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University of Georgia and Austin Peay football players pile up during a football game at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia on Sept. 1, 2018. The University of Georgia football team played against Austin Peay State University for their first game of the season. (Photo/Christina Matacotta)

Georgia football finished its fifth week of practice as the Bulldogs prepare to face South Carolina on Sept. 8. Here are some of the observations from this week of practice.

Back to practice for McGhee, Godwin

After injuring his foot last month, junior defensive back Tyrique McGhee returned to practice this week ahead of the matchup against South Carolina. Should he make his season debut on Saturday, his experience at his position would give Georgia resistance against a Gamecock receiving group that is one of the best in the conference.

His potential return to gameplay would likely not be at the corner position, but instead either at safety or at Georgia’s STAR and money positions, which are variations of the typical nickel and dime spots.

“I didn’t notice him messing up a lot [at practice],” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said on Tuesday. “It seemed like he had fresher legs than some of the other guys, you know.”

On the other side of the ball, senior receiver Terry Godwin was seen at practice after missing Georgia’s opener against Austin Peay with a left knee injury. While his status for the South Carolina game is also uncertain, Smart was optimistic when he met with the media on Tuesday that Godwin will make the trip to Columbia based on the week of practice.

Emphasis on conditioning for the offensive line

The game against No. 24 South Carolina is slated to begin around 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, and it is expected to be hot. The 90-degree heat was not an insurmountable challenge for Georgia as it faced Austin Peay on Sept. 1, but the Bulldogs know the margin for error against a conference opponent is much slimmer.

One group that the heat impacts the most is the offensive line. These are some of the larger players on the field at any given time, and they are expected to be able to hustle off to the sideline on short notice and to run with the play as it develops. The importance of dominating the line of scrimmage cannot be overstated, so Smart has made sure the lineman are conditioning themselves to withstand the heat.

"We'll have one period way to the left on one field, we have to run way to the other field,” Solomon Kindley said on Wednesday. “Sometimes, when we're doing special teams — offensive linemen don't have special teams — we'll be running on the side, running 50's and everything. So, we're in good condition."

Jonathan Ledbetter wearing brace but still practicing 

Defensive lineman Jonathan Ledbetter was seen wearing a brace on his ankle in practice Wednesday, but the senior was still participating in drills the media viewing periods. It was reported by UGASports.com Ledbetter had suffered a sprained ankle in practice on Tuesday.

On Thursday, Ledbetter was named a captain for Saturday's game, seemingly indicating he will travel with the team to Columbia, South Carolina. Ledbetter totaled 38 tackles as a consistent starter during the 2017 season. 

Conference and national rankings on the line

Georgia has recent experience in marquee week two games, but Smart made sure to note the difference between 2017’s Notre Dame game and Saturday’s matchup against South Carolina.

“I don’t compare this to Notre Dame because our fan base was, it felt like, 50 percent of the fan base,” Smart said. “It won’t be that way in Columbia, let me assure you.”

One thing that the games have in common, though, is the national importance. Georgia was ranked No. 15 last season when it beat then-No. 24 Notre Dame, and it is No. 3 this week when it travels to No. 24 South Carolina. The Bulldogs are 6-5 under Smart when playing against ranked opponents.

The game this weekend has obvious regional importance, as well. South Carolina finished one spot behind Georgia in the SEC East last season, so the winner on Saturday could be in driver’s seat on the road to Atlanta for the conference championship.

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