Here is what I’m NOT worried about as we compete in the
Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry in a completely stupid point in the season:
1. That run game. Remember last year when the Abuurn team came to the Classic City, and literally got run out of it? Georgia amassed 292 yards on 39 rushing attempts (7.49 a pop) and 6 touchdowns. Kenny McIntosh actually brought the averages down, as he only rushed 8 times for 4.6 yards a carry and a single tuddy. Branson Robinson and Daijun Edwards flat out showed up, and even Stetson Bennett got in the act with a 64 yard touchdown jaunt. Man, I miss those days. And I wouldn’t mind this being a breakout game for the UGA ground attack.
And then there’s Auburn’s running game. They’ve been hot and cold on the ground, alternating good rushing games with average ones. I don’t think Hugh Freeze is known for his running schemes as much, but he does have athletes in the backfield and he isn’t afraid to use his wideouts. And when you consider Auburn hasn’t nailed down a QB1 a third of the way through the season, I don’t think you need to worry much about the air attack. So with the way Georgia is suffocating opposing run games this season, I like how this looks on paper.
2. The Georgia secondary has been getting exposed. Losing talent to the NFL plus a vocal and physical leader to injury is showing up in the box score. The Bulldogs have allowed 15+ yard receptions to 5 different receivers each of the last 2 games. Jared Zeno completed 32 passes last week, and Spencer Rattler was a Heisman contender for 30 minutes, completing his first 10 passes. Georgia is allowing 8.68 yards a reception in 2023. Those are things we just don’t expect when you have DB specialists like Kirby Smart and Will Muschamp and Fran Brown on your staff.
Except, maybe we do expect them. After all, Georgia allowed 9.71 yards per catch in the first 4 games of 2022 – a full yard worse that this year. So things aren’t quite as bad, and maybe not quite as exposed as one is led to believe. It might be that the ‘Dawgs have surrendered 4 passing touchdowns this season, and 3 points a game more than last year. Maybe the only problem is our 3rd string can’t quite hold it together like they did a season ago.
3. The Auburn secondary was a little thin going into last week’s game at College Station, and came out thinner. DB’s Keionte Scott and JD Rhym have missed considerable time. Then safety Donovan Kaufman left the game with an ankle injury, and another safety Zion Puckett suffered a shoulder injury. So long as the Bulldog receiving corps can actually catch a ball, we should be okay in the downfield passing game. Not to mention, Tiger DC Ron Roberts might pull back some of the secondary run support, preferring to concentrate on pass defense with less experienced players.
Now forgive me, as I was weaned at the nipple of Larry Munson’s scratch. So here’s what does worry me about facing the WarPlainsTigglesMen:
1. First game away from home. Auburn is road-tested, having beat Cal on the West Coast and then a mostly craptacular result at Kyle Field. At least Auburn is used to playing in unfriendly environs and dealing with the travails of travel. But the Georgia football team has been at home so long they’re relegated to boarding with Group B. How will Carson Beck respond to the crowd noise? Has he worked with the OL on situations like this to prevent false starts and to get the ball snapped timely?
Jordan-Hare is not just your run-of-the-mill stadium either. That place has black magic. Evil spirits reside, and are usually only kept at bay by heavy doses of Nick Chubb and Robert Edwards. The fans will show up, the Tigers will show up being 14 point underdogs – the question is will we get off the bus? We can’t let that weird Toomer mojo to dig it’s dirty claws into this game. Set the pace early, and leave no doubt.
2. Who is playing quarterback for Auburn? When you have 3 quarterbacks, do you even have 1? Hugh Freeze does know how to gameplan. And he’s tried every possible combination of signal-callers, without seeing a clear winner emerge. That may just mean he’s going to build an offensive strategy around more than one.
Robby Ashford isn’t exactly a gunslinger. Not only was he the incumbent now pushed out of the starting position, he’s only 7 for 17 in limited action. Last season in Athens, he completed 13 of 38 passes (34%). But he didn’t get sacked, and had positive yardage eluding the rush. Transfer Payton Thorne is more typical of a passer, getting the majority of 2023 snaps and completing over 65%. He has also thrown 3 picks. But don’t overlook his legs either – the guy is sneaky fast and deceptively elusive. The Bulldog defense has to be ready for pretty much everything.
3. Turnovers. The Bulldogs have only gotten more sloppy when it comes to ball control. There were some fortunate bounces when UT Martin and Ball State forced fumbles. That was not the case when UAB trotted into town. And we’re facing an Auburn team that is getting it’s hands on the ball. Not only do they have 5 interceptions, but the Teagles are deadset on stripping ball carriers.
Coach Smart commented earlier in the week that he is seeing this on film: “they’re punching balls out. You can tell they’re coaching it. They’re violent, stripping at balls, going after it.” That’s not something to overlook when the team is already suffering from fumble-itis. Georgia is the better team, with better personnel. You can’t let turnovers keep Auburn in the game.
Call me crazy, just don’t call me late for dinner. Sound off in the comments below what worries you about the Bulldogs of Georgia versus the Tigers of Auburn. And as always…