A Tough Test Awaits the Tigers
Can the Tigers win up front?
(Dale Zanine, USA TODAY Sports)
War Eagle, everybody. Another defining Auburn football Saturday is fast approaching. The calendar has ticked over to November, and that means “Amen Corner” is here. This is a make or break Saturday for the Tigers, make no mistake. The undefeated, number-one playoff-ranked Georgia Bulldogs come calling, and this game will be a de facto elimination game for Auburn. Mathematically, Auburn could lose and still remain in the SEC West race IF Alabama also loses to Mississippi State this weekend. It’s important to remember that MSU hasn’t even been competitive with Alabama in years, and last season took a 51–3 beating after Alabama had a “tough game” with LSU.
Realistically, this season Georgia has probably done nearly everything a little better than Auburn has. The Bulldogs have a bit better front seven and faster linebackers. They don’t have special teams meltdowns. Their offensive line and running game is just a little bit better than Auburn’s. The one thing Auburn might do better than Georgia is throw the football, and Auburn does have a trio of game-breaking receivers that can quickly torch a defense for scores—if they can hold on to the ball.
One thing that works in Auburn’s favor is the schedules. Auburn played Clemson and LSU on the road and lost both by trying to go into a shell with a lead. The lesson seems to have been learned as Auburn has poured it on in the second half since those two losses to tough teams. In the first quarter of the season, Georgia looked pedestrian. Georgia did pick up a 20–19 win in week 2 at Notre Dame, but the Irish were also just beginning to get their sea legs under them. Georgia looked anything but powerful in a 31–10 win over a bad Appy State team and in a 42–14 win over FCS team Samford.
Georgia first popped up on the radar when it hammered undefeated, high flying Mississippi State 31–3. Then, the Bulldogs had 4 more blowout wins, but against whom? Tennessee, Vandy, Mizzou and Florida. It was hoped that South Carolina would be more of a challenge for Georgia, and they were. The Gamecocks were able to bog Georgia down a few times in the red zone but gave up 24 points. What really doomed South Carolina was the complete lack of a ground game. With the win over South Carolina, Georgia clinched the SEC Eastern Division title.
I believe that Auburn can slow down and at least contain Georgia’s running game, and Auburn has been pretty good on the back end of the defense, defending receivers and swatting balls away. Auburn’s pass rush has picked up in recent weeks, and I think Georgia will want to limit freshman quarterback Jake Fromm’s exposure to the Auburn pressure. I feel like Georgia will try to run the ball and play defense. The real key to the equation is whether or not the Auburn offensive line can block Georgia’s talented bunch.
What Georgia likes to do defensively is apply field pressure by bringing an extra defender on a run blitz from the wide side of the field. This tends to funnel most of the action to the middle or the short side of the field. Then a fast Bulldog back seven only has to defend half of the field, theoretically. Auburn HAS to be able to get the ball out quickly to the wide side, particularly on first down, to slow down this tactic. It will be particularly tough when Auburn is on the right hash. This pits Auburn’s left side line rotation against Georgia’s most dangerous pass rushers. Last week at Texas A&M, young Marquel Harrell and Prince Tega Wanagho came off the bench and handled a good Aggie line. They will be called upon again this week on a big stage.
A look at the SEC Title race, after the jump!
Normally in this spot, I’ve sort of run down the whole SEC and given a little slice of how each team is doing. This week, most of the league has been eliminated from the race, so I’ll focus on remaining scenarios. The East is done, of course, regardless of how Georgia does at Auburn or with Kentucky the following week. Every other team in the SEC East has at least 3 losses, and Georgia can finish no worse than 6–2. The Bulldogs have clinched the East.
In the SEC West, Alabama leads the division with a 6–0 mark, and Auburn is close behind at 5–1. LSU and Mississippi State are still theoretically alive at 3–2 in the SEC for each team. Ole Miss, Arkansas and Texas A&M all have 3 or more SEC losses, and can’t catch Alabama, regardless of what happens.
If Auburn loses to Georgia AND Alabama beats Mississippi State, Alabama clinches the SEC West, regardless of what happens in the Iron Bowl in two weeks. Any other scenario leaves the race still going after this weekend. If both Alabama and Auburn win this week, LSU and Mississippi State are eliminated. In that instance, Alabama will have 7 wins and will either get to 8 with an Iron Bowl win or, if Auburn wins the Iron Bowl, Auburn would have 7 wins, and LSU and MSU can’t get beyond 6.
Where it gets interesting is if Alabama loses to Mississippi State. Granted, that’s unlikely, but we’ll consider it. If Alabama loses to MSU, and Auburn beats Georgia, LSU and MSU are eliminated. The Iron Bowl sets up as a de facto playoff game, and the winner will have 7 wins and the division title.
Things get really wild if both Alabama and Auburn lose this weekend. We’ll work through those scenarios. That would mean that a 6–2 team could win the division. Auburn would be in that category at 5–2. Alabama would stand at 6–1 and still could win outright with an Iron Bowl win. To be considered, both MSU and LSU must win all of their remaining SEC games. MSU hosts Alabama, goes to Arkansas and finishes at home against Ole Miss. LSU hosts Arkansas, is at Tennessee, and hosts Texas A&M.
For the division lead to finish 6–2, here’s what would have to happen. Alabama would have to lose both of its remaining games against MSU and Auburn. Auburn would have to lose to Georgia, then beat Alabama. That would put both Alabama and Auburn at 6–2, and MSU and/or LSU could join them.
Let’s suppose that MSU runs the table and joins the party, and LSU doesn’t. With Alabama, Auburn and MSU all at 6–2, here’s what would happen. Both Auburn and MSU would have wins against Alabama, eliminating the Tide. Then, head to head Auburn beat MSU. Auburn would win the division.
Let’s say instead, that MSU beats Alabama but drops a game at Arkansas or the Egg Bowl. LSU runs the table, and Alabama, Auburn and LSU all finish at 6–2. In that scenario, head-to-head would not work. Alabama beat LSU, LSU beat Auburn, Auburn beat Alabama. The next step would be to look at division records. Alabama would have losses to Auburn and MSU and a 4–2 Western Division record. LSU would have losses to MSU and Alabama and a 4–2 record. Auburn would have losses to LSU and Georgia and a 5–1 record in the West. Auburn would win the division.
Suppose our 6–2 finish happens, and both MSU and LSU win out, leaving all 4 teams at 6–2. Again, we’d look first at head-to-head competition. Alabama would be 1–2 with losses to MSU and Auburn. LSU would be 1–2 with losses to MSU and Alabama. MSU would be 2–1 with a loss to Auburn. Auburn would be 2–1 with a loss to LSU. The 1–2 teams would be eliminated, leaving Auburn and MSU. Auburn won head to head against MSU, thus Auburn would win the division.
In summation, LSU and MSU cannot get into the SEC title game. They could earn a division co-championship but would be eliminated in the tie-breakers. For both Alabama and Auburn, the title is about winning the games ahead. Auburn needs to beat Georgia, basically, and needs to beat Alabama. It is very unlikely that Alabama loses to Mississippi State, which would be the only way Auburn could survive a loss to Georgia.