The latest iteration of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry features a couple of evenly matched teams. While conference championships are not on the line, this one has provided some memorable moments in recent history. Blogcritics’ Jay Skipworth and Josh Hathaway present cases for both teams and offer their picks for the game.
This game will be televised Saturday on ESPN2 and 7pm E.T.
Three Reasons Georgia can win by Jay Skipworth:
1) A.J. Greene
Green leads the SEC in receptions per game and receiving yards per game, but the statistics only tell a part of the story. This guy is an absolute force on the football field. He fights for catches, yardage, and does his part as a blocker in the running game. He’s not afraid of contact and makes big plays when he is asked to. Not to mention, Green made a few key catches – including the game winner – on the road as a freshman last year against a better Auburn defense. Couple all of that with how desperately thin Auburn’s defensive backfield is and it is a recipe for trouble for the Tigers on Saturday
2) Rush Defense
Georgia’s squad ranks fourth in the SEC against the run. (However, it should be noted the 120 yards per game average is nearly double that of the top rushing defense – Alabama – and almost a third more than the second place team – Florida). That’s the key to slowing down Auburn’s offense. I don’t know if Georgia can stop Auburn running the ball, but they can contain it and with Auburn down to really two backs in rotation (Tate and Fannin and the latter is used sparingly), that favors the Bulldogs. Watch for fumbles from the Auburn backs in this game as well. That could very well turn the course of this game.
3) Red Zone Offense
A couple of statistical facts about Georgia: when given the opportunity in the red zone, Georgia scores points. As impressive as that, Georgia is one of two teams with zero turnovers in the red zone (Arkansas is the other team). When given the opportunity to stop opponents in the red zone, Auburn is as sure a thing to give it up as Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.
Rebuttal by Josh Hathaway
Jay, you're reaching here. Auburn averages 200 yards on the ground and Georgia gives up over 100. If Auburn gets somewhere in the middle, they've gone a long way towards winning this game. A.J. Greene is a fantastic wideout. What Georgia has discovered this season, though, is that it doesn't take a lot to limit one wide receiver in a one-dimensional offense. Greene will make a couple plays. He'll catch 7-10 balls, get his 100 yards, and probably get into the end zone. Once. Maybe twice. Raise your hand if you think that Bulldog defense is going to hold Auburn to under 14 points. This is a game to bet the over. Georgia's other playmakers are ordinary by comparison. Neither team defends so it comes down to this: Auburn can outscore these guys.
Three Reasons Auburn can win by Josh Hathaway:
1) Georgia is a fraud.
I could really list this three times. I've been saying it all season long. This is a bad football team, plain and simple. Even when they were good, they never did the unexpected. They win most of the games they should win and when you think they're going to lose, they do. They couldn't go to Stillwater and beat Oklahoma State, they couldn't beat LSU, they still haven't gotten within 100 points of Florida. Even in a rebuilding year as this obviously was, they lost to Tennessee and LSU teams that aren't as good as in recent years.
Georgia has NONE. Willie Martinez should have been fired last year. Head coach Mark Richt didn't make that move and UGA's defense is worse this year. They gave up 37 points to a S. Carolina attack that hasn't scored 37 points combined since that Week 2 game. It's a good thing Arkansas' defense is actually worse because they gave up 41 to the Razorbacks. Four times this year, they've surrendered more than 35 points. Florida, Arkansas, and Tennessee all hung more than 40. In fairness Auburn's offense actually ranks slightly behind Georgia's defense in the SEC, but we're talking about 0.5 points per game difference.
Here's where we get the real separation. Auburn is #1 in total offense in the SEC. Read that again. This is a team that last year under Tuberville and Franklin was given credit for a conference win in a game that ended 3-2. That's a staggering turnaround. While I think there is plenty of smoke and a house full of mirrors involved in that ranking, there's no getting around the fact Auburn is #1 and Georgia is #10. Neither team can stop anybody. Auburn has demonstrated an ability to move it, mostly on the ground but even their passing game ranks in the top half of the conference.
Rebuttal by Jay Skipworth
I wouldn’t go as far as to call Georgia a fraud, but they have underachieved for two years running. I won’t argue that. I will say that Georgia has pulled in the talent. What has happened with it since signing day is anybody’s speculation. Georgia’s defensive woes are very clear; I admit that. However, I think you have to look at time and place for their “big” losses. Florida was at a neutral site (in the state of Florida) against the number one team in the country. Arkansas hung 41 on Georgia at home and everyone seems to forget Georgia put 52 on them and won the game. Tennessee was also on the road after a tough loss to LSU. The last one is pretty bad, I admit, but that Georgia team isn’t the same one. Otherwise, they would have mailed in the rest of the season. Georgia’s offense isn’t all terrible either. They score the majority of their points in the first half of games. They’ll have to do that again if they hope to win Saturday. When Auburn’s offense is on – it is very hard to stop, but there was a time this season against less then stellar defensive squads – Arkansas and Kentucky – where the Auburn offense was downright awful. What was the primary reason for the collapse? Answer: pressure from the opposing defense on the quarterback. If Georgia can do that, they stand a chance. However, that’s a tall order for this Georgia team.
Josh Hathaway: Auburn 34, Georgia 28
Georgia cannot run the football, relying entirely on their passing game to score. Even a bad defense has an advantage when they are playing a one dimensional offense. Auburn has a losing streak they'd like to end and this, an eighth win, would give an emotional boost to the fan base while also improving their postseason destination.
Jay Skipworth:Auburn 30, Georgia 28
In the end, this one should be a shoot-out because neither defense is great at stopping the opposition. I think Auburn can gain an edge with a strong running game and a deliberate passing attack. Auburn will need to capitalize on every opportunity in the game in order to get the win. Georgia wants this one and needs it, but Auburn wants it and needs it too and has the talent on the field and the sidelines to go get it.