By Joe Vitale:
In an SEC clash on Saturday, Georgia hosts the No. 9 Auburn Tigers in the 120th renewal of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. Here are the particulars and pregame analysis.
Kickoff: Saturday, November 12. 3:30 p.m. EST
Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Georgia
TV: CBS (Verne Lundquist, play-by-play; Gary Danielson, color and Tracy Wolfson)
Georgia Radio: Athens 960 AM/106.1 FM; Atlanta 750 AM/95.5 FM; Macon 106.3 FM; Augusta 580 AM/95.1 FM; Savannah 1400 AM/104.3 FM; Columbus 1460 AM/100.1 FM; Valdosta 105.9 FM; Rome 107.1 FM (IMG Radio-Scott Howard, Eric Zeier, Chuck Dowdle)
Sirius/XM: Channel 80/191
Weather: High temperature of 65°, 45% humidity, 5 mph breeze, partly sunny.
Betting Odds: Spread: Auburn –10. Over/Under: 48.
Series history: Georgia leads the series 56-55-8. The first game was played in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park in 1892 and each of the next nine games were played in Atlanta. Other venues in the early years included Montgomery, Alabama, Savannah and Macon. Beginning in 1920, Georgia and Auburn met in Columbus for the next 28 out of 29 games, before moving to a home and away series in 1959. Georgia has won 8 out of the past 10 meetings and the last two games. Auburn hasn’t beaten Georgia in Athens since 2005 and the Dawgs are 13-17 all time in Athens versus the Tigers.
Last meeting: Georgia beat the Tigers in Jordan-Hare 20-13 in 2015.
Georgia players to watch:
OFFENSE- QB Jacob Eason, WR Javon Wims, WR Isaiah McKenzie, RB Sony Michel
DEFENSE- S Dominick Sanders, DL Trent Thompson, CB Malkom Parrish, OLB Lorenzo Carter
Auburn players to watch:
OFFENSE- QB Sean White, RB Kerryon Johnson, WR Tony Stevens, WR Kyle Davis
DEFENSE- DE Carl Lawson, DE Derrick Brown, DB Tray Matthews, DB Joshua Holsey
Georgia faces its latest tough challenge of the 2016 season as the Bulldogs host a determined Auburn (7-2, 5-1) team with a lot of momentum. Georgia (5-4, 3-4) snapped a two-game losing streak in Lexington last weekend with another fourth quarter, come from behind victory. Auburn rolls into Athens with six straight victories following a close win over Vanderbilt at home last week. The Tigers go as far as their rushing attack takes them and it has been quite formidable this season. Running back Kam Pettway leads the SEC in rushing with 1106 yards and a 6.39 average yards per carry. However, he is questionable on Saturday after a hamstring injury on Saturday. Kerryon Johnson is mostly healthy and can take on the rushing load if Pettway is unable to play. Quarterback Sean White leads the conference with a 9.1 yard average per passing attempt and completes 69.1% of his passes.
Georgia returns to Athens after defeating Kentucky 27-24, on a last-second field goal. Running back Sony Michel rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown while quarterback Jacob Eason threw for 245 yards and a touchdown. The Dawgs defense held Kentucky to 122 yards passing and will have to come up big once again to slow down Auburn’s balanced rushing and passing attack.
Don’t expect a lot of points in this one as Auburn is surrendering a stingy 16 points per game (4th best in the SEC) and Georgia is giving up 25.9 points per game.
When Georgia Has The Ball
Auburn is averaging 2.33 quarterback sacks per game and the offensive line will have to protect Jacob Eason against defensive end Carl Lawson, one of the SEC’s best. The Bednarik Award semifinalist ranks 10th nationally with 8.5 sacks and has recorded 23 hurries. Auburn is giving up 125 yards per game on the ground and Michel and Nick Chubb will have to be at their best. The Tigers pass defense isn’t particularly strong (230.4 yards per game, 11th in the conference) and they did surrender 221 yards to an anemic Vanderbilt passing game last week. The Dawgs simply have to take advantage of the Auburn secondary. I expect to see more passes in the seam to the slot receivers and tight ends as the emergence of Javon Wims and his ability to stretch the field should create opportunities for the talented tight ends corp.
When Auburn Has The Ball
Georgia will have its hands full with a Tigers’ offense that is firing on all cylinders. Auburn is averaging 299.8 yards per game on the ground (1st in the SEC). Quarterback Sean White is efficient and if Pettway is unavailable, DawgNation will see why Kerryon Johnson was the starting running back at the beginning of the season. 6’4″, 315-pound junior nose guard John Atkins will have to clog the middle and Trent Thompson and friends will have to win the battles in the trenches.
Additionally, the Dawgs need to finish tackles and fly to the ball. As Kirby Smart said after the Kentucky game, “Our tackling on defense is the most frustrating thing. We get hats in the right spot, and we don’t get the guy on the ground. We’ve got to tackle better in the stretch run, especially against Auburn.”
Keys to the game:
- Turnovers – Georgia has forced 18 turnovers this season (10 interceptions and 8 fumbles). The Bulldogs have to take advantage of these turnover opportunities and put points on the board.
- Red Zone Success- Auburn has the 19th-most red-zone possessions in the country, but its 51.2% touchdown rate ranks 115th among FBS teams. Georgia’s opponents have reached the end zone on 73.3% of their trips inside the 20-yard line, which is 121st in the nation. Something has to give on Saturday.
- Avoid the Auburn quick strike offense. The Tigers are going to get their points – just make them work for it. Dawgs can’t let wideouts Tony Stevens and Kyle Davis heat up in the passing game.
- Pound the line of scrimmage. The Georgia offensive line has to open some holes for Chubb and Michel. Burn some clock, give Eason a few 2nd and short opportunities and keep the Auburn offense on the sideline.
- See the ball, catch the ball. It seems simple but Georgia receivers have dropped too many passes this year, including a couple of potential touchdowns. Those dropped balls are momentum killers and are tough to overcome.
- The kicking game. Rodrigo Blankenship had a spectacular game against Kentucky and needs to come through again. Auburn’s Daniel Carlson is 20 –22 on field goal attempts and 83% of his kickoffs result in touchbacks. Field position will be crucial and Georgia’s Marshall Long has to punt well and keep the Tigers pinned deep in their territory.
Auburn controls its own destiny. Win out and the Tigers are playing in the SEC Championship game. Auburn is on a 6-game winning streak, including three blowouts and a convincing win over Ole Miss. The confidence keeps building on the Plains. After a much needed win last week, Georgia should have regained some of the confidence lost in disheartening losses to Tennessee and Vanderbilt. In addition, Georgia always plays well against Auburn and having the Tigers Between the Hedges for the Dawgs’ 2016 SEC finale will be a big boost to the young team.
Auburn opened as a 10- point favorite but the Dawgs are back “Between the Hedges’ and hopefully have some confidence after the Kentucky win. After a disappointing October, Georgia should have a bit of a Junkyard Dawg attitude and play with a nasty streak. Sanford Stadium will be loud and rocking as Georgia puts together the rushing and passing attack and the defensive front bottles up the Auburn running backs. Georgia was embarrassed in each of its three biggest SEC games of the year (Ole Miss, Tennessee, Florida) but the Dawgs played with great energy against Kentucky last week. The Bulldogs have dominated the Auburn series over the past decade and Kirby has this Redcoat train back on track.
GEORGIA 27 – AUBURN 23