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Bulldogs turn focus to SEC, S.C.

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

ATLANTA -- Georgia never has the luxury of relishing an opening win over an nonconference opponent, because South Carolina always awaits early in the Bulldogs' schedule.

Georgia, which beat Louisiana-Lafayette 55-7 on Saturday, opens its Southeastern Conference schedule at South Carolina next week. The No. 23 Bulldogs quickly shifted their focus to the important game in the SEC East.

"It's always been the biggest test and the most honest test of where you are," coach Mark Richt said Sunday. "You can have your first game against a nonconference opponent and maybe not know what it's really gonna be like once you get in league play."

The game could establish a top contender to Florida in the SEC's Eastern Division. South Carolina beat Southern Miss 41-13 on Thursday night.

South Carolina's defense will provide a big test for Georgia's offense, led by freshman quarterback Aaron Murray.

Murray was 17-for-26 passing for 160 yards with three touchdowns and an interception in his debut. He also had a 16-yard touchdown run.

Richt said Sunday that Murray hasn't faced a defense with South Carolina's talent.

"He played a game and he played a game in front of a big crowd," Richt said. "He got a chance to get hit a little bit here and there and make plays and make some mistakes and all that kind of thing, but I think next week is gonna be another new experience for him, playing away, playing in a hostile environment, playing against a Southeastern Conference opponent, playing against maybe a little different brand of athlete, on defense especially."

Georgia and South Carolina have been connected to the NCAA probe into possible contact with player agents.

Georgia star receiver A.J. Green was held out of Saturday's game as the school awaits a ruling from the NCAA on Green's status. Georgia also had its leading returning rusher, Washaun Ealey, serve a one-game suspension for a hit-and-run incident.

Georgia receiver Tavarres King, who was charged with underaged possession of alcohol this summer, served a one-game suspension against Louisiana-Lafayette. Also, freshman safety Alec Ogletree was suspended for at least one game by Richt last week following a misdemeanor theft charge.

Green's status for the South Carolina game remains uncertain. The suspended players are expected to return. Richt said Sunday King "will definitely have an impact on this game."

Richt said Ealey will have to earn his share of the carries after Caleb King and Carlton Thomas shared the lead role in the opener.

"It will be very competitive," said Richt of the depth chart at tailback. "It will be very interesting to see who gets what."

Louisiana-Lafayette coach Rickey Bustle didn't seem to miss the Georgia players who were held out.

"Georgia is a heck of a football team," Bustle said. "They have great talent at a lot of positions. I haven't seen running backs run like that in a very long time."

South Carolina star tight end Weslye Saunders has been part of the NCAA probe, but he did not play against Southern Miss because of an unrelated team suspension.

South Carolina did not say why it held out two starters -- left tackle Jarriel King and cornerback Chris Culliver -- right before kickoff.

Georgia has won seven of the last nine games in the series.