It wasn’t a “bye” week, as Georgia was forced to dispatch of Appalachian State last Saturday, but it wasn’t exactly the normal SEC gauntlet for the Dawgs as they head in to Jordan-Hare Stadium to face Auburn on Saturday. Without further ado, let’s get to the preview.
Opponent: Auburn Tigers (9-1, 5-1 in SEC)
Time/TV: 3:30 pm, CBS
Georgia Offense vs. Auburn Defense
It’s probably an obvious statement to make, but this is the side of the ball where UGA is likely to make hay on Saturday. Todd Gurley is back with a vengeance, and the sophomore running back is averaging 5.9 yards per carry since returning from the injury. Gurley had a reduced workload (13 carries) against Appalachian State, but that was certainly opponent-based, and I would expect a full diet of the beast running back against an Auburn defense that has struggled a bit against the run, allowing 156.8 yards per game on 4.2 yards per carry.
Through the air, Aaron Murray wasn’t AARON MURRAY against Florida and Vanderbilt, but his weapons are slowing returning (Michael Bennett is already back and Chris Conley is expected to play here) and he was much crisper last week. That fact, coupled with an Auburn defense that has allowed big yardage through the air (nearly 240 yards per game), and I’d expect big things from Murray in his last conference road game.
With the somewhat negative statistical profile of Auburn’s defense, you’d probably be surprised to note that they rank 21st in the country (very solid) in points allowed at just 20.4 per game. The Auburn secondary has more interceptions (11) than they’ve allowed touchdowns (9), and it’s an opportunistic unit. Ball control and ball security will be crucial here, both to put up points and keep the electrifying Auburn offense off of the field.
Georgia Defense vs. Auburn Offense
Speaking of the Auburn offense, everything begins and ends with the running game. The Tigers have a startling four rushers with 500+ yards this season, and Tre Mason leads the way with 1,038 yards and 16 touchdowns in 10 games. He’s not overwhelming in size at 5-10 and 205 pounds, but Mason does it all, and the offense is perfectly suited to him.
Next to Mason, quarterback Nick Marshall is also a big-time ball carrier. Marshall has 734 rushing yards (on over 7 yards per carry) as a quarterback this season, and that is an element that always terrifies opposing defensive coordinators. He’s a multi-faceted player who can also beat you through the air, but his legs are his meal ticket at this stage. Depth also isn’t a question for Auburn, as both Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant have been terrific in backup duty, and there is a reason that the Tigers are 3rd in the country in total rushing yards.
In the passing game, Auburn isn’t nearly as threatening. Marshall is a capable passer, but the team is 108th in the country in passing yardage, and he isn’t a pinpoint accuracy guy. Georgia is susceptible to the big play through the air, though, and if Todd Grantham and company commit too much to stop the run, they could be beaten deep by Sammie Coates and company.
There is a scenario (a remote one, but still) where Georgia could win the SEC East with some big-time help from South Carolina and Missouri, but the Dawgs have to win this game to get that ball rolling. Auburn will be a significant favorite in the game due to venue and record, but it’s still a winnable spot for Mark Richt and company. It will likely come down to who wins on the line of scrimmage, as both teams desperately need to run the ball effectively, and my eyes will be focused on both the offensive and defensive lines.
Stay tuned for post-game coverage, and a live game thread that will open on Saturday morning. Check it out!