Respect your rival
Georgia’s opponent may be the worst team in the SEC this season not named Kentucky. That should be a lesson in itself given that the Bulldogs didn’t exactly blow the doors off the Wildcats last month in Lexington, Ky. Auburn would love nothing more than to keep Georgia from the SEC championship game. The Bulldogs need to play with inspiration despite the fact the Tigers don’t have an SEC win yet this season.
Auburn is 118th out of 120 FBS teams in third-down offense, converting 28.8 percent of the time. Only Idaho and Eastern Michigan are worse.
“Getting the running game going is imperative,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “First and second down and manageable third down is really the key, and obviously the key is first and second down and being able to run the ball on some of those downs; even being able to run the ball on third down, too, is really critical when you have a young quarterback.”
Give freshmen backs the ball
Todd Gurley should get fed the ball plenty tonight for Georgia. Keith Marshall needs to get his touches as well.
Georgia could make it a long night for an Auburn defense that is last in the SEC in stopping the run at 199.2 yards per game.
Gurley (922 yards and 15 touchdowns on 138 carries) trails only Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel among SEC rushers.
The Bulldogs rushed for 304 yards against Auburn last season in a 45-7 rout.
Start fast, finish strong
Auburn fell behind 42-0 at halftime against Texas A&M two weeks ago and the Tigers led just 7-0 at halftime last week against New Mexico State. In fact, the Tigers have been shutout in the first quarter the past five games. Auburn hasn’t finished strong, either. The Tigers were outscored 69-6 in the fourth quarter before last week’s game.
Limit turnovers, force them
Auburn hasn’t shown explosiveness on offense. The last thing Georgia needs is to provide the Tigers a short field by coughing up the ball or throwing an interception in its own territory. The Tigers are last in the nation in interceptions with one. Auburn is 13th in the SEC in turnover margin at minus-9.
WHO HAS THE EDGE
Auburn ranks 13th out of 14 teams in the SEC in passing offense (161.8 yards per game), total offense (305.2) and scoring offense (19.2). The Tigers rank 109th or lower nationally in all three categories.
Auburn tailback Tre Mason (706 rushing yards) ran for a career-high 152 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries against New Mexico State last week. Receiver Emory Blake (39 catches, 609 yards, three touchdowns) for praise this week.
Auburn is on its third starting quarterback after Kiehl Frazier and Clint Moseley have now made way for freshman Jonathan Wallace, who was being used in a wildcat like capacity earlier. Wallace completed 9 of 16 passes for 164 yards with a touchdown and interception against New Mexico State.
Georgia’s Mark Beard is in line to get his first start at offensive left tackle. Georgia could be shuffling its line with Chris Burnette possibly out with a shoulder injury.
Quarterback Aaron Murray is now up to sixth in the nation in passing efficiency, but he’s now without two of his top receivers — Marlon Brown and Michael Bennett — who are out for the season with torn ACLs. Malcom Mitchell and Tavarres King will have to step up as Murray’s big targets.
Georgia gave up nine points to Florida and 10 to Ole Miss the past two weeks. The Bulldogs are still seventh in the SEC in total defense (341.3) and scoring defense (20.89) but they have looked like one of the best the past two games.
Georgia has forced nine turnovers the past two games. Cornerback Damian Swann had two fumble recoveries last week and Alec Ogletree had an interception and 11 tackles.
Brian VanGorder’s first Auburn defense doesn’t resemble any that the former Georgia defensive coordinator had in Athens, as the Tigers are surrendering 428.67 yards per game.
They held LSU in check in a 12-10 loss, but Texas A&M scored touchdowns on all six possessions in the first half of a 63-21 loss.
Auburn linebacker Daren Bates returned a fumble 62 yards for a touchdown against New Mexico State last week. Corey Lemonier has 14½ career sacks, including five this season.
Onterrio McCalebb is third in the SEC on kickoff returns with a 25.6-yard average and returned a kick 100 yards for a touchdown against Mississippi State. Auburn leads the SEC and is sixth nationally in kickoff coverage. Auburn and Georgia each are averaging 7.5 yards a return on punts. Auburn kicker Cody Parkey is 11 of 14 on field goals, with a long of 53. Georgia’s Marshall Morgan is 6 of 9, with a long of 52. Auburn punter Steven Clark is 12th in the SEC in punting average at 41.1, one spot ahead of Georgia’s Collin Barber at 40.4.
Gene Chizik is 37-36 as a head coach, including two years at Iowa State and 32-17 in four seasons at Auburn. He is 1-2 against Georgia. Mark Richt is 114-39 overall in his 12th season. He is 7-4 against Auburn. Both of Richt’s former defensive coordinators will be coaching for Auburn — defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder on the sideline and secondary coach Willie Martinez in the coaches’ box.
Georgia players have been saying all the right things this week about having their minds right for a game they simply must win. It would be easy to dismiss Auburn, but the rivalry aspect and the high stakes of winning the SEC East should counter that.
Auburn won three of the first five games against Georgia under Richt, but the Bulldogs have won five of the last six games. There’s no reason to think that trend will change. Georgia has won during that stretch by an average of 19.2 points. Auburn could stick with the Bulldogs early like Ole Miss did when it went out to a 10-0 lead, but talent and the superior team will win the day. That means Georgia will win a spot in the SEC championship game.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Georgia pass rush vs. Auburn offensive line and QB
Auburn is on its third starting quarterback and has given up more sacks than anyone in the SEC.
That could be a bad combination going up against a Georgia defense that is hitting its stride.
“There’s only one way to find out if it’s a bad combination,” Georgia nose guard John Jenkins said.
Quarterback Jonathan Wallace, a freshman with mobility, will make his second start.
“I don’t really think freshmen understand the game like everybody else,” Georgia linebacker Amarlo Herrera said. “Just confuse him and rattle his cage.”
Auburn coach Gene Chizik said going from New Mexico State to to Georgia “is night and day. … The speed and intensity with which they blitz and pressure and move around will be completely different than last week.”
Auburn, which has given up 29 sacks, starts a true freshman at right tackle in Patrick Miller and a redshirt freshman at left tackle in Greg Robinson.
“We’ve had some moments when we’ve been OK and we’ve had some moments where we haven’t been very good,” Chizik said of his line. “It’s not always on the offensive line. As a whole, protection-wise we wish and hope that we play much better. We know against these guys we’re going to have to without question.”
Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said “it’s not always an offensive line issue. Obviously, the quarterback is the most mobile guy that they have right now. Anytime you have issues like that, it’s an accumulation of a lot of things. The big thing for us is to understand that they’re going to come with everything they’ve got and we’ve got to match their intensity.”
Georgia has nine of its 20 sacks the past two games.
“They manhandled us and beat us up front,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said of a game when the Rebels were sacked four times and held to 46 rushing yards.
Linebacker Jarvis Jones is second in the SEC with 8½ sacks and leads in tackles for loss with more than 2.14 per game.
“It’s not just the looks, you’ve got some really, really high-powered blitzes coming in terms of intensity and force,” Chizik said. “We’ve got to be work hard on that not only to pick up the right guy, but be able to physical enough to be able to stop them, so they can’t press the pocket so our quarterback can still see.”
“From what I think about Georgia, they are going to come for me and I’m going to have to make some plays Saturday,” Wallace told reporters. “That’s just what it’s going to come down to. Of course, we’re going to be able to run the ball some, but it’s really going to come down to whether or not I’m going to be able to make the plays that need to be made.”
Georgia knows it’s playing in the SEC title game with a victory tonight. Alabama will clinch the SEC West by beating Texas A&M today or Auburn on Nov. 24. Texas A&M is the only other West team still alive to get to Atlanta, but needs Alabama to lose twice and the Aggies to beat Alabama and Missouri.
This marks the sixth night game of the season for Georgia. It is 5-1 in those games. Georgia beat Missouri, Florida Atlantic, Vanderbilt and Kentucky and lost to South Carolina. The Bulldogs are 35-13 under Mark Richt in night games.
Running back Onterio McCalebb is third among active rushers in the SEC with 2,469 yards. He trails only Vanderbilt’s Zac Stacy (2,754 yards) and injured Marcus Lattimore from South Carolina (2,677). McCalebb has 22 career rushing touchdowns.
The Tigers lead the series 54-53-8 in a series that begin in 1892 in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park. This is the 69th consecutive meeting between the teams. Georgia has outscored Auburn 1854-1,778.
“It’s a rival, it’s a big game. Everybody looks forward to Georgia-Auburn, playing that game. There’s a lot of familiarity always between coaching staffs, players that you recruited. It’s one of those games that you like to play in.”
— Georgia offensive coordinator and former Bulldogs quarterback Mike Bobo
“With the rivalry that we obviously have with them and the importance of the game for us, I’m sure they’ll be ready to play. We’ve got to make sure we match that intensity and are ready to answer to the challenge.”
— Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham
“We’ve got to control our emotions and just be level-headed. We’ve got to go out there and execute from the jump and get off the field on third down. That’s why I’ve been preaching all week and that’s what our coaches have been preaching all week.”
— Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones
“Those guys spending that much time there, I’m sure that there’s things that are coming back that as you watch the film and you say, ‘I remember that in practice,’ that certainly can’t hurt you.”
— Auburn coach Gene Chizik on former Georgia defensive coordinators Brian VanGorder and Willie Martinez being on the Tigers’ staff