Fresh off locking up their place in the SEC title game, the No. 5 Georgia Bulldogs will get reprieve from the rigors of conference competition on Saturday when they take on the Georgia Southern Eagles.
Georgia locked up its trip to Atlanta last week by defeating Auburn 38-0 and will have two non-conference contests to finish out the regular season. With a matchup against rival Georgia Tech looming next week, the Bulldogs will have to be careful to not overlook the seemingly overmatched Eagles.
Georgia Southern, meanwhile, will simply go out and do its best to ruin the Bulldogs' BCS championship dreams. The game may be mostly scheduled to get the school a fat check, but the players and coaches certainly won't see it that way.
With that in mind, here is a look at everything you need to know about Saturday's contest.
When: Saturday, Nov. 17 at 1:30 p.m. ET
Where: Sanford Stadium in Athens, GA
Watch: ESPN GamePlan
Betting Line: There is no betting line available at this time.
Georgia State Injuries (via Covers)
There are no major injuries to report at this time.
Georgia Injuries (via USA Today)
G Chris Burnette, Shoulder, Questionable
FB Merritt Hall, Ankle, Questionable
LB Chase Vasser, Shoulder, Questionable
DE Dexter Morant, Illness, Questionable
SE Marlon Brown, Knee, Out for Season
DE Abry Jones, Ankle, Out for Season
LB Sterling Bailey, Thumb, Out
LB Brandon Burrows, Hand, Out
SE Michael Bennett, Knee, Out for Season
FB Brandon Harton, Thumb, Out
Top 25/BCS Implications
Already sitting behind the Alabama Crimson Tide for the top-ranked one-loss team spot, Georgia will undoubtedly lose some computer points regardless of the result on Saturday. Playing an FCS school at this juncture of the season is always risky, and the Bulldogs will have to take the medicine of scheduling a cupcake.
Nonetheless, it's by how much Georgia wins this game that will determine how far the team falls. Anything resembling a close contest will undoubtedly move the Bulldogs down both in the computer polls and the human polls.
However, a blowout will keep them afloat enough to not dash the team's national championship game hopes just yet.
What They're Saying
While their FCS regular season may be over, Georgia Southern still has a good shot at making the playoffs. The school's official press release on the game outlines what happens for the Eagles in most scenarios in the Southern Conference:
Georgia Southern’s conference slate of games may be over, but the Eagles can still capture the Southern Conference’s automatic bid if The Citadel defeats Furman Saturday. A win for the Bulldogs would tie them for fourth place with Samford and force a three-way tie that can not be broken by comparing the records of GSU, Appalachian State and Wofford against teams No. 4-9 in the SoCon standings. The next tie breaker is points allowed in SoCon games, which would give the Eagles the league’s automatic bid into the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Georgia is far more concerned with its standing in the BCS picture. The Bulldogs have been red-hot of late and the defense has been a big reason why. A massively improved unit since losing to South Carolina earlier in the season, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham credited his guys with fighting to get better after the loss.
Here is what Grantham said, via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Tim Tucker:
We’ve got a lot of prideful guys, but also I think we’ve got some guys that have gotten better and more comfortable in the way they’re playing over these few weeks. I think the combination of the pride and work ethic these guys have (and) the ability to stay the course, that’s the key thing. When things aren’t going well, you’ve got to believe in what you’re doing and stay the course. If you do that, you get through things. That’s really what we’ve done.
Georgia Southern Player to Watch: QB Jerick McKinnon
While the Bulldogs certainly have a massive talent advantage, Georgia Southern has one of the more unique rushing attacks in the nation. Leading that charge is Jerick McKinnon, who took over at quarterback early in the season and has been fantastic ever since.
Last week against Howard, the junior star ran for 198 yards and three touchdowns on just 16 carries, bringing him over the 1,000-yard mark on the season. He's the third 1,000-yard rusher for the Eagles in as many seasons, but the first to do it in regular season play during that time frame.
Needless to say, he won't be facing Howard-level competition on Saturday. Georgia has given up a mere 19 points over its past three games and has allowed a meager 1.9 yards per carry in those contests.
For Georgia State to have any chance of coming away with anything but a nice check, McKinnon will have to buck that trend. Otherwise, the short ride back to Statesboro might feel like a cross-country flight.
Georgia Player to Watch: QB Aaron Murray
Poor performances against Florida and South Carolina aside, Aaron Murray's season has actually been pretty phenomenal.
The junior signal-caller has thrown for 2,656 yards and 24 touchdowns against just seven interceptions while completing a career-high 65.8 percent of his throws. He's been especially great since failing against the Gators, throwing 592 yards and seven touchdowns in the past two contests.
Considering the Bulldogs will want to turn this game into a blowout as soon as possible, Murray's continued greatness is paramount. If the Georgia quarterback can come out and end all hopes of an upset early, the team can pack its bags and run out the second half without getting anyone injured.
However, if he has an unforeseen poor performance, it could put the Bulldogs at the mercy of their running attack. It's been fruitful all season, but likely would not lead to the blowout Georgia desperately needs on Saturday.
Key Matchup: Todd Gurley/Keith Marshall vs. Georgia Southern Run Defense
If Murray struggles out of the gate (unlikely), then Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt will undoubtedly start relying on his star running backs to make big plays.
Todd Gurley has burst onto the scene this season and made a name for himself as one of the SEC's most explosive backs. For the season he has 973 yards and 11 touchdowns and is among the leaders in rushes of 20-plus yards.
Fellow freshman Keith Marshall has not been much worse, though his production has fluctuated far more than Gurley's.
While not a juggernaut by any stretch of the imagination, Georgia Southern has a relatively strong run defense. The team allows a meager 3.6 yards per carry on the season and is inside the Top 40 in the FCS in total rushing yards allowed.
Expecting the Eagles to stop Gurley and Marshall is unrealistic. But it's not out of the realm of possibilities that they slow the two stars down enough to make life difficult on the Georgia offense.
Obviously, the question with this contest isn't whether or not the Bulldogs will win, but by how much.
The answer: By a lot, but not as much as you may think. Look for Georgia Southern to control possession well enough to not turn this game into a complete embarrassment.
Score Prediction: Georgia 38, Georgia Southern 7