Georgia vs. South Carolina
When: 7 p.m. tonight
Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens
On TV: ESPN
ATHENS — Joe Cox waited four years for his chance to be Georgia’s starting quarterback. This wasn’t quite how he envisioned it starting out.
A few days before the opener, he came down with the flu and had to travel to the game on a separate plane. Then, he subjected himself to instant second-guessing with a mediocre performance in a Bulldogs loss. Finally, heading into week two, there was speculation that Cox might not even start.
No. 21 Georgia (0-1) hosts South Carolina (1-0) in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams tonight, with the Bulldogs trying to avoid their first 0-2 start since 1996.
Cox, a fifth-year senior, completed only 15 of 30 passes for 162 yards and committed two costly turnovers in a 24-10 loss to No. 5 Oklahoma State last week.
“I waited so long,” he said. “I was expecting to play better. I felt like I was prepared for that game. I just didn’t do what I needed to do to help my team win. That’s just something I’m going to have to get over and be ready to play this week and give my team a chance to win the game.”
Whether Cox would even get that chance became Internet and talk-show fodder on Thursday, when a report surfaced he had a sore shoulder or arm and that sophomore Logan Gray could start against the Gamecocks.
Coach Mark Richt shot down the speculation, saying Cox would definitely take the first snap, though he was a little more elusive when it came to his quarterback’s health.
The coach has said all along that Gray could get some playing time when the Bulldogs are in the red zone because of his running ability, as he did for one play against Oklahoma State.
“Joe’s the quarterback,” Richt said. “It’s not unusual to have your second-team QB take a couple snaps with your one unit.”
Cox told ESPN.com the injury was related to “nerve problems caused by a muscle that protects my rotator cuff.
One of the muscles that protects the rotator cuff has wasted away and that puts pressure on the rotator cuff,” the Web site reported Friday.
“Most of my pain is away from football,” Cox added. “At night when I sleep. Picking up a bookbag. Driving with my right hand.”
“It might not get better. I might have it forever. I might just have to manage it.”
South Carolina has its own problems after managing just 256 yards in a 7-3 victory over N.C. State to open the season. The Gamecocks hardly looked like a Steve Spurrier-coached team, relying on a defense that limited the Wolfpack to a mere 133 yards to come out of an ugly game with a win.
“It was a very conservative attack,” the Ol’ Ballcoach conceded. “Hopefully, we can get the ball moving around a little bit better this game.”
Sophomore quarterback Stephen Garcia, who’ll be making his third career start against an SEC opponent, threw only 22 times against N.C. State, completing 13 for 148 yards. Spurrier’s Fun ‘n’ Gun offense has been replaced by the Hum ‘n’ Drum.
“The object is to win the game,” he said. “Do we have confidence we can throw it 50 times? No, we can’t. We’re not a 50-throw team right now. But we should be able to throw 25 or 30. And hopefully make some yards. So we’re working at it. We’ll see how it goes this week. And I imagine the Georgia coach will probably tell you the same thing.”
Both teams are coming off strong defensive showings.
Georgia was facing intense scrutiny after giving up at least 38 points in five games a year ago. The Bulldogs largely shut down Oklahoma State’s dynamic offense but were put in a difficult spot by the turnovers and a major breakdown on special teams.
“We felt pretty good about the way we played, but we had a lot of missed opportunities,” safety Bryan Evans said. “We had a couple of plays that weren’t made that could have been made.”
South Carolina thoroughly stifled N.C. State, a team that doesn’t have nearly as many offensive weapons as Oklahoma State. The Wolfpack were held to 59 yards on the ground and threw for just 74, averaging 2.4 yards per play.
Freshman defensive end Devin Taylor had quite a debut for the Gamecocks, forcing two fumbles, blocking a punt and coming up with a sack among his three tackles behind the line. Fellow end Cliff Matthews was just as disruptive with two sacks and five tackles of his own.
Bringing the heat from the outside was linebacker Eric Norwood, who picked up two more sacks and is just two off the school’s career record.
“We most certainly take pride in how we play on defense,” Matthews said.
Look for another defensive struggle this week. The margin in four of the last meetings in this series has been seven points or less, and neither team has scored more than 20 points in any of those games.
“This is a rival game. Rival games pretty much come (down) to the end,” Matthews said. “The fans are looking forward to it and we just come ready to play. We’re getting after it.”