1. Keep composure
There were 16 penalties for 162 yards combined in last year’s emotionally-charged game between these rivals. That doesn’t include offsetting penalties.
Coaches insisted that won’t spill over to chippy play this year.
“We’re focused,” Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “We’ve got a vision on something else.”
Auburn coach Gene Chizik said he didn’t “expect there to be any issues at all.”
Auburn defensive linemen Michael Goggans and Mike Blanc were ejected from the 49-31 Tigers win after getting personal fouls last year.
Nick Fairley was called for a personal foul in the third quarter on a play when he put his helmet into the back of quarterback Aaron Murray well after he released the ball. Murray left the game late in the fourth quarter after Fairley hit Murray’s left knee with his helmet after being partially blocked on the play.
Except for the Vanderbilt game, penalties haven’t been much of an issue for Georgia, which has the fourth fewest penalties in the SEC.
2. Be alert against Tigers offense
Georgia won’t have to contend with the type of playmaker at quarterback that it did last year with Cam Newton, but the Bulldogs must still deal with Gus Malzhan’s up-tempo offensive scheme.
“You’ve got to know your calls because things happen pretty fast,” Grantham said. “You’ve got to know your fits because they’ll test you with formations.”
Georgia’s defense was hurt by reverses in last year’s game.
“That offense can trick you,” Georgia linebacker Mike Gilliard said. “We have to go out and play assignment football.”
3. Hit the big play
Auburn’s defense has been vulnerable to the big play.
LSU threw touchdown passes to Reuben Randle of 46 and 42 yards to break open the game in a 45-10 rout on Oct. 22. Arkansas’ Joe Adams scored on a 92-yard touchdown run to start the second half in a 38-14 Razorbacks win on Oct. 7.
“That’s kind of been our emphasis defensively,” Chizik said. “I think we’ve certainly gotten a lot better since the beginning of the year at getting off field on third downs.”
4. Pressure Moseley
Auburn quarterback Clint Moseley was sacked six times in his lone road start at LSU. The Tigers rank 81 st in the nation in sacks allowed at 2.3 per game. Georgia is second in the conference in sacks with 2.2 per game, but didn’t register any in its rout of New Mexico State last week. Moseley has completed 24 of 35 passes for 305 yards in two games with four touchdown passes, all against Ole Miss in the Tigers’ last game.
5. Convert on third down
If Georgia can get into some manageable third down situations, chances are they will have the upper hand against Auburn. The Tigers are last in the SEC and 100 th nationally in third down defense with opponents converting on 46.6 percent of their chances. Even Ole Miss converted on 7 of 15 tries in a loss to Auburn two weeks ago.
Offense Edge: Georgia
Auburn quarterback Clint Moseley gets his third college start. The 6-3, 217-pound sophomore completed 12 of 15 passes for `160 yards against Ole Miss. The Tigers scored 17 or fewer points in four straight games before a 41-23 win over Ole Miss in their last game on Oct. 29.
“We’ve got to execute and we’ve got to protect the quarterback,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said.
Moseley replaced Barrett Trotter as starting quarterback. The Tigers are 108 th nationally in passing offense. Only Kentucky has thrown for less yards in the SEC. Emory Blake leads the Tigers with 24 catches for 404 yards. His five touchdowns are tied for the team lead with tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen.
The Tigers were the sixth highest scoring team when they met Georgia last year. They are 70th now, averaging 26.1 points a game, which is seventh in the SEC.
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray threw five touchdown passes last week—in the second quarter alone. He has 23 touchdown passes and needs three more to break Matthew Stafford’s program record.
Isaiah Crowell and Carlton Thomas return from their one game-suspensions. Crowell has three games rushing for more than 100-yards this season, but rushed for 58, 35 and 81 in his last three games.
Georgia’s offensive line is thin after the loss of injured starter Dallas Lee for the regular season, but the Bulldogs have rushed for 258 and 185 yards the last two games.
“Physically we’ve controlled the line of scrimmage,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “The guys keep getting better in assignments. …In this league it’s pretty much won in the trenches.”
Receiver Malcolm Mitchell is expected to play for the first time since Oct. 8 after being out with a pulled hamstring. Even without him, the Bulldogs are now second in the SEC in passing offense at 175.6 yards per game.
Defense Edge: Georgia
Mike Bobo was certainly thrilled not to see Nick Fairley on Auburn’s defensive line anymore when he watched gamefilm.
“They have got good young players,” the Bulldogs’ offensive coordinator said. “There are a lot of sophomores and freshmen up there that are talented guys. They remind me of Florida a little bit.”
Maybe so, but Auburn ranks 10 th or lower in the SEC in rushing defense (10 th , 185.7), pass efficiency defense (11 th , 103.7), total defense (11 th , 400.7) and scoring defense (11 th , 27.7).
Bobo said Auburn plays better in the second half. The flip side is the Tigers have been outscired 85-40 in the second quarter.
“They believe they can win no matter the situation so we’ve got to play four quarters,” Bobo said.
Safety Neiko Thrope leads the Tigers with 69 tackles. Defensive end Corey Lemonier has a 6 ½ sacks.
During its seven-game winning streak, Georgia’s defense has held opponents to 20 or fewer points six times.
Georgia is third in the SEC in total defense behind only Alabama and LSU.
The Bulldogs are giving up 282 yards per game.
Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones continues to lead the SEC in sacks (8) and tackles for loss (14).
Special Teams Edge: Auburn
Georgia coach Mark Richt wasn’t tipping his hand on whether he will continue to rotate kickers Blair Walsh and Brandon Bogotay like he did last week when they alternated on kickoffs and point after but did not attempt a field goal.
Walsh is 13 of 23 this season, but has two of the top 10 longest field goals in the Football Bowl Subdivision from 56 (tied for longest) and 53. Bogotay has one career field goal try, a miss last season from 35 yards.
Auburn is fourth in the SEC in kickoff returns at 24.0. Tre Mason averages 27.4 yards a return and scored on a 97-yard return against Utah State. Auburn ranks fourth in the SEC in net punting. Steven Clark averages 40.1 yards per punt. Georgia’s Drew Butler is now at 43.1 yards, fifth in the SEC. Tigers kicker Cody Parkey has made 11 of 14 field goals, with a long of 43.
Coaching Edge: Even
Richt has guided his team from an 0-2 start to the verge of the program’s first trip to the SEC title game since 2005. He’s taken advantage of a generous SEC schedule, but his team has avoided the type of letdown that it had last season. Auburn’s Gene Chizik is 33-27 in five seasons at Auburn and Iowa State. He is 28-8 with the Tigers. The game matches two of the highest paid coordinators in college football in Tigers offensive coordinator Gus Malzhan and Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.
Auburn has had two weeks to prepare for this game. Georgia doesn’t have to look over its shoulder anymore to see what South Carolina is doing, but how will the Bulldogs react with the path to the SEC East title in its own hands? Or if they get word that South Carolina has beaten Florida and the Bulldogs need the win to stay on track to getting to Atlanta? Georgia gets a big stage with a CBS marquee game at home.
Overall Edge: Georgia
Auburn clinched a spot in the SEC title game with a victory against Georgia last year. The Bulldogs could do the same or move closer with a victory today. This is a transition year for Auburn. It’s a year of resurgence for a Georgia team that still needs to put the cap on its comeback regular season by winning this pivotal game. The Bulldogs should because they have the better defense and the better quarterback.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Auburn running game vs. Georgia run defense
Auburn lost the Southeastern Conference’s leading rusher from last season in quarterback Cam Newton but it still moves the ball best on the ground.
“We’re definitely a run-first team and it’s kind of what we hang our hat on offensively,” tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen said. “Just try to rush the ball and pound the ball up the middle.”
Sophomore Michael Dyer (989 yards, nine touchdowns) averages nearly 21 carries a game and junior Onterio McCalebb (448 yards, two touchdowns )brings speed on the outside to a Tigers’ offense that ranks second in the SEC in rushing at 191.1 yards per game.
“They’ve got a couple of different runners that can do a different style of things,” Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “I think they’ve got two really good running backs. I think they’ll test us and we’ll just have to play our game and play physical and do the things that we have to do to play well.”
Georgia is eighth nationally in rushing defense at 91.1 yards per game, good for third in the SEC.
“One thing we’ve got to do is stay humble and don’t get complacent and we’ll be fine,” linebacker Mike Gillard said.
The Bulldogs have become more stout in the second year of Grantham’s 3-4.
“I think it’s night and day,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “They’re very physical in the run game, the run fits have improved tremendously, which generally happens under a new coordinator in the second year where the run game and what you’re doing just comes with a much greater comfort level.”
Auburn gained 315 of its 463 yards of offense against Georgia last year on the ground, including 151 from and two touchdowns from Newton.
McCalebb rushed for 77 yards and three touchdowns.
“He’s a fast guy,” Grantham said. “He’s a little bit like the guys from Florida (Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps). If he gets on the edge, he can take it to the house and is a home run guy.”
Dyer rushed for 60 yards last year against the Bulldogs/
“They’re probably the best tandem in the SEC,” Lutzenkirchen said. “It’s kind of a thunder and lightning type deal. When they get going, we’ve got a chance to win games.”
Georgia’s run defense has led to more third-and-long situations, which the Bulldogs have taken advantage of to rank third in the nation at 28 percent.
“That’s really another reason why you don’t see as many rushing yards because we are getting them off the field,” coach Mark Richt said.
—The Tigers lead the series 54-52-8. It is tied with Oregon-Oregon State for the seventh most played rivalry in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Auburn leads 18-11 in games played in Athens.
—Auburn is 9-4 against ranked teams under Gene Chizik, including 2-3 in road games. The Tigers beat ranked Mississippi State and South Carolina this year and lost to Arkansas and LSU.
—A win would give the Bulldogs six conference victories in a row in the same season for the first time since 1982. Georgia won 23 straight SEC games from 1980-83.
—The Bulldogs are 29-31 against ranked teams under Mark Richt, including 0-2 this season. Georgia lost to No. 5 Boise State 35-21 and No. 12 South Carolina 45-42 on Sept. 10.