SEC Game of the Week: #25 Georgia at #7 Auburn

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The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry is one of 2013’s most impactful and interesting games. Auburn and Georgia are tied 54-54-8 in this historical rivalry game.

There’s much on the line for Saturday, thanks to a resurging Auburn program under Gus Malzahn, and you already know the back story of Auburn QB Nick Marshall and his journey from Georgia to JUCO and, finally, Auburn.

Related: SEC Bowl Projections

Here’s what to watch for:

Division on the line: Whichever team loses Saturday will essentially lose their respective division. Auburn and Alabama are the only two teams in the West that control their own destiny, and Georgia, Missouri and South Carolina are still in the hunt for the East crown. But the loser Saturday loses more than a football game; it loses the division and a shot for the SEC Championship in Atlanta.

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Running game: Since 2003, the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry has been decided the old-fashioned way – the running game. For the last 10 years, the team that has recorded the most rushing yards wins this game. Auburn features a dynamic duo in QB Nick Marshall and Tre Mason to spearhead the SEC’s best rushing attack that averages 320 yards per game. Marshall has rushed for 734 yards and seven touchdowns, while Mason has rushed 181 times for 1,038 yards and 16 touchdowns. But neither is the best runner in the game; that distinction belongs to UGA’s Todd Gurley, who, when healthy, is the best running back in the country. Gurley has rushed 101 times for 625 yards and six touchdowns, and Georgia is a different team with him toting the rock. The running game will be under the microscope Saturday.

Related: Compare SEC team rushing stats

Plays to be made: For as much as Georgia’s defense has publicly struggled this season, Auburn is giving up more total yards per game and more rushing yards per game than the Bulldogs. The Tigers’ pass defense only allows three less yards than Georgia’s maligned secondary. The biggest distinction, however, is in scoring defense, where Auburn is the SEC’s fourth best scoring defense, while Georgia is tied for ninth. There are plays to be made by Georgia’s balanced offense against Auburn’s defense. Auburn has played a bend-but-don’t-break style all year and has gotten away with it in every game except LSU, where they couldn’t stop Jeremy Hill and the running game.

Tough against the run: Todd Grantham and Mark Richt are probably having some sleepless nights this week. Auburn’s dominant running attack will do that to coaches. But Georgia’s defense is fourth in the SEC in run defense, allowing opponents just 126 yards per game. The weakness has been in the secondary, and attacking the secondary is a perceived weak point of Auburn’s offense. The Bulldogs can run sideline to sideline with anyone in the SEC; they’re fast and athletic, and teams can’t run at will like they can against Tennessee or Arkansas. Expect Georgia to not necessarily load the box but make Auburn attack them down field. For as good as Auburn’s offense has been, Georgia has to feel pretty good about this matchup.

Getting special: Contrary to popular belief, this is the biggest mismatch in the game. Auburn’s special teams has been explosive, while Georgia’s has been, well, terrible at times. The Vanderbilt game is a great example – Georgia muffed a punt and the punter botched a snap. Both led to scores for the Commodores, and the Bulldogs dropped the game. Auburn is second in the SEC in kickoff returns and third in punt returns, while Georgia is ninth in punting and 11th in defending kickoffs. Auburn ran back an 85-yard punt return and a 90-yard kickoff return against Tennessee. Can Georgia be great one game on special teams? Often overlooked, special teams could have one of the biggest impacts Saturday.

Players to watch:

Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn: Marshall is going to have to make some throws down the field to make Georgia respect his throwing ability. We know Marshall can run, but what if Georgia forces him to make throws? We haven’t seen that since the LSU game. I’m not saying he can’t; he just hasn’t been forced to lately.

Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia: Gurley is the catalyst for the Bulldogs’ offense. Assuming his ankle holds us, he will give the Tigers’ defense fits. Aaron Murray is a dynamic QB, but he’s much better when Gurley provides a balanced attack. Defenses just get tired of tackling Georgia’s bully.

Photo Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

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COMMENTS

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  • Our players can, without a doubt, get to AU’s RB’s, but how well they tackle will be the key. We tackle poorly, then AU runs wild and wears us out. We tackle soundly–and I think we will for the most part–then AU’s offense slows down and we outscore them. Gurley helps, but we can pull it off without a stellar game from him.

  • This is going to be an awesome game. I’m telling you with Gurley the Bulldogs are tough to beat. Making Nick Marshall throw the ball will be the biggest key in the entire game.

    • It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Georgia upset the Tigers.

      • Mississippi State stopped Auburn’s run game and Nick Marshall lit them up for over 300 yards passing. Here’s a link to the highlights http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WuwAY_n6lk.

        • Which is scary given that Miss St’s rushing D is statistically better than its passing D. I did not watch the game, but what I have to hope for is that Miss St loaded up to stop the run and paid for it by getting beat through the air. Kind of like what UK did against UGA last year when they loaded the box and shut down Gurley and Marshall, but Murray threw for 400+ and 4 TDs. Regardless, it shows Nick Marshall can throw it and will, if pushed. That said, I still think the key is stopping the rushing attack.

  • Jon, thanks for framing this rivalry for a Missourian. I hope I get to watch the game. Do you think it will come down to which team believes it will go to Atlanta, or win in Atlanta, or which running game works the best, or who has the most complete attack, who has the best quarterback, and then there is the SEC montra…who has the best defense? I think GA has a more complete team than the Murray/Gurley theory subscribes. I think if Auburn wins it, it will be a team willpower dynamic saying they believe they can win the Iron Bowl.

    • This is only a fraction of the frame of this rivalry. The article is only talking about what’s on the line this year. However, this is a hard-fought rivalry game almost every year regardless the state of the current teams. On both campuses, this game is talked about on-and-off all year. It’s always a scrappy game and this year, with relatively evenly matched teams, it’ll be exciting to watch no matter what.

      I lean toward UGA (obviously) because I feel like our team is overall the better of the two. We looked bad against Mizzou and Vandy due to the mass of injuries and would definitely have at least one fewer loss without them. Auburn has played some good football but took 4th quarter drives to secure wins against both Miss teams and looked dreadful against LSU. With UGA having Gurley back and our “new” WR having a bit more game experience, I trust my Dawgs to show up and play a full game. The biggest threat to a GA win, I think, is the special teams play. It’ll be too close of a game to get away with mistakes in that dept.

  • Nick Marshall is a better version of Tyler Murphy…basically. Hear me out: Marshall is a much better runner than he is passer. If he is forced to throw the ball, he can best be described as serviceable…but that is at best. In the last 3 games he has throw the ball 16 times…total. Now, the reason for this is that he hasn’t need to, due to that great running ability and Tre Mason, but if Georgia is able to get to him and make it so he can’t run (or can’t run as much), then he will be forced to throw, and we might possibly be able to get an INT or 2 against him.

    • Last year as a JUCO QB Marshall did average more picks than touchdowns. That’s at the JUCO level. That’s telling. Put pressure on him to have to make decisions and hopefully we can grab some INTs off of him.

  • If Auburn loses to Georgia.. they would still get to Atlanta by beating Alabama if the Tide also loses this weekend at Miss State.

    • Well, right, but with all due respect, Alabama isn’t losing to MSU.

      • I was impressed that MSU actually outgained A&M in total yards this past weekend at College Station. In fact, some of the numbers look similar to when Alabama played there earlier in the season. Special teams breakdowns by MSU prevented any real chance of an upset though. Just saying that this weekend in Starkville might be a little more competitive than some predict. An upset is unlikely, but not impossible.

        • I just ran the numbers; it is somehow statistically impossible for MSU to upset Bama

        • A valiant effort, sticking up for your team. But, the reason MSU was able to outgain A&M is that special teams breakdown you mentioned. Short fields don’t allow for many yards of offence. An impressive game nonetheless, but your comparison is a bit misplaced.

    • Is this before or after the four horsemen show up??

  • Auburn MUST the football. The Bulldogs will load up and feast on the run if AU is one-dimensional. With the lack of recent game reps, my concern for AU’s passing game is timing and QB reads. The Bulldogs play chippy and stout on defense. Sure Georgia may miss tackles or be out of position a lot, but they will knock the socks off a ball carrier. They drop the BOOM time and time again. Georgia plays defense downhill. Malzahn and Tigers will earn a lot of respect from me if they can hang 400 yards on the Bulldogs with a 80/20 run/pass ratio. That would be impressive to say the least.

  • I think one of the most interesting points of this match-up is the line. Auburn is #7 in the country. UGA is barely #25. The game is in Auburn. However, the point spread is Auburn -3? Wow not exactly a vote of confidence from the odds makers.

  • So a #7 team at home is basically even odds (3 points at home) with a 3 loss #25 team? That has to be very unusual.

    • It is unusual, but I think what Vegas realizes is that Georgia can beat anyone with Todd Gurley healthy. That – to me – is the difference and likely their thought process.

  • I beg to differ on this article’s statement about Gurley being the best RB in the SEC. Pursued by Bama & Florida Mike Davis backed away from those commitments respectively and as we know settled on the Gamecocks. Not only is Davis over a 1000 yrds rushing,he has achieved this task with a plethora of injuries including foot & ankle issues & badly bruised ribs. He has also gained major yardage as a receiver & made a long (40-45?) Yard sideline catch Randy Moss would admire! His pedigree and subsequent performance IMHO has been grossly overlooked by the media . With at least 4 possibly 5 games left this year ,the sky’s the limit on rushing & all purpose yardage. Give some SEC love to the man of steel!!