Gus Malzahn

Georgia probably isn’t the best team on the Auburn football schedule, but overall the Bulldogs may be as talented as any opponent the Tigers will face this year.

Defensively, UGA is at the top of the important SEC statistical categories. Going into the 124th Auburn-Georgia matchup the Bulldogs are giving up just 10.1 points per contest. That is about as good as it gets. Only Ohio State (8.6 points per game) has a better average, and the Bulldogs are ranked fifth nationally in total defense, allowing 260.3 yards per game.

As the Tigers and Bulldogs prepare to resume the SEC’s oldest rivalry, the biggest concerns for Auburn appear to be consistently moving the football and finding ways to score against an opponent with plenty of talent and depth.

Since out-scoring the Bulldogs 40-17 two seasons ago at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the Tigers have managed just one touchdown in each of the last two meetings vs. Georgia in the 2017 SEC Championship Game (28-7) and at Sanford Stadium last year (28-10) in Athens.

Considering that Georgia’s defense has been the key to its success this year, Auburn has a major challenge on Saturday. The Bulldogs have been good at defending the pass and great at stopping the run, giving up an SEC-best 74.6 yards per game at 2.8 per carry. Even taking into consideration that the Bulldogs haven’t played a particularly tough schedule, Georgia’s run defense numbers are something to be taken seriously.

If Auburn is going to score enough points to win this week, it likely means that the Tigers are going to have to attack through the air and take advantage of their receiver talent by getting the football to Seth Williams, Anthony Schwartz, Eli Stove and others. In Auburn’s previous outing vs. Ole Miss prior to the bye week, Bo Nix completed passes to nine different receivers, a season high, which is a trend the Tigers need to continue in order to make themselves less predictable and more difficult to defend.

In the opening half of the Ole Miss game, the Tigers bumped up the tempo and substituted less. They certainly looked more dangerous playing that way. Although that aggressive style could possibly lead to quick three-and-outs and put extra pressure on Auburn’s defense, the group has been good at handling the challenges presented this year.

I like the odds of Auburn keeping Georgia from having a big scoring day at Jordan-Hare Stadium. A group talented enough to limit the hottest offensive team in the SEC to 23 points at LSU is strong enough to hold Georgia under that number.

For me, the big question on Saturday is can Auburn’s offense rise to the occasion? If that happens, despite the Bulldogs being the higher ranked team, Auburn will have a real chance to earn a second victory this season vs. a currently-ranked Top 10 opponent.

 

Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter

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