Though many felt Auburn had what it took to knock off No. 1 Georgia at home on Saturday afternoon, very few people would have predicted that the Tigers would send the Bulldogs home with a 40-17 loss.
Auburn is No. 10 in the current College Football Playoff rankings (though that’s sure to change on Tuesday night), the highest-ranked two-loss team in the country. Even more interesting, the Tigers still control their fate in the SEC West.
However, if coach Gus Malzahn’s crew wants to make it to the SEC Championship Game, it has to knock off unbeaten Alabama, which is sure to be No. 1 in this Tuesday’s CFP rankings, on Nov. 25 in the Iron Bowl.
Still, that’s not as far-fetched as it seemed heading into Saturday’s game against Georgia. Here are three reasons why the Tigers proved they can hang with the Crimson Tide in Week 13:
They stuffed a loaded backfield
Unquestionably, the most impressive stat from Saturday’s big win was the fact that Auburn held Georgia’s talented backfield to a measly 46 yards rushing.
Nick Chubb was the Bulldogs’ leading rusher, carrying it 11 times for 27 yards and a touchdown (which came on Georgia’s opening drive). Other than that, Sony Michel and D’Andre Swift never got going, combining for 39 total yards on 13 carries.
Ahead of a matchup against Alabama’s backfield, which features Bo Scarbrough, Damien Harris and others, the Tigers’ performance against Georgia should inspire quite a bit of confidence in defensive coordinator Kevin Steele’s unit.
Considering quarterback Jalen Hurts is Alabama’s second-leading rusher (behind Harris), Steele will have to gameplan for another huge wrinkle that the Tide will throw the Tigers’ way, but Saturday’s performance against Georgia can’t be undersold.
Daniel Carlson cemented his legendary status
The Auburn kicker is already the leading scorer in SEC history, but his performance on Saturday was incredible. A week after having two kicks blocked against Texas A&M, Carlson was a perfect 8-for-8 on the day (4-for-4 on field goals and 4-for-4 on extra points).
His crowning achievement was a booming 54-yard kick in the first quarter that would have been good from 60 yards. Carlson showed he can handle big moments, which the Tigers will need against Alabama.
The Crimson Tide have made a habit out of forcing opponents into uncharacteristic mistakes, but Carlson is hitting his stride at just the right time.
In the Iron Bowl, the kicker will need to be perfect once again to give the Tigers a chance to pull off another big upset against the likely No. 1 team in the country.
Chip Lindsey showed he can be creative with play calls
The Tigers’ first-year offensive coordinator dialed up some brilliant plays against Georgia on Saturday afternoon, including RB Kerryon Johnson’s long screen-pass touchdown to seal the victory.
Former NFL and Oregon coach Chip Kelly broke down the film, explaining that the play added a new look for a Georgia defense that thought it knew what was coming:
More good stuff by Chip Kelly to detail Kerryon Johnson's screen pass that led to a touchdown. pic.twitter.com/aqCGM2kodl
— Billy Marshall (@BillyM_91) November 12, 2017
Considering the Tigers ran the ball on 17 straight first downs in a collapse against LSU earlier this year, Lindsey’s creativity against Georgia was a great sign for the Tigers.
Of course, it’s fair to wonder what would have happened if Lindsey had shown some creativity in that game in Baton Rouge, as Auburn would have a legitimate case for No. 1, but at least he’s dialing up some new plays.
Against Alabama, that sort of play-calling will be necessary if the Tigers are going to pull off another upset at Jordan-Hare Stadium.