What to watch: Auburn vs. Georgia edition
It’s rivalry week. The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry makes its first appearance in a month other than November for the first time since 1936 today. Auburn has played Georgia more than any opponent in program history. Saturday’s game will be the 125th meeting between the two schools in a series that dates back to 1892.
Beyond the sheer number of games played and the geographic proximity of the schools, there are also intertwined legacies between the programs. For example, legendary Auburn coach Pat Dye was an All-American player at Georgia as an undergraduate. Similarly, the last time Georgia won a national championship, the Bulldogs were coached by Vince Dooley who played quarterback for Auburn in college.
Although this heated rivalry has been virtually even over the 124 games, in recent years the Bulldogs have held a significant advantage. The last time Auburn went to Athens and came away with a win was in 2005. To make matters worse, the Tigers have failed to score more than 10 points in any of their four most recent games as the visitors.
Today, we look at three key items that will determine whether or not Auburn can break through for a victory on the road in Athens.
Georgia’s quarterback situation
The Bulldogs knew that they must replace three-year starter Jake Fromm, who left for the NFL following the 2019 season. So, the initial plan appeared to be for graduate transfer Jamie Newman to come in and take over the starting quarterback position. But because this is 2020 and nothing is simple, on September 2 Newman actually opted out of the season before ever taking a snap for Georgia.
In addition to bringing in Newman, Georgia also added transfer J.T. Daniels from Southern California in the offseason. Daniels is a talented player (former 5-star recruit), but is recovering from a serious knee injury and was not cleared to play for the first week of the season. However, earlier this week, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart announced that Daniels has now been medically cleared to play and will be available against Auburn.
That brings us to the two guys who have actually played so far for the Bulldogs. In Georgia’s season opener against Arkansas, redshirt freshman D’Wan Mathis earned the start at quarterback. However, after a really tough outing, he was replaced by quarterback Stetson Bennett IV in the second quarter. Bennet was able to come in and right the ship for the Bulldogs by throwing a couple of touchdowns and avoiding any turnovers en route to a victory over the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Coach Kirby Smart has declined to announce who will start for Georgia this week, but it is fair to assume that up to three quarterbacks could see the field. Regardless of who actually opens the game for the Bulldogs, it will be key for Auburn to make life difficult for the Georgia quarterbacks.
For the Tigers to get a win in Athens, Auburn quarterback Bo Nix will need to produce at a higher level the inexperienced quarterbacks for the Bulldogs.
Both offensive lines
Auburn’s lack of experience on the offensive line has been pretty well documented. However, the Georgia offensive line finds itself in a similar situation in 2020. The Bulldogs are also replacing four starters from last season’s offensive line. Georgia eventually pulled away from Arkansas in their season-opening win, but only averaged 2.88 yards per carry and allowed three sacks along the way.
The Bulldog offensive line will have to play better against a much more talented Auburn defense to generate points today. Expect Auburn to try and confuse and rattle the Georgia quarterbacks who are all either short on experience or returning from injury. So, a strong Georgia rushing attack would help alleviate some of the pressure that the Bulldogs quarterbacks are going to feel.
Likewise, the Auburn offensive line is likely to face their biggest challenge of the season today. The Georgia defensive linemen are very big and very physical. In addition, the Bulldog linebackers are extremely fast and dynamic. It is hard to imagine Auburn winning against Georgia if the Tigers only rush for 90 yards like they did against Kentucky. Auburn’s offensive line must create more space for the running backs this week while remaining strong in pass protection if the Tigers are going to score enough to win against Georgia.
Auburn’s receivers vs. Georgia’s defensive backs
Due to Georgia’s stout defensive front and Auburn’s offensive line still coming together, it is obvious that the Tigers need to be successful throwing the football to win today’s game. In Auburn’s opening contest, receiver Seth Williams was the star of the show. If Williams was not already a primary focus of Georgia’s gameplan before Kentucky, you can bet that he is now.
Seth Williams is a good enough player that he is likely to make some plays regardless of the Bulldogs’ defensive strategies. But, expect Georgia’s talented secondary to make it difficult for Bo Nix to connect with Williams as often as they did in week one. So, that means that players like Anthony Schwartz, Eli Stove, John Samuel Shenker and the Tiger tailbacks must be ready to make big plays in the passing attack.
Every level of Georgia’s defense is talented, but the Auburn receivers are Auburn’s most talented and experienced group on the offensive side of the ball. The Auburn receivers’ ability to get open and make big plays is going to be the biggest factor in whether or not the Tigers can score enough points to defeat the Bulldogs.
Zack Shaw is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and former walk-on for the Auburn Tigers. You can contact him by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @z_m_shaw