The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry takes center stage on Saturday, as Georgia travels to Auburn in a pivotal SEC contest. The Bulldogs need to win to keep their SEC East title hopes alive, while the Tigers are riding a six-game winning streak and a victory over Georgia would keep their BCS bowl hopes intact.
The Bulldogs have been hit hard by injuries this year, but Mark Richt’s team received some reinforcements in recent weeks. Running back Todd Gurley played against Florida on Nov. 2, and receiver Michael Bennett also returned to the lineup against the Gators. Two more of quarterback Aaron Murray’s targets may also return against Auburn, as receiver Chris Conley and tight end Arthur Lynch are expected to be game-time decisions.
After a miserable 3-9 record last year, Auburn is still alive in the SEC West, largely due to the hire of Gus Malzahn. The Tigers need to beat Georgia on Saturday to setup a one-game showdown with Alabama for the division title.
The all-time series between Auburn and Georgia is tied at 54 with eight ties. The Bulldogs have won six out of the last seven in this series. The Tigers’ last victory against Georgia was in 2010. The last two matchups between these two teams have been a one-sided affair in favor of the Bulldogs (83-7).
Georgia at Auburn
Kickoff: 3:30 ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Auburn -3
Three Things to Watch
Auburn’s rushing offense vs. Georgia’s rush defense
Auburn’s rushing attack is averaging 278.5 yards per game and has recorded over 400 yards in two out of the last three contests. The Tigers barely used the forward pass in wins over Arkansas and Tennessee, combining for just 16 attempts in those two games. Can that continue on Saturday? Auburn likely needs more balance to beat Georgia, especially since the Bulldogs rank fourth in SEC-only games against the run, limiting opponents to 149.7 yards per contest. Georgia has allowed 15 touchdowns in six SEC games but is holding opponents to just 3.9 yards per carry. Running back Tre Mason leads the Tigers with 1,038 yards and 16 touchdowns. But the Auburn backfield isn’t a one-man show, with quarterback Nick Marshall (7.1 ypc), and running backs Cameron Artis-Payne (6.6 ypc) and Corey Grant (10.1 ypc) expected to get involved. Expect the Bulldogs to stack the box and force the Tigers out of their gameplan.
Aaron Murray’s supporting cast
A key element in Georgia’s losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt were the rash of injuries on offense. Over the last few weeks, the Bulldogs’ injury report has shortened, and quarterback Aaron Murray has a few more weapons at his disposal. Running back Todd Gurley is one of the best in the nation when healthy, and the sophomore has rushed for 175 yards on 30 attempts in his last two games. After a light workload against Appalachian State, Gurley should be closer to full strength. Gurley’s return is huge for an offense that is still shorthanded at receiver, but Michael Bennett is back, and receivers Chris Conley and tight end Arthur Lynch are likely to be gametime decisions. Assuming Conley and Lynch can play, the Bulldogs will have a solid group of options for Murray. However, if Conley and Lynch are limited in any way, Auburn’s defense can shade more of its attention in the secondary on Bennett.
Auburn QB Nick Marshall
In his first year as Auburn’s starting quarterback, Marshall hasn’t been spectacular, but he’s the perfect fit to run Gus Malzahn’s offense. Marshall is only averaging 139 passing yards in SEC games and has tossed five picks to six interceptions. However, the junior has been dynamic on the ground, averaging 7.2 yards per carry in conference play. Marshall only completed three passes against Tennessee, but he rushed for 214 yards and two touchdowns on 14 attempts. In Auburn’s only loss this year, Marshall threw 33 times and tossed two picks. The Tigers are clearly at their best on offense when the ground attack is able to lead the way. If Auburn falls behind, can Marshall pass the offense back into the game?
Key Player: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
It’s a small sample size, but Georgia is 4-0 this season when Gurley rushes for at least 73 yards this year. Even if Gurley may not be 100 percent, his presence is a huge boost for the Bulldogs. The sophomore helps provide balance, and caught a 73-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Aaron Murray against Florida. In six conference games, Auburn is allowing an average of 189.2 rushing yards per game. Gurley should be able to find space against the Tigers’ defense, and the Bulldogs should plan to give their sophomore back 25-30 carries.
Week 12 isn’t full of elite matchups, but Auburn-Georgia should be one of the best this Saturday. Both teams have a lot on the line, and with the firepower on the sidelines, a high-scoring affair should be expected. Auburn’s rushing offense has been on fire the last few weeks, but quarterback Nick Marshall will have to throw more for the Tigers to win on Saturday. This one is a tossup, with home-field advantage giving Auburn a slight edge.
Prediction: Auburn 34, Georgia 31