Bulldogs Bring it to Auburn (Previewing Auburn vs. Georgia)
Can the Tigers slow down Nick Chubb?
War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for another Auburn football preview! On Veterans Day, November 11th, the Auburn Tigers will host the Georgia Bulldogs in a crucial SEC cross-division showdown. Georgia’s fate may well be decided by this date as the Bulldogs will have played all of their serious competition in the SEC East. For Auburn, this game will have major importance. Auburn has lost 9 of the last 11 games against Georgia, and Auburn fans are pretty sick of it at this juncture.
The Auburn Tigers will have opened the season with Georgia Southern and traveled to Clemson. Auburn will then enjoy an early homecoming game against Mercer before traveling to Missouri prior to a home clash with Mississippi State. The Rebels follow at Jordan-Hare Stadium the following week before a road trip to LSU. Auburn then travels to Fayetteville to fight Arkansas before a well-earned bye week. A trip to Texas A&M follows before Auburn returns home to face Georgia. The Bulldogs open with Appalachian State and travel to South Bend to take on Notre Dame. Georgia then hosts Samford and Mississippi State. Road games at Tennessee and Vanderbilt follow, then Georgia hosts Missouri before a bye week on October 21st. A rivalry game in Jacksonville follows the break, then Georgia hosts South Carolina before traveling to Auburn.
Georgia got a big boost on offense when running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel opted to return for their senior seasons in Athens. Their presence will help shore up an inconsistent Georgia offense led by sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason. Eason showed great flashes of talent as a true freshman, but he also missed the target at times. Georgia really went pass heavy in its spring game this year as Chubb and Michel combined for just 1 carry. Eason again at times showed an amazing arm, but overall on the day, he only hit on 16 of 36 passes. Last season, the real issue for Georgia was a shaky offensive line. Will the Bulldogs be able to fix that this season? They were still tinkering in the spring.
Georgia was pretty good last year on defense, and the Bulldogs return 10 starters on that side of the ball. There are star players at every level, including Trenton Thompson on the line, Roquan Smith at linebacker, and Dominick Sanders in the secondary. This defense shut Auburn down last year as Auburn could not even get a first down in the second half. On the other hand, Georgia struggled with red-zone defense last year and finished allowing 24 points per game. On paper, there should be opportunities for Auburn to move it against this team in the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Georgia was average last season on special teams but returns most of those pieces, with the exception of return men. We’ll see some new blood bringing kicks and punts back, but with the skill players Georgia has, I don’t expect to see any letdowns there.
Unit matchups, after the jump!
Auburn defensive line vs. Georgia offensive line: Auburn brings a big, athletic defensive line back this season. Likely starters at tackle are junior Dontavius Russell and sophomore Derrick Brown. Sophomore strong-side end Marlon Davidson was a beast on A-Day. The buck side will likely be manned by a combination of junior Jeffery Holland and senior transfer Paul James III. Auburn has a good bit of depth behind the starters as well. Last season in Athens, Auburn controlled the Georgia line, and effectively allowed only a pair of late field goal drives in the game. I’m still guessing at Georgia’s starting five at this point. From left to right I think we’ll see senior Isaiah Wynn, senior Dyshon Sims, junior Lamont Gaillard, redshirt freshman Solomon Kindley, and senior Aulden Bynum across the Georgia line. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn linebackers vs. Georgia backs: The Auburn Tigers have a good cross-trained quartet of upper echelon SEC-caliber linebackers. Junior Deshaun Davis, senior Tré Williams, junior Darrell Williams and junior Montravious Atkinson can play all three positions, and we might see any combination of these players on the field at a given time. Seniors Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are some of the best backs in the league, and leading the charge at fullback will be senior Christian Payne. Advantage: Even.
Auburn corners vs. Georgia receivers: Auburn has a fairly good combination of starting corners in junior Carlton Davis and sophomore Javaris Davis. The Tigers are hoping that Jamel Dean will be healthy this fall as he is one of the fastest players on the team. Sophomore Jeremiah Dinson could move over from nickel back if needed. Georgia must replace its starting outside receivers this year and will likely turn to veteran junior Terry Godwin and senior Javon Wyms. There are some talented freshmen coming in, who might contribute. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn safeties vs. Georgia secondary receivers and quarterback: Auburn’s starting unit features seniors Tray Matthews and Stephen Roberts at safety and sophomore Jeremiah Dinson at nickel back. There’s not much depth here beyond senior Nick Ruffin, who’ll probably see as much playing time as the starters. The Tigers are solid here as long as no one gets hurt. In the slot, Georgia has speed-burning sophomore Riley Ridley and freshman Isaiah Wilson. Georgia often uses a pair of tight ends, and both sophomore Isaac Nauta and senior Jeb Blazevich are matchup problems. The Tigers weren’t able to put much heat on Bulldog quarterback Jacob Eason last season, and the then-true-freshman had a decent game, throwing mostly underneath. Advantage: Even.
Punting: Sophomore Ian Shannon will likely get the nod as Auburn’s starting punter, after a couple of years of waiting in the wings. Shannon looked good on A-Day a year ago in warmups. The Tigers gave up only 19 punt return yards last season on 6 punts, for a stifling 3.2 yards per return. The Tigers are still auditioning for the punt returner job. It’s thought that senior Stephen Roberts has the inside track after returning 6 punts last season for 100 yards. Georgia brings back sophomore punter Marshall Long, who averaged 38.7 yards per punt last season. Georgia allowed 6.1 yards per punt return on 20 returns. Junior Terry Godwin seems to have salted away the return job, taking over for the departed Isaiah McKenzie. Advantage: Even.
Kickoffs: Daniel Carlson was very good kicking off last season, notching 57 touchbacks on 72 kickoffs. When Auburn did allow returns, opponents averaged only 18.0 yards per return. Junior Kerryon Johnson is Auburn’s most experienced return man returning, and he averaged 22.2 yards per return. Georgia will go with sophomore Rodrigo Blankenship on kickoffs. Blankenship hit on 20 touchbacks on 55 kickoffs last season. Georgia was a little shaky on kick coverage last season, allowing 23.8 yards per return. The Bulldogs will need to find some new return men this year after averaging 20.2 yards per return last season. Advantage: Auburn.
Place kicking: Auburn sophomore Daniel Carlson is the man for Auburn. Carlson was 28 of 32 on field goals, and perfect on extra points. Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship hit on 14 of 18 field goal attempts, and all of his extra points. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn offensive line vs. Georgia defensive line: It’s still not settled who’ll start for Auburn on the line, although the starters looked pretty good on A-Day. It seems the tackle spots are set with seniors Darius James and Braden Smith. Senior Austin Golson will likely start at center, although Auburn is bringing in senior transfer center Casey Dunn from Jax State. If Dunn starts, Golson could move to guard. Also transferring in this fall is former Florida State starting guard Wilson Bell. Bell is expected to start at one of the guard spots. If Dunn does not beat out Golson, the other likely starting guard would be sophomore Mike Horton. Georgia figures to go with senior John Atkins at nose and juniors Trenton Thompson and Jonathan Ledbetter at ends. This battle was essentially a stalemate last season, although Auburn protected the quarterback pretty well. I figure that Auburn has more upside on the offensive line. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn backs vs. Georgia linebackers: Auburn features junior H-back Chandler Cox blowing open holes. Running behind the big H-back will be massive junior Kamryn Pettway and shifty junior Kerryon Johnson in reserve. Inside, Georgia will go with juniors Roquan Smith and Natrez Patrick. Outside backers are seniors Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy. Last season, with no threat of an Auburn passing attack, Georgia limited Auburn’s running game. However, in last year’s game, Auburn had only Kerryon Johnson left, and he was noticeably limping. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn receivers vs. Georgia corners: At the end of spring, it looked like Auburn’s two starting outside guys were sophomore Nate Craig-Myers and sophomore Darius Slayton. Both guys can fly and have good height and great hands. Redshirt freshman Marquis McClain had a great A-Day and is someone to watch out for on the outside. Georgia will go with senior Malkom Parrish and junior Deandre Baker with depth from sophomore Tyrique McGhee. Advantage: Even.
Auburn secondary receivers and quarterback vs. Georgia safeties: Auburn has potential threats here, starting with wickedly fast junior slot receiver Will Hastings. Sophomore Eli Stove can also fly. Tight ends Jalen Harris and Sal Cannella are expected to be a big part of the passing game as well. Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham is likely the starter. In 6 games as a freshman at Baylor, Stidham was electric. That trend continued during A-Day this spring as Stidham was deadly accurate and showed great mobility. Seniors Dominick Sanders and Aaron Davis are veterans for Georgia. Advantage: Even.
November games are very difficult to predict as teams can improve or regress significantly by this time. Injuries can play a major role, too. Georgia has had a hard time keeping its running backs healthy the past few seasons. Last year, Auburn quarterback Sean White was so banged up in this game that he was ineffective. It may well be that the healthiest team wins this game.
What I like in this matchup is that Auburn appears to match up well on both lines of scrimmage and has superior depth, at least right now. I expect Georgia to close that gap in coming years if it keeps recruiting as it did last season.
Prediction: Auburn toughs it out at home, outlasting a spirited Georgia team, 30-23.