Auburn has a Bulldog problem.
War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for another Auburn opponent preview. On November 16th, the Tigers host the Georgia Bulldogs in Jordan Hare Stadium. It’s an unusual situation, as Auburn played Georgia in Auburn last year, also. Due to the SEC making things up on the fly juggling schedules around to try to make a 14-team, 8-game SEC schedule work, Georgia must travel to Auburn twice in a row. The SEC is the wealthiest league in the land, but you’d never know it from the way schedules have been yanked around in the past few years. I think most fans would prefer a 9-game SEC schedule, and eliminate a cupcake/FCS game. Surely the league can survive that financially?
Auburn’s schedule does the Tigers no favors coming into this game. Auburn will be coming off back to back road games while Georgia should be well-rested after hosting FCS team Appalachian State. The Bulldogs start the year off tough, with an opening date in Clemson. They then host South Carolina, North Texas and LSU before traveling to play Georgia in Knoxville. There is an open date between South Carolina and North Texas. Georgia then plays Missouri at home, followed by Vanderbilt in Nashville, then their second bye week. November brings Florida in Jacksonville, Appalachian State, at Auburn, Kentucky, and finishes with Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
The past few years, Georgia has been Auburn’s toughest opponent, and might be again this season. Auburn has lost six of their last seven games against the Bulldogs, and four of those have been embarrassing blow-outs. In the last two games, Auburn has been down by four touchdowns by halftime.
Most pundits are penciling either Georgia or South Carolina in as the winner of the SEC East this season, and the Bulldogs might have the offense to do it. Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo has pretty much been a punching bag for Bulldog fans since he took over in 2006, but it’s hard to find a coordinator in the country that could do what Bobo did with two major injuries in the receiving corps and two freshman running backs. Bobo was one tipped pass away from being a national championship coordinator. This year, Georgia has nearly everyone back on a prolific offense except star receiver Tavarres King. The offense may have sputtered in the Bulldog spring game, but this is a unit that averaged 37.8 points per game last season, and will probably top that this year.
The Bulldog defense is an entirely different matter. Last season, they looked shaky early on, culminating in a 35-7 loss to Clemson early on. By season’s end, they were pretty vicious. However, a ton of folks have departed this year, including a number to the NFL. None will be missed more than big nose tackle John Jenkins and linebacker Jarvis Jones, who may have been the most productive defensive player in the conference last season. The Bulldogs have recruited talent on defense, but most of what they will put on the field this fall will be sophomores and freshmen. During the past offseason, Georgia lost four of its top six linemen, four of its top five linebackers, and four of its top five defensive backs. And this defense must face Clemson, South Carolina and LSU in the first month of the season. The new-look defense looked pretty good in the Bulldog spring game, especially when quarterback Aaron Murray was out of the game, but was that because the offense was out of synch?
Georgia was decidedly average on special teams last season, and with a potentially shaky defense this fall, will need improvement here to stay in the championship hunt early on. Last season, freshman kicker Marshall Morgan was a particular weakness, hitting only 8 of 14 field goal attempts. Punt coverage was also a problem, as Georgia gave up over 10 yards per return.
Unit matchups, after the jump
Auburn defensive line vs. Georgia offensive line: Auburn will likely go with a tackle rotation of Gabe Wright, Angelo Blackson and Jeffery Whitaker. Dee Ford, Kenneth Carter and Nosa Eguae will be the primary ends. The Tigers have depth beyond those six guys, but none except Ford have distinguished themselves, either. Georgia returns a veteran group with a combined 101 career starts. There was some shuffling during the spring, moving players around, and that may have contributed to a lackluster offensive showing in the spring game. Starters penciled in this year are from left to right, senior tackle Kenarious Gates, senior Dallas Lee, junior David Andrews at center, senior Chris Burnette, and sophomore Xzavier Ward at right tackle. Georgia has depth beyond those guys. Advantage: Georgia.
Auburn linebackers vs. Georgia backs: Auburn’s starting linebackers coming out of spring drills are sophomores Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy. Neither has a huge amount of game experience, and it’s a concern going into the season. Senior Jake Holland has made a move in fall camp, and may secure a starting job, and he’ll play a lot, regardless. Last year, Georgia’s freshman tandem of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall combined for 2144 yards last season, and 25 touchdowns. As sophomores, they’ll be bigger, stronger and more consistent. At fullback, sophomores Merritt Hall and Quayvon Hicks top the depth chart. Advantage: Georgia.
Auburn corners vs. Georgia receivers: Auburn is surprisingly deep at corner, and should get good play from starters Chris Davis and Jonathan Mincy. Both are also physical corners, not afraid to come up in run support and lay a hit. Georgia lost the ridiculously productive receiver Tavarres King to graduation, but there is plenty of talent returning. Juniors Malcomb Mitchell and Michael Bennett will start, and junior Chris Conley brings blazing speed off the bench. There’s more speed and talent behind that, including JUCO transfer Jonathan Rumph, who led all receivers in then spring game. He’s a speedy, tall receiver. Advantage: Even.
Auburn safeties vs. Georgia secondary receivers and quarterback: I’m lumping “star” Justin Garrett in with the safeties, because I’ve done that in earlier previews, and Georgia does run a lot of multiple receiver sets. Junior free safety Jermaine Whitehead has really come on this spring, so the real question is who will play strong safety. Right now, converted corner Joshua Holsey is atop the Auburn depth chart there, but senior Demetruce McNeal will return this fall and likely make a serious run. Georgia returns senior tight end Arthur Lynch, who may be the SEC’s best tight end. Out of the backfield, Gurley and Marshall combined for 27 catches. Alabama fans may debate this, but senior Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is the best returning starter in the league at quarterback. Advantage: Georgia.
Punting: Auburn returns senior punter Steven Clark, who hit the ball well again this spring. Clark tends toward towering balls that can’t be returned. Clark had 70 punts for a 39.8 yard average, but only 5 were returned, for a total of 4 yards. The Georgia tandem of Collin Barber and pooch punter Adam Erickson return for the Bulldogs. These two combined for a 40.9 yard average, with 24 punts pinned inside the 20. Georgia gave up 11.1 yards per return last season, but did block 3 punts. Georgia used a variety of return men last fall, and all of them come back. As a team, Georgia averaged 7.5 yards per return. uburn counters with veteran Quan Bray, who averaged 8.5 yards per return. Advantage: Auburn.
Kickoffs: Auburn didn’t score enough to generate many kickoffs in 2012, but when they did, Cody Parkey nailed 33 of 48 of them for touchbacks. Georgia used a combination of Marshall Morgan and Jamie Lindley on kickoffs last season. Lindley graduated. Morgan had 14 touchbacks on 38 kickoffs. When Parkey wasn’t putting the kickoff out of the field of play, Auburn gave up only 16.6 yards per return. Georgia gave up 20.2. Malcomb Mitchell and Todd Gurley handled kick returns last season for Georgia, and the team averaged 22.2 yards per return. Auburn averaged 22.4, but loses top return man Onterrio McCalebb. Advantage: Auburn.
Place kicking: Auburn’s Cody Parkey was 11 of 14 on field goal attempts, and perfect on his extra points last season. Georgia sophomore Marshall Morgan only hit on 8 of 14 field goal attempts, and missed 4 extra points. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn offensive line vs. Georgia defensive line: Auburn’s starting A-Day unit of sophomore Greg Robinson, redshirt freshman Alex Kozan, junior Reese Dismukes, junior Chad Slade, and sophomore Patrick Miller looked dominant. In addition, the 2nd line did well against the starting D-line. By all accounts, Avery Young, who started three games at right tackle last season, is having a monster fall camp. He may fit into the lineup somewhere this fall, probably replacing Miller at right tackle. Georgia’s starters appear to be junior Mike Thornton at nose tackle, and senior Garrison Smith and sophomore Sterling Bailey at ends. What’s interesting is that none of these guys top 300 pounds, after a couple of years of seeing Georgia really heavy on the D-line. There’s concern about how well this line will hold up late in the season. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn backs vs. Georgia linebackers: Auburn finished spring with a trio of dangerous running backs, and more are on the way this fall in the incoming class. Junior Tre Mason is a 1000 yard incumbent, JUCO transfer Cameron Artis-Payne wowed the A-Day crowd with his power and agility, and junior Corey Grant is a threat on the outside. In addition, the Tigers will have bruising senior H-back Jay Prosch paving the way. Georgia inside linebackers will be juniors Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera. Outside, sophomores Jordan Jenkins and James DeLoach move up. Coaches are high on Jenkins. While some of these guys are less experienced than coaches like, they are a big and talented bunch. The starters average 246 pounds. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn receivers vs. Georgia corners: Auburn’s starters on the outside post-spring are juniors Jaylon Denson and Trovon Reed, neither of who have done much previously on the field. Backups Sammie Coates and Ricardo Lewis should add an explosive dimension when they sub in. Junior Damian Swann is a veteran SEC pass defender, who had 4 interceptions and 5 pass breakups last season. The other side will be inexperienced, with sophomore Shelton Dawson leading the way. He played in 13 games last season, but had no passes defended. Auburn should be able to take advantage of the youth, here. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn secondary receivers and quarterback vs. Georgia safeties: Auburn has some matchup nightmares as secondary receivers, starting with C. J. Uzomah and Quan Bray. Few safeties can keep up with either in a foot race. If a team puts extra corners in to shut that down, Auburn will run over them. Put in beefier safeties, and those guys will be wide open. The real question is who’ll pull the trigger for the Auburn offense. There was a major shake-up in Auburn this week, as it was announced that incumbents Khiel Frazier and Jonathan Wallace are out of the running for the starting QB job. Frazier has moved to safety. The race is down to JUCO transfer Nick Marshall and true freshman Jeremy Johnson. Marshall has been widely rumored to be the best athlete on the team. Georgia is very young at safety, with sophomore Josh Harvey-Clemons and redshirt freshman Tray Matthews slated to start. Harvey-Clemons had one pass broken up last season. Advantage: Auburn.
This game has the makings of one of the highest-scoring games in the SEC this season. Both defenses have some questions, and both offenses look pretty dangerous. If there’s an advantage on defense, I think Auburn’s depth in the front seven will help late in the season. However, Georgia’s very deep on offense, and should be able to counter. I think the glaring deficiency in Auburn’s defensive game, pass rush will be a major factor. If Murray has time to throw, no secondary in the world can keep those UGA receivers contained.
For Auburn to stay in this game, the new starting quarterback and skill players must take care of the ball and execute. The Tigers can not afford to make mistakes, and leave points on the field against an explosive Georgia team. Both teams should be fired up for this game, as both should be on a bit of a winning streak by mid-November.
Prediction: Auburn makes this year’s game closer, but is not able to stop Murray and the Dawgs. Georgia wins, 44-31.
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