Auburn football: 5 reasons the Tigers will beat Georgia and all but end Dawgs' Playoff hopes
As usual, a lot is on the line when Auburn and Georgia meet Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Bulldogs (8-1), No. 4 in the College Football Playoff rankings, control their fate in the SEC East and national title race while the Tigers (7-2) still have an outside shot at crashing the Playoff with a lot of help and a huge finish.
With the stakes high, the tension will be at a peak level. So how does Gus Malzahn and his team pull out the victory? Here are 5 reasons the Tigers walk out victorious.
Defense. Defense. Defense.
Yes, both defenses are among the top in the nation, but Auburn’s defensive line is something special. Derrick Brown and Co. will be able to shut down the rushing attack of D’Andre Swift and put the game on the right arm of Jake Fromm. While Fromm is most likely capable of putting the team on his shoulders and winning a game, he really needs the running game to be effective for him to be at his best. Stop the running game, let Brown, Marlon Davidson, Big Kat Bryant and the big guys up front pin their ears back, and it could be another long afternoon for Fromm on The Plains.
Georgia has won 5 of the past 6 — including 2 in a row — but the loss? Auburn held the Bulldogs to 46 yards in the 2017 blowout at Jordan-Hare. That’s probably unrealistic. But the Tigers held the Dawgs to 135 yards and 146 yards in 1-score losses in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Takeaway: Limit the running game, and the Tigers have a chance.
Malzahn wins games when seat is hottest
The coach has a knack for winning when his job is at its most dangerous: 2016 against LSU when the losing coach would seemingly get the ax — and Les Miles did. In 2017 vs. these Bulldogs and then against Alabama 2 weeks later. In 2018, after a disappointing season, pummeling Purdue in the bowl game and then following that up with a season-opening win against Oregon.
He might say all the right things — and who knows if Arkansas is really in the back of his mind — but Malzahn has to believe that he needs this win to keep his job status from reaching Threat Level Midnight. (Shout out, Michael Scarn!) Expect the offense to have several extra wrinkles in it, setting up Bo Nix to succeed and take advantage of a Georgia defense that will be overhyped to begin the game.
Rushing game attack
Speaking of the offense, it seems like the Auburn running game is about to get into top form following a game that saw true freshman D.J. Williams break out and the possible return of Boobie Whitlow. If Whitlow is at 100 percent, the Tigers should be able to switch and change the backs whenever needed, and possibly have them on the field at the same time for one of those extra wrinkles. Williams proved that he can handle the load against a top SEC defense when he rushed for 130 yards against LSU and then backed that up with 24 rushes for 93 yards against Ole Miss.
A big play off the jet sweep would go a long way, too.
Kevin Steele > James Coley
It’s not hyperbole to rank Steele one of the best defensive coordinators in the country, so this matchup against an offensive coordinator that UGA fans have already become quite sick of is a mismatch of giant proportions. Give Steele the extra week to break down the Dawgs and it becomes even more vast. It didn’t seem that impressive when Steele’s defense gave up 508 yards to LSU, but holding the Tigers to just 23 points in Baton Rouge looks even better considering what happened in Tuscaloosa last weekend.
Steele will have his group ready to face any challenge that Coley’s offense can give them and will put them in the right positions to succeed.
Home. Field. Advantage
It will be 2 weeks since some of the Auburn players called out their fans for the lack of atmosphere in the close victory over Ole Miss.
The Tigers’ faithful have had 14 days to think about those comments and realize that if the players are calling you out, you better get your butt into gear.
This goes for the students as well.
Expect The Plains to be rocking for all 60 minutes, especially if the Tigers can get out to an early lead. This is a chance to make a difference and show the Tigers’ players that they have their back. It will be loud, and the Tigers will come out with a victory.
The pick: Auburn 23, Georgia 17.