PHOTO: USA Today Sports
#25 Georgia (6-3, 4-2) at #7 Auburn (9-1, 5-1)
Saturday, 3:30 PM EST, CBS
Line: Auburn by 3.5
What a difference a year can make. Last year at this time, Georgia was 8-1 and heading on cruise control towards the SEC Championship Game and Auburn was 2-7 with zero conference wins.
In 2013, Georgia has faced a myriad of offensive injuries. Combine that with a young and porous defense and Georgia has put itself in a must win situation. Aaron Murray has been the only constant for Georgia but with Todd Gurley and Michael Bennett starting to heal, the Bulldogs are rounding back into form on offense. Will it be in time for them to fend off a much improved Auburn team?
For Auburn, Gus Malzahn has completely turned this team around. Last year, the Tigers flat out gave up on Gene Chizik. Despite going just 3-9 in 2012, this team still had talent and Malzahn (along with defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson) has done a great job maximizing that talent so far this season. Auburn has some good wins this season against Texas A&M and Ole Miss but the toughest games for them still await in Georgia and Alabama.
For Auburn to win: Auburn has done a great job running the football this season but they will need to mix in the pass game and be balanced on offense. The Georgia defense has proven susceptible to the short passing game and I expect Malzahn to draw up a game-plan to take advantage of the young Georgia defense. On defense, Auburn needs to shut down the Georgia running game and make them one dimensional. If they can do this then the depth at WR for Georgia will likely be the Bulldogs downfall.
For Georgia to win: Todd Gurley needs to impact the game like he did against Florida. He doesn't have to be the workhorse but he is the only play-maker left, besides Aaron Murray, for Georgia so he needs to make plays to open up the passing game. On defense, Georgia needs to take away the run from Auburn and make Nick Marshall beat them with his arm.
Key Player, Auburn: Nick Marshall, QB. So far this season Georgia is 1-0 against opposing starting QBs that have been kicked off the Bulldogs team. Marshall will have a lot of say on whether or not the Dawgs can go 2-0 in this strange metric. The Georgia defense has not had a good season but they have been solid against the run (4th in SEC in ypg and allowing just 3.42 ypc). Marshall needs to play a complete game and his accuracy on mid to short range passes could be the key to this game.
Key Players, Georgia: Tray Matthews and Josh-Harvey Clemons: Georgia's young safeties have to take the next step on Saturday. This year, we've seen some good things out of Matthews and Clemons but they need to progress to the play-maker stage if Georgia wants to come out victorious. Both of these players will be critical for Georgia in aiding Georgia's plan to stop the run and Auburn's likely short passing attack. Georgia is dead last in the SEC in forcing turnovers this season, if Matthews and Clemons can help the Dawgs pry a ball or two loose that could turn the game in their favor.
Key Stats: Over the last two years Georgia has won by a combined score of 83-7. As an offensive coordinator, Malzahn's record against Georgia is 1-2, with the win coming in Auburn's National Championship season. Mark Richt is 8-4 against Auburn and has won 6 of the last 7 in this series.