Georgia visits Auburn to renew the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry on Saturday afternoon. In addition the bragging rights between these two rivals, both teams have a lot at stake with just three weeks of regular season games remaining. With a win, the Bulldogs would clinch their third consecutive SEC East title. The Tigers are out of the mix for a playoff spot or trip to the SEC Championship, but coach Gus Malzahn’s squad has a chance to finish November on a high note with victories over rivals Georgia and Alabama.
In addition to the SEC East title, Saturday’s game also represents another opportunity for a big-time victory for Georgia in its quest to return to the CFB Playoff. The Bulldogs already have top-25 wins over Notre Dame and Florida and have reeled off three victories in a row since losing to South Carolina on Oct. 12. A potential looming matchup against LSU in the SEC Championship will play a huge role in shaping Georgia’s playoff hopes. But if the No. 4 team isn’t clear, having three wins over teams ranked inside of the top 20 wouldn’t hurt chances of making it (potentially and depending on other results from the Big 12 and Pac-12) as a two-loss team – especially with a close defeat in the SEC Championship. Regardless of the scenario, Georgia is alive for a spot in the CFB Playoff and a win over Auburn would certainly bolster the resume.
Even though Auburn is 7-2 and out of the playoff picture, this program will play a huge role in some of college football’s top storylines for the rest of the season. The Tigers get both Georgia and Alabama at home to close out SEC play, and Malzahn’s team will be looking for a repeat of 2017 when it swept both the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Wins in both games would vault Auburn into consideration for a New Year’s Six bowl and ease some of the pressure on Malzahn. The Tigers finished a disappointing 8-5 last season and could be headed for a similar record if it loses to both of its upcoming SEC rivals. Malzahn’s name has been mentioned for the opening at Arkansas, and while it’s unlikely he leaves the Plains, losses to Georgia and Alabama would only add fuel those rumors.
Georgia holds a 59-56-8 series edge over Auburn. The Bulldogs have won 14 out of the last 18 games against the Tigers. However, Auburn has won three out of the last five at home in this series.
Georgia at Auburn
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 19 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Georgia -2.5
When Georgia Has the Ball
Georgia’s offense has been under the microscope this season, but that scrutiny only grew after a sluggish performance against South Carolina. In the loss to the Gamecocks, the Bulldogs averaged only 4.0 yards per rush, tossed three interceptions and did not have a play longer than 33 yards. A week later, Georgia managed only 21 points in a rain-soaked win over Kentucky. However, the bye week allowed offensive coordinator James Coley to regroup, and the Bulldogs responded with one of their best efforts of the season in a win against Florida. Georgia averaged 5.9 yards per play, converted 12 of 18 third-down attempts and scored on five of its eight drives. The Bulldogs managed only 339 yards in a win over Missouri last week but enter Week 12 near the top of the SEC in yards per play (6.7) and scoring (33.7).
Will Georgia’s offense once again deliver a standout performance against one of the SEC’s top defenses? The Bulldogs bring one of the SEC’s most-balanced attacks to the Plains on Saturday. D’Andre Swift (921 yards) leads a deep group of options at running back, with quarterback Jake Fromm (67 percent) among the nation’s most efficient passers. Fromm has tossed only three picks over 233 attempts and should have go-to receiver Lawrence Cager at his disposal after the Miami transfer left the Missouri win due to injury.
Fromm’s performance and the overall effectiveness of Georgia’s ground game will get a lot of attention on Saturday. However, the biggest battle to watch is in the trenches. The Bulldogs have allowed only five sacks and own one of – if the not the best – offensive line in college football. Auburn will counter with arguably the best defensive front in the nation. Tackle Derrick Brown (eight tackles for a loss) will create plenty of havoc on the interior, with Marlon Davidson (nine TFL), Tyrone Truesdell (five) and Nick Coe (three) also poised to test the Georgia front.
Through nine games, Auburn is holding teams to just 4.8 yards a play and ranks third in the SEC in fewest points allowed per game (17.4). The Tigers have not allowed an opponent to score more than 24 points in a contest, rank third in the SEC against the run and fourth in pass efficiency defense. Can Georgia find the right mix with its run and show a little creativity in the passing game to consistently move the ball on Saturday afternoon?
When Auburn Has the Ball
Auburn’s offense has been a work in progress this season. Malzahn took over the play-calling duties prior to last year’s bowl game, and this unit enters Saturday’s matchup sixth in the SEC in scoring (32.7 ppg) and averages 5.8 yards per snap. While those numbers aren’t bad, a deeper look shows signs of concern. The Tigers are averaging just 20 points a game versus ranked teams and 16.5 in the team’s two losses.
As expected with any true freshman quarterback, Bo Nix has experienced his share of ups and downs in 2019. Nix has passed for 1,798 yards and 12 touchdowns to six picks and completed 56.5 percent of his throws this season. The Alabama native threw for a career-high 340 yards against Ole Miss on Nov. 2 but struggled in losses against LSU and Florida. Nix also has 214 yards and five rushing touchdowns this season. While Nix didn’t play well in Auburn’s two defeats (both on the road), the freshman is likely to fare better at home against Georgia. The freshman is completing 65.3 percent of his passes at home and only 48.5 on the road.
When Nix drops back to throw, Georgia will counter with a defense that ranks second in the SEC in pass efficiency defense. However, the Tigers have plenty of receiving talent to test that group. Sophomore Seth Williams is a big play waiting to happen (16.3 ypc), with Anthony Schwartz (23 catches), Eli Stove (27) and Will Hastings (12) also expected to be involved.
The battle between Georgia’s offensive line and Auburn’s defensive front is the must-see matchup in the trenches, but the encounter on the other side is just as important. The Tigers rank second in the SEC by averaging 219.3 rushing yards a game, but the Bulldogs rank first in the league against the run and have yet to allow a rushing score all season. JaTarvious Whitlow (553 yards) leads the team in rushing but has only three attempts over the last three games after undergoing knee surgery in early October. Freshman D.J. Williams has 48 carries over the last three games and will team with Whitlow to form an effective one-two punch against a stout Georgia front.
Georgia has yet to allow an opponent to score more than 20 points this season. Needless to say, this is a tough matchup for an Auburn offense that has struggled in the team’s biggest games in 2019.
The last three matchups in this series have been decided by 17 or more points. A one-sided game with a large spread on the scoreboard seems unlikely this time around. Georgia’s offense has to show more overall consistency and an ability to hit the big play to have a shot at the CFB Playoff. The Bulldogs showed signs of that against Florida, but Auburn will be another barometer test for this group. Can Georgia win up front to get Swift on track and to protect Fromm on passing downs? When the Tigers have the ball, a similar plan of attack is set to unfold. Can Auburn get enough production out of its ground game to take some of the pressure off Nix? And when Nix has to throw, can Malzahn get the freshman some easy reads to avoid a repeat of the Florida and LSU performances? Don’t expect a lot of points, but the guess here is Fromm directs Georgia on a critical fourth-quarter drive that seals the game for the Bulldogs.