AUBURN, Ala. — After months of waiting and pondering what could be a special 2017 season, Auburn football is finally back.
Jarrett Stidham commanded the Tigers offense during Auburn’s A Day spring game, but this time he won’t be playing against teammates. Everything is for real, and it counts in a big way.
Georgia Southern, the opponent on Saturday, isn’t exactly a cakewalk. The visiting Eagles’ triple option is tricky, forcing Gus Malzahn and his staff to dedicate extra time to prepare for the opener.
Our SEC Country staff has spent weeks speaking with Malzahn, coaches and players on the Auburn campus. We’ve watched at the Auburn Athletic Complex during media viewing periods. Now it’s time to make a game prediction.
Justin Ferguson: Auburn 45, Georgia Southern 13
Auburn fans want to see Jarrett Stidham sling the ball all over the yard Saturday night. But that doesn’t fit Gus Malzahn’s style or take full advantage of Georgia Southern’s weakness — a defensive front facing a nearly complete rebuild. Stidham might throw for a few scores, but Auburn should be able to take care of business on the ground. Georgia Southern’s option will make for a few big plays. However, Auburn’s veteran linebackers will lead the way in this one. Tigers don’t quite cover against a possession-limiting team, but they win big.
Jerry Hinnen: Auburn 38, Georgia Southern 17
The question before Gus Malzahn: What’s the most effective way to limit his defensive line’s exposure to Georgia Southern’s option cut-blocks? Is it (1) grinding out first downs and burning clock against the Eagles’ inexperienced, undersized front seven, or (2) bombing away with Jarrett Stidham in the hopes of entering garbage time midway through the second quarter? Either should work, and it’ll be a surprise if Chip Lindsey can resist letting Stidham take his shots. But it’s still Malzahn’s team — and that means 350-plus yards of rushing should be the order of the day.
Lauren Shute: Auburn 38, Georgia Southern 10
Everyone inside Jordan-Hare is going to be curious to see what Jarrett Stidham can accomplish in his debut, but the focus really shouldn’t be on the transfer quarterback. The focus on Saturday night should be on Auburn’s backfield. Also, Kevin Steele’s defense should force at least two turnovers in the first half, providing a defensive spark early. Auburn is going to do what it needs to against the visiting Eagles, but the Tigers’ performance might not indicate how special this team could be. Gus Mazlahn isn’t going to want to give Dabo Swinney any hints of what he’s planning, so expect a basic game.
Benjamin Wolk: Auburn 41, Georgia Southern 13
Georgia Southern isn’t the type of program to sleep on in an opener, and Auburn is fully aware of that. As 34.5-point favorites, it’s going to be tough for the Tigers to cover due to Georgia Southern’s possession-hogging, triple-option offense. I still expect the Tigers to get theirs on offense, even though I think this game will be more run-heavy than what should be expected against Clemson and others down the line. In the end, don’t expect the Tigers to have much trouble.