This year’s edition of the “Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry” between the Auburn Tigers and Georgia Bulldogs features a match-up of two top 15 squads with plenty of playoff implications at stake. Georgia comes into the contest ranked number four in the latest College Football Playoff rankings, and Auburn sits at 12th. For Auburn, the chances of getting into the playoff discussion is slim to none with two losses, but for Georgia, they cannot afford to look past the Tigers.
A Quick History Lesson
These two programs have been competing in football since 1892 and the Bulldogs hold the all-time series lead 59-56-8. Auburn won the very first meeting 10-0, but Georgia has won the last two meetings including the 2017 SEC Championship Game 28-7. Auburn’s last win in the series came that very same year during the regular season match-up, winning 40-17.
There are a lot of connections between the football programs. On the current Auburn roster, there are 34 players that are from the state of Georgia. Both programs “greatest” coaches played for the other side of the rivalry. Auburn’s Pat Dye played for Georgia from 1958-1960 before becoming the head coach of the Tigers in 1981. On the other side, Vince Dooley played quarterback at Auburn from 1951-53 and was an assistant from 1956-63 before becoming the Georgia head coach in 1964. The two legendary coaches have a combined 10 SEC Championships between them.
Lastly, this will be the final time the two will meet in the month of November with next season’s game being played on October 10th. The last time they played outside of the month of November was on October 24, 1936. Auburn won that day 20-13.
This Year’s Game
Auburn Offense vs Georgia Defense
It goes without saying that the Auburn offense and Gus Malzahn have been under some scrutiny this season. In fact, a portion of the Auburn faithful showed their displeasure with the offense by booing at halftime and some even going as far as leaving early. Not often you see fans leave a game early in what turned out to be a competitive game against Ole Miss that Auburn won 20-14.
A lot of that angst has been due to lack of progression for true freshman quarterback Bo Nix. Now, against the Rebels, Nix did have his best statistical performance by completing 30 of 44 passes and 340 yards. But the offense struggled to get into the end zone. Nix will be key in the game this Saturday against a very stout Georgia defense. The Bulldogs are first in the SEC in total defense by only giving up 260.3 yards per game. That includes being third against the pass only allowing 185.8 yards. That’s behind only Missouri and Kentucky. Nix has struggled in games against top competition completing just 45% of his passes and throwing six interceptions. The difference this time? Those games were on the road, this one will be at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The key to opening any opportunities for Nix and the air attack will be finding a running game. It will be interesting to see how Auburn is able to use leading rusher JaTarvious Whitlow who should be much healthier coming off the bye week. Another element will be the emergence of freshman D.J. Williams. In the previous two games against LSU and Ole Miss, Williams has gained 223 yards and averaging 6.0 yards per carry. Whitlow and Williams could create a very dangerous duo for Auburn in the future, but it will be tough against a Georgia defense that only allows 74.6 yards a game. That ranks first in the SEC.
Auburn Defense vs Georgia Offense
Georgia has what might be the best offensive line in all of college football. The quarterbacks have only been sacked five times the entire season. A huge key to victory for Auburn will be getting constant pressure on Jake Fromm. When Fromm is given time, he can be a surgeon passing the football. In the last two games Georgia has only given up one sack and the quarterback has been hurried only twice. Fromm on the season is completing 67% of his passes. The emergence of receiver Lawrence Cager has really opened the offense up and given Fromm a go-to receiver.
While Georgia may hold claim to having the best offensive line, Auburn can say the exact same thing about their defensive line. This is a group lead by Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson. Both should be first-round picks in the 2020 NFL Draft. Auburn is fifth in the SEC with 23 sacks on the season. They are also third in the conference in only giving up 112.7 yards per game on the ground. Auburn’s run defense versus the Georgia rush offense will be strength on strength.
Containing running back D’Andre Swift will be a big component in Auburn’s upset bid on Saturday. Swift is the third leading rusher in the SEC with 921 yards and has seven touchdowns thus far this season. If the Tigers can limit his production and make the Bulldogs predictable then that feared defensive front should be able to get constant pressure on Fromm. In the past, Fromm has been known to get off his game when hit with constant pressure.
This game should be a very low-scoring defensive game that comes down to the fourth quarter. There has been a lot of criticism pointed toward both the Auburn coaching staff. Even the fan base has got some criticism for the past few weeks. That will be interesting to see how the atmosphere will be at Jordan-Hare Stadium and if they can be a factor in this game as well. The Auburn defense will do like they did against LSU and Florida and keep it close but will eventually wear down and Georgia will win 20-13.