Auburn vs. Georgia: Complete Game Preview
Though both teams may be saddled with two losses, Saturday's game between the Auburn Tigers and the Georgia Bulldogs still carries conference implications galore.
Auburn (7-2 overall, 4-2 in the conference) currently sits fourth in the SEC West but remains very much in the division race thanks to a tiebreaker over Ole Miss and the ability to garner a tiebreaker over Alabama with an Iron Bowl win to close out the season. Of course, even the best-laid plans and loftiest of hopes mean nothing if the Tigers can't first get by the Bulldogs this weekend.
Similarly, Georgia (7-2 overall, 5-2 in conference) is hoping that by winning out and getting help in the form of a loss from Missouri it will sneak back to Atlanta for its third SEC Championship Game appearance in four seasons. But again, the first step to making that dream a reality is beating Auburn.
Here's what you need to know about this pivotal matchup between two bitter rivals:
- Date: Saturday, November 15
- Time: 7:15 p.m. ET
- Place: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Georgia
- TV: ESPN
- Radio: Georgia Bulldogs Radio Network, AU Sports Network
- Spread: Georgia (-2), per Odds Shark
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all stats accessed via Sports-Reference.com.
Todd Gurley Returns
What impact will the return of Todd Gurley have on the game? Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee and Michael Felder discuss.
Auburn Keys to Victory
Turnovers had not plagued Auburn over the preceding two years until the Tigers turned the ball over twice in the waning moments of a 41-38 loss to Texas A&M last weekend.
Now, the Tigers have a real reason to worry. The late game mishaps were uncharacteristic but turnovers tend to come in waves—especially against a defense like Georgia's. To date, the Bulldogs rank among the nation's best in turnovers forced thanks to eight fumble recoveries and 11 interceptions in just nine games. And Georgia likes to pick up turnovers in swarms—just ask Missouri and Arkansas.
Auburn cannot give Georgia's potent offense extra opportunities while simultaneously squandering possessions of its own.
Contain the Run
One of the best running backs in the country, Todd Gurley, is coming back for Georgia this week, and surprisingly Georgia's ground attack has held up fine without him.
Georgia has three running backs (Gurley, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel) with 300 or more rushing yards and five or more total touchdowns, and Auburn will have to account for each man, as each back is averaging more than 6.7 yards per carry.
To be fair, it's unreasonable to expect Auburn to stop Georgia's ground attack. The Bulldogs are averaging well over 250 rushing yards per game, and the last four contests have been without Gurley. But, Auburn must limit long, clock-eating drives that rely solely on plodding six-, seven- or eight-yard runs. Those possessions will deplete Auburn's defense while also keeping the Tigers' prolific offense in check.
Auburn should commit to stacking the box and making quarterback Hutson Mason win the game. Even if he is successful, it will likely be with quick scoring strikes that allow the Tigers offense back on the field quickly.
Georgia Keys to Victory
With three minutes left in the Texas A&M game, Auburn was in a familiar place—driving the field for a dramatic win. Then it was gone. Now, for the first time since the 2012 season, Auburn appears out of national championship contention.
If Georgia can get out to a fast start, this Auburn team may unwittingly roll over. After all, the Tigers are no longer locks for the College Football Playoff even if they were to win the SEC. And falling behind early after having hopes and dreams shattered seven days earlier could provide enough discouragement to discount the team's ambitions.
Georgia doesn't need to get fancy early, but the Dawgs do need to execute at a high level from the onset.
Physical Up Front
The Florida Gators ran all over the Georgia Bulldogs and in some ways offered a blue print for beating the red and black. Auburn, a run-heavy offense to begin with, had to have loved watching that game.
Fortunately, the Bulldogs appeared more stout up front against Kentucky last weekend and, in the process, were largely able to contain Kentucky's ground attack. Nonetheless, the Wildcat offensive line never figured to contend with the cohesive unit at Auburn.
Georgia's ability to get a defensive push up front will define this game. Both team's have high-profile offenses, and both have defenses that are subject to struggles from time to time. If Georgia can mask this weakness, it can come away with a win.
Auburn Players to Watch
Nick Marshall, a former Georgia defensive back, has been outstanding this year. Not only has he improved as a passer (as measured by completion percentage, yards per attempt and quarterback rating) over last year, but he also remains a threat on the ground. His 698 rushing yards rank second on the team, and his 11 touchdowns on the ground lead the Tigers.
If last year's performance was any indication, Marshall will play well against Georgia. In 2013, he passed for 229 yards and a score while adding 89 rushing yards and two more touchdowns on the ground against the Dawgs.
Now a senior, Marshall would love to go out with another victory over his former team. He has the tools to make that happen.
A physically gifted receiver, Coates seems specifically designed to torch Georgia's secondary. If the Bulldogs hone in on the ground attack of Auburn, Coates could have a field day in one-on-one matchups, which is what he's done most of this season.
Auburn doesn't throw the football very often (around 24 pass attempts per game relative to 48 rushes per contest), but when it does, Coates is a prime target. The 6'2", 201-pound junior has hauled in just 20 passes this season, but he's averaging 20.8 yards per game.
A catch or two for Coates bodes well for Auburn's offense.
Georgia Players to Watch
There may not be another player in the country more worth watching than Todd Gurley. In five games prior to his suspension, Gurley amassed the following statistical totals:
- Kick Returns: 147 Yards, 1 Touchdown
- Rushing: 773 Yards, 8 Touchdowns
- Receiving: 53 Yards
- Passing: 50 Yards
And, Gurley has always played well against Auburn. Last year, he amassed 156 yards of offense and one touchdown. As a freshman in 2012, he turned a meager 11 carries into 116 rushing yards and a touchdown.
It probably doesn't bode well for Auburn that Gurley is both fresh (thanks to more rest than anyone wanted him to get) and angry. Look for him to have a special day.
An emotional leader of this defense and a four-year starter, Amarlo Herrera will be instrumental in aligning Georgia's defense and serving as an on-the-field coach.
Georgia's ability to stop the run starts with defensive-line penetration but finishes with Herrera and a heralded crew of talented linebackers. If he plays the type of game he's known for—smart, physical, aggressive—his teammates will feed off of him.
Herrera has 294 career tackles. Look for him to add 10 or 12 more against Auburn. But his most valuable attributes may not show up on the stat sheet.
What They're Saying
Stopping Todd Gurley
According to Brandon Marcello of AL.com, Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson doesn't have a definitive plan for stopping Georgia's star running back.
"We'll probably have to try a little bit of everything," Johnson confessed. "Nobody's stopped him and some of them slowed him down a little bit. The only guy that stopped him was the autograph guy."
There's a high degree of truth to that sentiment, as Gurley has been on an absolute tear since he arrived at Georgia. When healthy and free of suspension, he's hard to stop.
Georgia's Rush Defense Still a Work in Progress
"We did a better job, but we didn't do a perfect job," he offered. "Auburn is one of the very best running teams in America. Everybody is having trouble stopping them run the football."
If Georgia doesn't find an answer, Georgia won't find a win.
The Deep South's Oldest Rivalry is one of the most competitive in all of college sports. After 117 total meetings, the Auburn Tigers hold a one-game series advantage over the Georgia Bulldogs with a 55-54-8 record.
It's also a rivalry that has been mostly dominated by Georgia as of late. Auburn has won two SEC Championships over the past four seasons, but outside of those years, the Tigers have not beaten Georgia since 2005. And despite the hype that accompanies (rightfully so) championships, Auburn isn't too far removed from consecutive losses to Georgia in 2011 and 2012 by a combined score of 83-7.
Combine these back-and-forth sentiments with the fact that for the first time since 2011 this game is being played in Athens, Georgia, and a lot of factors are in Georgia's favor. Add Todd Gurley back to the mix, and the notion that Georgia likely has a little more to play for—revenge for a brutal loss last year, a more clear road to winning the division, etc.—and the Bulldogs will come away with the victory.
Final Score: Georgia 42, Auburn 38