5 reasons why it won't be as easy for Auburn the second time
After beating two No. 1 teams in a three-week period, Auburn is looking to make its first appearance in the College Football Playoff.
Before the Tigers can do that, they are going to have to face Georgia for the second time this season — this time on a much bigger stage.
The first game between these two SEC opponents saw the Tigers walk away with a convincing 40-17 home win, but will things be as easy the second time around?
Here are 5 reasons it won’t be.
1. Kerryon Johnson might not be available
There is no disputing that Kerryon Johnson has been Auburn’s best offensive player this season. He has rushed for 1,276 yards and 17 touchdowns this season, both second best in the SEC.
Johnson’s performance against Georgia in Week 11 was arguably his best of the season.
Facing a Bulldogs run defense that was a top-10 unit at the time, the junior running back rushed for 167 yards on a season-high 32 carries (a 5.2-yard average). In addition, Johnson also hauled in two catches for 66 yards, including this 55-yard touchdown:
— Greg Brandt (@devywarehouse) November 11, 2017
Johnson’s availability for Saturday’s game is at risk after he injured a shoulder on Saturday against Alabama. If he can’t go, the Bulldogs gain a significant advantage the second time around.
2. Auburn won’t be at home
Auburn has played great football this season, but it’s clear that they’ve been a much better team at home than on the road.
The Tigers went a perfect 7-0 at home during the regular season, and outscored their opponents by an average of 24.4 points per game (38-13.6).
On the road, however, Auburn was a pedestrian 3-2 with losses to Clemson and LSU. The point differential dropped by a full 10 — from 24.4 to 14.4 — on the road as well (34.8-20.4).
This will be the Tigers’ first game at a neutral site this season, but not having the home crowd at Jordan-Hare should make things more difficult.
3. Smart seems to be Saban 2.0 in revenge games
It’s still a small sample size, but you have to think Kirby Smart picked up a thing or two during his tenure under Nick Saban. One of those things could be Saban’s ability to get his team up for revenge games.
Since Saban arrived at Alabama in 2007, only one team has defeated him two times in a row — Hugh Freeze and the Ole Miss Rebels in 2014 and ’15.
So far, Smart has an excellent record in revenge games as well.
The Bulldogs had five losses in Smart’s first season — to Ole Miss, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Florida and Georgia Tech. Georgia played four of those five teams again this season, and here were the results:
- Tennessee: W (41-0)
- Vanderbilt: W (45-14)
- Florida: W (42-7)
- Georgia Tech: W (38-7)
Not only is Smart 4-0, but his team absolutely destroyed those opponents the second time, by an average of 34.5 points.
4. Fromm should be better the second time …
Auburn’s plan in the first matchup was to limit Georgia’s run game and force true freshman quarterback Jake Fromm to beat them with his arm.
That strategy worked to perfection, as the Bulldogs only mustered 46 rushing yards on 32 carries (a 1.4-yard average).
Fromm completed only 13 of his 28 passing attempts (46.4 percent) for 184 yards and a touchdown, which came when the game was well out of reach.
Since then, Fromm seems to be playing a lot better. In the two games since the loss, he has completed 21-of-30 (70 percent) for 347 yards and three touchdowns.
Fromm learned some hard lessons against the Tigers the first go around, but he should be much better this time around — as long as Georgia can see some sign of life from its running game.
5. … So should the defense
It wasn’t just Georgia’s offense that struggled against the Tigers in the first matchup. The defense almost gave up 500 yards — 488 to be exact — including 214 yards through the air to Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham.
Overall, Stidham accounted for four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing) and completed 70 percent of his passes (16-of-23) in the process.
The Bulldogs’ No. 3 national ranking in passing defense says that could’ve been a fluke, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see them play a lot better the second time around — especially if Stidham shoulders more responsibility with Johnson potentially out.