Nothing is fair in the SEC football ranks, especially for a team like the No. 2 Auburn Tigers (10-2, 7-1) having to play their third top-10 ranked team in four weeks when they head to Atlanta on Saturday to face the No. 6 Georgia Bulldogs (11-1, 7-1). If recent history teaches us anything, the Tigers have the firepower on offense and the explosive playmakers on defense to notch their second win of the season over the Bulldogs, forcing a one-time unlikely berth in the College Football Playoff as a two-loss team.
5 Reasons Why Auburn Will Win the SEC Championship Game
1. A regular season win over Georgia
One thing fans, coaches and players for the respective teams do not have to ponder ahead of college football’s top conference championship game is if Auburn can take down Georgia. That task was competed on Nov. 11 at Jordan-Hare Stadium with the Tigers walking away with a dominating 40-17 victory. Auburn controlled every aspect of the game coming up with 488 yards of total offense while the defense stuffed the Bulldogs for 230 yards.
It is hard to beat the same team twice in a season, but the Tigers have confidence from defeating Georgia less than three weeks ago coupled with an Iron Bowl win over Alabama as momentum pushing them forward.
2. A healthy Kerryon Johnson
The fuel to Auburn’s offense in 2017 has been Johnson. The junior running back is second in the SEC in rushing (1,276) and touchdowns (17), making his presence known every time he touches the ball. In the first meeting with Georgia, Johnson tore through the nation’s 12th-ranked run defense for 172 yards on the ground, along with two catches for 66 yards and a score.
The only thing that has held Johnson back from an All-American kind of performance in 2017 has been his health. He missed two games in September and is a game-time decision for the SEC Championship Game. Auburn offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey has to prepare for at the least the possibility of not having Johnson due to a right shoulder injury sustained diving for a touchdown against Alabama this past Saturday. The Tigers will be without second-leading rusher Kamryn Pettway after breaking his shoulder against Arkansas, and to make matters worse backup Kam Martin appeared to hurt his ankle against the Crimson Tide. That could leave freshmen Malik Miller and Devan Barrett in the backfield Saturday vs. Georgia.
3. The play of Jarrett Stidham in the pocket
The ascension of Stidham to an All-SEC-caliber player may have been slower than most predicted, but by the end of the season he was finally there. Stidham is among the conference leaders in QB rating (160), passing yards (2,682), and touchdown passes (16). Last week against Alabama in the Iron Bowl, Stidham had one of his best performances of the season, completing 21-of-28 passes for 237 yards without an interception. Against Georgia, the sophomore was a difference-maker, connecting on 16 of his 23 attempts for 214 yards with three scores and no picks. Stidham has saved his best football for last and the hope is this trend will continue against a formidable Bulldogs defense that's ranked fourth in the country.
4. Auburn’s secondary
With defensive coordinator Kevin Steele calling the shots, the Tigers' defense has developed into one of the nation’s best. The high praise is passed around, but the secondary is extremely active and athletic. Auburn is holding teams to 177 passing yards per game, led by cornerback Carlton Davis, nickel back Jeremiah Dinson, and safeties Tray Matthews and Stephen Roberts. Davis, Roberts and Dinson helped shut down Georgia’s offense earlier in the season with each collecting a game-high six tackles.
When freshman quarterback Jake Fromm was in the pocket, he was not effective, completing just 13 of his 28 pass attempts for 184 yards and one score. Fromm’s 46 percent completion percentage was his worst of the season.
5. Auburn’s run defense
Georgia's bread and butter on offense has been its running game, which is ninth in the country, but the Bulldogs had no success whatsoever in their first meeting with the Tigers. Led by linebackers Jeff Holland and Deshaun Davis, Auburn limited Georgia to just 46 yards on the ground on 32 carries (1.4 ypc), compared to the Bulldogs' seasonal average of 265.7 rushing yards per game.
Alabama had success running the ball against the Tigers last week (211 yards on 38 carries), especially in the second half, but it was not enough to come away with the win. Auburn can expect Georgia to tinker with its previous game plan and maybe try to emulate the Crimson Tide in hopes of turning loose the dynamic duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Steele’s hands will be full this week making sure his defense is up to the task once more.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site,www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.