AUBURN, Ala. — Coach Gus Malzahn described Auburn as a beat-up team following the Tigers’ 23-16 win against Vanderbilt. Starting quarterback Sean White dealt with a shoulder injury all of last week and leading rusher Kamryn Pettway hobbled off the field after making his longest run of the day.
Defensively, the Tigers were playing without junior linebacker Tre’ Williams before Deshaun Davis went to the locker room following a targeting penalty.
Auburn has struggled to defeat Georgia in recent years and will need its leaders to take over if the Tigers hope to control their path to the SEC title game. Here’s why Kerryon Johnson, Jason Smith and Deshaun Davis are the trio to watch on Saturday:
Sophomore RB Kerryon Johnson
After suffering an ankle injury against Mississippi State and missing time in the following weeks, Johnson has looked more like himself through Auburn’s last two games. Yet despite making an incredible diving play to score the Tigers’ first touchdown of the game against Vanderbilt on Saturday, Johnson still didn’t play much.
The sophomore carried the ball 9 times, amassing 36 yards against the Commodores. The likeliest reason for the limited carries is Pettway, who has rushed for over 150 yards in four consecutive games.
Auburn’s backfield could be shaken up a bit in Athens. Pettway “pulled something” on his final run of the day against Vandy. With Pettway’s status unknown, Johnson probably will have to take the majority of handoffs against the Bulldogs.
Junior WR Jason Smith
Smith is a player to keep an eye on — , but that doesn’t mean he’ll be in the receiver group. The junior originally was recruited to play quarterback at Auburn. He took snaps with quarterbacks in practice a few weeks ago. When sophomore Sean White didn’t start the first half against Vanderbilt, backup John Franklin III took over.
It became apparent that coaches aren’t entirely comfortable with Franklin throwing the football. If White still is dealing with his injury and Franklin’s abilities limit Rhett Lashlee’s offense, it’s not entirely out of the question for Smith to step in. It’s a long shot, but it’s an option if Auburn gets in trouble in Athens.
Sophomore LB Deshaun Davis
Losing Davis was a tough blow for Auburn’s defense. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has praised Davis this season for watching film like a professional football player. He often can tell opposing offensive players what they’re doing before they move an inch. Auburn missed Davis in the lineup even though less experienced players stepped up their games.
Ole Miss and Vanderbilt exposed some weaknesses in Auburn’s passing defense, and Georgia will try to exploit those same flaws. It’s going to be up to Davis to return to this weekend’s game and limit missteps after missing most of the game.
His ejection actually could turn out to be a good thing. Davis dealt with minor injuries this season and could use what basically turned into an off weekend to rest. No matter what, he’ll have to be ready to lead the Auburn defense against its oldest rival.