Game Day Preview: What you need to know about UGA-Auburn
UGA (6-3, 4-3 SEC) vs. Auburn Tigers (5-4, 2-4 SEC)
Auburn is set to host UGA in the 119th installment of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. The all-time record stands at 55-55-8, so the tie will be broken Saturday.
The Tigers are coming off their best performance of the season in a road win over Texas A&M, while the Bulldogs became bowl eligible last week by defeating Kentucky at home. Auburn needs a win in one of its final three games to reach bowl eligibility.
The last time these teams met in Jordan-Hare Stadium, the game was defined by “The Prayer at Jordan-Hare.” Will Saturday’s game also come down to the final minutes?
Kickoff: Noon ET (CBS)
Weather: Mostly sunny, 58 degrees (weather.com)
Line: Auburn -1½ (VegasInsider.com)
By the numbers
After the first three games of the season, Auburn was -5 in turnover differential. Over the last six weeks, the Tigers have been +10 in turnover differential.
Auburn’s current +5 turnover differential is the third-best in the SEC. The Bulldogs rank 11th in the conference with a -2 turnover margin after leading the SEC in that category last season.
The team that wins the turnover battle has a clear advantage in this game.
If it’s close down the stretch, the kicking game will likely be a deciding factor. Auburn has to like its chances in that scenario.
Auburn sophomore kicker Daniel Carlson has made 12 consecutive field goals. He also leads the FBS with four field goals of 51 yards or more.
Georgia kicker Marshall Morgan holds the SEC record with 19 consecutive field goals made, but this season he is just 12-of-17 on field goal attempts.
The two kickers could end up being the most important players in the game.
UGA is 5-0 this season when it rushes for 200 yards or more in a game, so Auburn must put an emphasis on stopping the Bulldogs’ rushing attack.
Auburn has not allowed 200 yards rushing in five of its last six games, and the outlier came in a four-overtime loss to Arkansas (213 yards).
The Bulldogs’ strength is running the football (208.7 yards per game), although they haven’t been the same since star running back Nick Chubb was lost to a season-ending leg injury. UGA was able to rush for 300 yards against a weak Kentucky defense last week, but that was the first time the team rushed for over 200 yards in five games.
The only team to lose to the Bulldogs while holding them below 200 rushing yards was Missouri. The final score was 9-6.
If Auburn can limit UGA’s running game, it has a good chance to emerge victorious.
Story lines to watch
Jeremy Johnson, Sean White or both?
Have you heard this one before? There is still uncertainty about who will start for Auburn at quarterback Saturday.
The coaching staff likely knows who the starter will be, but an official announcement may not come until shortly before kickoff.
Junior Jeremy Johnson started his first game since Sept. 19 last week in Auburn’s 26-10 win over Texas A&M. Johnson replaced freshman Sean White and completed 13-of-17 passes for 132 yards and a touchdown.
White, who has been dealing with a nagging knee injury, was able to take first-team reps in practice this week after being limited the previous two weeks. White started the five games prior to last Saturday.
Johnson played well enough in the win over the Aggies to earn another start, but if White is healthy, the coaching staff has a difficult choice to make.
It is also possible that both quarterbacks will see time on the field as they did in a 27-19 loss to Ole Miss on Oct. 31. In that game, Johnson was prepared to start but White made the decision to play through his injury in warmups.
Wildcat vs. Wild Dawg
The wildcat formation has long been a staple of Auburn coach Gus Malzahn’s offense, but Georgia featured a new wildcat package (that has taken on the name Wild Dawg) using freshman wide receiver Terry Godwin and sophomore running back Sony Michel in its win over Kentucky.
Godwin rushed for 26 yards and a touchdown against the Wildcats on his first rushing attempts of the season. Godwin did not attempt a pass from the formation, but UGA coach Mark Richt did not rule out Godwin potentially throwing the ball.
Auburn’s defense should already be accustomed to facing the wildcat, but the Tigers must be prepared for every possible scenario. Don’t be surprised to see both teams showcase plays that neither has used in prior games.
Pressure on the quarterback
Since Auburn defensive end Carl Lawson returned from a hip injury against Ole Miss, the Tigers have been more effective rushing the passer. However, this is not necessarily reflected in the team’s sack totals.
The Tigers have just three sacks in their past three games, but they have intercepted at least one pass in five consecutive games. Some of those turnovers have been the direct result of pressure on the opposing quarterback.
UGA’s turnover margin issues were highlighted above. The Bulldogs quarterbacks have eight interceptions this season.
Will the Tigers capitalize on potential UGA mistakes?
Prediction: Auburn 30, Georgia 27
Auburn is running into UGA at the right time.
The Tigers defense just played its best game of the season. Now, it faces a UGA team that still has uncertainty at the quarterback position.
UGA defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt seemed to solve Malzahn’s offense last November, but it is hard to envision Auburn getting stuck on seven points again. It will likely take a similar defensive effort from the Bulldogs to give them a chance in this game.
Expect Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee to get creative with the play calling, as he did last week against Texas A&M.
With home-field advantage and one of the best kickers in the country, Auburn escapes.