Once again we’re getting ready for the big game by talking to an esteemed writer covering Georgia’s upcoming opponent.
This week we’re lucky to have JackCondon from our SB Nation sister site, College & Magnolia, a Gump-free zone where stately trees are regularly festooned with toilet paper and Columbus is regularly referred to as "the big city." I meant that as a compliment. I swear.
Jack has some interesting thoughts, highlights some Plainsmen you may not know you should be worried about, and generally gives credence to all my worst fears about this one. Enjoy.
MD: How is Jarrett Stidham different now versus the first couple of games of the season?
JC: It's obvious he's got a better command of the offense and a better rapport with his receivers, but I think a good portion of what's made him one of the more efficient quarterbacks in the SEC is that the offensive line has come together to protect him pretty well after early trouble against Clemson. The addition of Casey Dunn at center has let him play a more natural position while Austin Golson fills in wherever the need might be. Auburn's worked with a ton of different offensive line combinations this season, but they've been best when Dunn's in the middle.
As for Stidham, he's got great touch on the ball and can make all the throws, which was never in doubt. He's now got something to back up the preseason hype, and I think the team bought in as well. It's also weird, right after Sean White was kicked off the team, the offense took off. Part of me wonders if that was a distraction for the offense. Stidham's got all the weapons around him, and he's a mobile enough guy that he can keep the defense honest in the zone read game, so with each week we've seen a new wrinkle get added to the offense and he's been able to handle all of it.
MD: I’m worried about the Auburn receiving corps. But which Auburn receiver should worry me the most, and why? Ryan Davis because he catches eight balls a game? Darius Slayton because every other catch is a touchdown? Go ahead, feed my paranoia.
JC: Darius Slayton's been the big play guy here lately. It seems like there's been an obvious emphasis to get him the ball down the field, and his stats reflect it. He's averaging 31 yards a catch, and even though he's only got three touchdowns, he's caught a few deep balls that have ended up down near the goal line, where someone else punches it in. Stidham's been getting comfortable throwing to him, and they're definitely in sync.
Ryan Davis is our screen guy, and he's a threat to take any short pass the distance. They get him several opportunities a game, hoping the blocking shapes up for a big play. Will Hastings is the sure-handed possession guy who's also quick and fast enough to take one the distance. He's been a surprise deep threat this season so far as well.
One guy that Tiger fans are clamoring for to get more targets is Nate Craig-Myers, who's probably got the strongest hands on the team. He's been hit a couple times on deep balls, but he's been most effective in the mid-range passing game, using his big body to get open and catch some key third down passes.
MD: Has the Auburn run game missed a step without Kamryn Pettway? Would you trade Kerryon Johnson for any other SEC tailback?
JC: The run game's been mostly without Kam Pettway for the season if you don't count the Mercer game and the third quarter against Arkansas, so we haven't really missed him all that much. I think for the combination of skills he brings to the table, Kerryon Johnson is the perfect back for this offense, and so I'd probably keep the nation's leading scorer in points per game for our backfield.
There are other guys that are probably better classic tailbacks, like Nick Chubb, but KJ is what we need, and runs with an interesting mix of emotion, anger, and savvy. He's been great getting through the line when the holes aren't really there, and he's so wiggly that he's tough to get down immediately. He's been fantastic this year.
MD: What will Auburn's plan be to stop the UGA offense? Do you agree with Florida's Chauncey Gardner and South Carolina's Chris Lammons that Jake Fromm can't pass?
JC: I don't think he can't pass, it's just that he hasn't really had to yet. What Auburn's been good at doing in nearly every game (including the losses) is getting ahead early and playing from in front. I think the coaches learned their lesson at LSU, and haven't let up on the gas in the couple games since. We've actually made halftime adjustments. So in a perfect world, we wold get to see him try to throw the ball.
That's to say, I think the Auburn defense will obviously try to stop the run and force Fromm to throw. He hasn't had to win a game yet completely on his own, so we'd rather try to stack the box than play the pass and let your tailbacks take 6-7 yards a pop and wear the defense down. The Georgia run game is a known quantity. We have to shut it down somewhat to have a chance, so that's priority number one.
MD: Would you rather fight 10 Charles Barkley-sized Lionel Jameses, or 10 Lionel James-sized Charles Barkleys?
JC: Well, I ran into Charles Barkley at Sky Bar once. I was standing at the bar waiting for a beer, and I happened to look to my right, and there he was. Big old guy just waiting for his drink too. The bartender brought my beer, but did a double take looking at Sir Charles, and we all looked back and forth at each other, and Chuck just goes "Put it on my tab." I said thanks and walked away.
So, give me 10 Lionel James-sized Charles Barkleys, because then I would get ten free beers.
MD: Because we must: your score prediction.
JC: I think Auburn succeeds in getting up early, and Jordan-Hare Stadium is rocking. Georgia adjusts and makes a comeback, but when they get within a score late, Auburn goes over the top for the back-breaking deep ball. Tray Matthews gets the clinching interception on Georgia's ensuing drive. I just don't think Georgia's really faced a hostile environment like they'll see on Saturday, and they haven't been pushed to the brink by someone who can punch back. Notre Dame was a different team in Week 2, and I was at the Tennessee game -- that stadium was just waiting for a reason to give up. The only common opponent has been Mississippi State, and each side blew out the Maroons. I think Auburn's just a little more battle-hardened, and gets it done with the support of the home crowd.
Thanks to Jack for some great answers. We’ll be back in a bit with your first quarter open comment thread. Until then...