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.
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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.
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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.
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