth quarter.

But who will the ball bounce for in the end?

The Gamecocks and the Bulldogs meet this Saturday beginning at 4:30 p.m. on ESPN.

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