The Iron Bowl set the table for the 2017 SEC Championship. Auburn knocked off the No. 1 program in the country to secure a rematch with Georgia Saturday at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Whenever Alabama loses a football game, it's a big deal. On Saturday, head coach Nick Saban fell short against a perpetual thorn in his side:
Nick Saban has an archenemy. Its name is Auburn. https://t.co/D3u1DEEXFT2017-11-26 00:00:05
There's a great deal of respect for Saban's track record at Alabama and LSU, but when Auburn plays well throughout the season, it's a tough program to beat even for the iconic collegiate head coach.
You can call it fate or optimism, but Tigers quarterback Jarrett Stidham saw this destination for his squad a year ago:
ESPN CollegeFootball @ESPNCFB
One year ago, Jarrett Stidham predicted Auburn would be playing for the SEC Championship. https://t.co/QNafNtG7AV2017-11-26 00:54:07
Running back and jumping passer Kerryon Johnson made the trip to Atlanta possible for the Tigers. He ran for 104 yards, scored as a ball-carrier and threw a touchdown pass.
Unfortunately, the junior tailback exited the game with a shoulder injury. Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn didn't have specifics on the ailment, per Ryan Brown of WJOX 94.5 FM:
Ryan Brown @RyanBrownWJOX
Malzahn on Kerryon Johnson injury: “he’s got a shoulder issue, we’ll see where we’re at.”2017-11-26 00:23:52
The Tigers offense would take a major hit without Johnson. Let's project expectations for the SEC Championship Game.
What: 2017 SEC Championship Game
Who: Auburn Tigers vs. Georgia Bulldogs
Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
When: Saturday, December 2
Time: 4 p.m. ET
National TV: CBS
More Touches for Kam Martin?
We'll start with the obvious. The Tigers won't rule out Johnson unless he suffered a severe shoulder injury. Auburn will want Georgia to expect to face the 1,000-yard running back. However, the coaching staff will likely prepare sophomore ball-carrier Kam Martin for more touches. According to Brown, Malzahn isn't worried about Martin's injury:
Ryan Brown @RyanBrownWJOX
Malzahn on Kam Martin: “I think he’s fine.”2017-11-26 00:31:45
At less than 100 percent, don't expect the junior running back to see 30 carries like he did against the Crimson Tide.
Without Johnson and Kamryn Pettway, who's been out since his three-touchdown performance against Arkansas in October, Martin would take the spotlight in the backfield. It's not ideal, but Malzahn must embrace the next-man-up approach.
On November 11, Johnson rushed for 167 yards and ran down the sideline for a long 55-yard touchdown reception in the win against Georgia. If he can't suit up, it's a major headache the Bulldogs don't have to worry about.
More Pressure on Jarrett Stidham's Arm
Regardless of Johnson's status, the Tigers will need their quarterback to deliver in the pocket. He's been efficient and held turnovers to a minimum through the 2017 campaign. The Baylor transfer has only recorded one 300-plus yard passing game, but he's executed when necessary and avoided careless errors.
On Saturday, the Tigers may need a little more from Stidham to beat the Bulldogs. He doesn't have to view the upcoming matchup as a passing duel with Georgia signal-caller Jake Fromm. However, it's important for the Auburn passer to keep the chains moving if the ground attack sputters without its lead back at 100 percent.
Look for Stidham to establish his throwing rhythm early in the game. The backfield's success will determine how much heavy lifting the quarterback needs to win the contest.
Don't Expect a Blowout in Auburn vs. Georgia Part 2
Expect a close SEC Championship Game. It's tough to beat any worthy opponent twice in one season—let alone in blowout fashion.
Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart will put Week 11's 40-17 defeat on repeat for his players as motivation throughout the week. Fromm and senior running back Nick Chubb will lick their chops at an opportunity to avenge an ugly road loss.
This time, Georgia will have home-field advantage at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Bulldogs should also field the more potent ground attack with Chubb and Sony Michel. The duo won't finish with another dud under the bright lights.
The Bulldogs will soak in the atmosphere and claim the SEC title. The victory would put Georgia back in the College Football Playoff conversation with Alabama lurking as a one-loss non-conference champion. Georgia needs style points in the win to elevate its resume.
Nonetheless, the Bulldogs win a big matchup with Auburn to finish their one-loss 2017 campaign.
Prediction: Georgia 27, Auburn 17