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Preview for the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry

Whitlow puts his shoulder into a tackler in Athens, GA. November 11, 2018.
Whitlow puts his shoulder into a tackler in Athens, GA. November 11, 2018.

The Auburn Tigers (1-0) travel to Athens, Georgia to take on their rivals from across the Chattahoochee River this Saturday at 6:30 p.m. Central Time.  It features a top ten matchup between the number seven Tigers and the fourth ranked Georgia Bulldogs (1-0).  Auburn has lost six straight games in Athens dating back to 2005.  This is the first time since 1936 the game will not be played in the month of November.  The two teams enter the game with ESPN's SP+ top two defenses (Georgia 1, Auburn 2).  So, expect points to be at a premium between the hedges.  Continue reading for a breakdown of how the two offenses and defenses matchup.

Georgia Offense (37 points scored per game) vs Auburn Defense (13 points allowed per game)

The largest storyline regarding the Georgia offense is their quarterback situation.  D'Wan Mathis started last week against Arkansas but was relatively ineffective finishing the game 8/17 with 55 yards and a touchdown before getting pulled in favor of Stetson Bennett.  Bennett got the Dawgs offense going in the second half with a 211 yard and 2 touchdown performance through the air.  USC transfer JT Daniels has been medically cleared this week, so he is also an option for Georgia.  Kirby Smart has been relatively mum on who he will start against the Tigers.  Auburn's defenders have expressed confidence in Kevin Steele to be prepared for all three quarterbacks.  Since arriving at Auburn, Steele has routinely fielded one of the best defenses in college football.  After a bit of a slow start last week against Kentucky, Auburn's defense settled in quite nicely.  The Tigers forced three turnovers, had two sacks, stopped Kentucky twice on fourth down, and ended the game allowing only 3.6 yards per rush attempt.  Kentucky's offensive line featured three preseason All-SEC selections, so for the Auburn defense to hold the Wildcats to 3.6 yards a carry was quite impressive.  On the flip side, the Georgia running game struggled a bit out of the gates against Arkansas.  For the game, the Georgia offense only averaged 2.9 yards per rush attempt.  Zamir White did finish with 13 carries for 71 yards.  White broke off his two longest runs (20 and 13 yards) after Bennett was able to open up the passing game in the second half.  George Pickens (a one time Auburn commit from Hoover, AL) is undeniably Georgia's best receiver.  Theoretically, Roger McCreary will draw the Pickens assignment for the Tigers.  McCreary finished week one as the SEC's second highest rated cover corner.  If McCreary is able to neutralize Pickens, then expect Auburn to bring several blitz packages against whoever starts for the Bulldogs at quarterback and try to force a Georgia mistake.  In an ideal world, Georgia would love to establish the line of scrimmage and take the pressure off their quarterback.  However, that will be easier said than done against the Tigers.

Auburn Offense (29 points scored per game) vs Georgia Defense (10 points allowed per game)

Just like Georgia, the Auburn offense also struggled to run the football in game one.  The Tigers finished with 91 yards rushing and a 3.0 average gain per carry.  Auburn rotated multiple different offensive linemen in an attempt to find the right five. The Tigers will need their offensive line to quickly take the next step to deal with the challenge of Georgia.  As Gus Malzahn said this week, "they [Georgia] make you earn it."  Georgia limited Arkansas to 77 rushing yards and a 2.8 average per carry.  Last year Auburn's Bo Nix was the first player to score a rushing touchdown against the Bulldogs (in the tenth game of the season).  Most of the Georgia defenders from last year are back, so it will be a challenge for Auburn to get the run game going. Bo Nix could be a large part of the Auburn game plan for their rushing offense.  Nix has gone 218 pass attempts without throwing an interception, which is the second longest streak in the nation (behind Clemson's Trevor Lawrence).  Opposing him is one of the best ballhawks in the nation, Georgia safety Richard LeCounte.  LeCounte recorded two interceptions in the season opener against Arkansas.  It will be key for Auburn to not turn the ball over and therefore not give Georgia a short field.  Auburn has their own stud receiver in Seth Williams.  Expect Georgia's Eric Stokes to draw the assignment of covering Williams.  Stokes is also one of the SEC's best cover corners, just like McCreary is for Auburn.

Game prediction:

These two teams are closely matched and should produce a great matchup.  Georgia has the homefield advantage (although this is probably not as strong an advantage during the COVID world).  However, Auburn has the advantage as far as experience at quarterback with Bo Nix.  Georgia's three potential starting quarterbacks have one combined start in an SEC environment, while Nix will be starting his fifteenth consecutive game.  Daniels does have starting experience in the Pac-12; however, the 125th edition of the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry on primetime is a different animal.  The game will come down to which team can avoid mistakes and win the field position battle.  Turnovers, penalties, and special teams play will all be key.  Daniel Carlson's leg could be huge for the Tiger's victory hopes.  Georgia blocked a punt last week and Auburn has a history of blocking punts and field goals under Malzahn, so the often overlooked third phase of the game could be key in the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry.  As has been the case when these teams have matched up lately, it is likely that the first team to twenty will win.

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