There’s usually plenty on the line when Auburn and Georgia meet in The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, but there’s a little extra incentive for both teams on Saturday. The Bulldogs hope to enact a little revenge against the Tigers for last year’s last-minute Hail Mary connection and keep their SEC East title hopes alive. And of course, there’s no shortage of storylines for coach Mark Richt’s team with the return of running back Todd Gurley from a suspension. Auburn needs a win to keep its slim playoff hopes alive, but coach Gus Malzahn’s team is also fighting for bowl positioning. If the Tigers finish 9-3 or 10-2, this squad should have an opportunity to play in one of the New Year’s bowl matchups.
Both teams enter Saturday’s matchup at 7-2, but this is the final SEC game for Georgia in 2014, while Auburn still has a showdown against Alabama on Nov. 29. The Bulldogs lost in Jacksonville against Florida (38-20) on Nov. 1 and lost control of the East Division. However, with a win over Auburn and a Missouri loss, Georgia will play in the SEC Championship. Auburn needs some help in order to play for the West Division title, but even at two losses, the Tigers aren’t out of the mix for a trip to Atlanta.
Georgia and Auburn have met 117 times on the gridiron. The Tigers own a 55-54-8 series edge over the Bulldogs. Auburn won last year’s meeting 43-38, but Georgia has won two out of the last three games in this series.
Auburn at Georgia
Kickoff: 7:15 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Georgia -2.5
Auburn’s Key to Victory: Test the Georgia Front Seven
Georgia’s rush defense struggled in its last two games (Florida and Kentucky), but the front seven is still the strength of coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s defense. The secondary was a concern heading into 2014 but has allowed 10 passing scores in seven conference games. Without receiver Duke Williams, Georgia can devote more attention on Sammie Coates. Assuming the Bulldogs find the right solution to contain Coates and quarterback Nick Marshall, will this defense win the battle at the point of attack? In last year’s game, Auburn rushed for 323 yards (5.7 ypc) and four scores. If the Tigers repeat that total on Saturday, it’s going to be difficult for Georgia to win. Marshall is always dangerous with the ball in his hands, but he’s not the only threat on the ground. Senior Cameron Artis-Payne has 1,190 yards (5.7 ypc), and speedster Corey Grant is also an option. Are Georgia’s recent struggles against rushing games an aberration? Or have teams found something to attack the front seven? Auburn’s rushing attack should provide a good litmus test for the Bulldogs after struggling to stop Florida just a few weeks ago.
Georgia’s Key to Victory: Control the Tempo and Pace of Play
Auburn wants to play at a quicker pace than Georgia, hoping its up-tempo, spread attack will force the Bulldogs out of their comfort zone on offense. Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason has been efficient this year, completing 69 percent of his passes and throwing only three picks. However, the Bulldogs would like to win this game by establishing their ground attack, which ranks second in the SEC with an average of 256.3 yards per game. Freshman Nick Chubb has filled in admirably during Gurley’s suspension, recording at least 143 yards in each of the last four games. Gurley is expected to start on Saturday, but Chubb will see his share of carries. Auburn’s defense is allowing 159.2 rushing yards per game in SEC action. If the Bulldogs establish their style of play, control the clock and let Gurley and Chubb dictate the pace of the tempo, Auburn will have a tough time winning in Athens.
This is a huge revenge game for Georgia. Combine a hungry Bulldogs team with Todd Gurley’s return, and it’s easy to see why Auburn is a slight underdog. It’s tough to envision the Tigers losing two consecutive games under coach Gus Malzahn, but this is a tough matchup for Auburn. The style of play and overall tempo will be critical. If Georgia controls the pace with its rushing attack, the Tigers are going to have their hands full. But if Auburn jumps out to an early lead and its up-tempo attack forces the Bulldogs to throw more, the upper hand will go to Malzahn’s team. This should be one of the best matchups of the weekend. Georgia gets revenge for last year’s game and stays alive in the East Division.