Position-by-position edge: Auburn vs. Georgia
This week’s Auburn-Georgia game is one of four SEC matchups to feature a Top 25 team. The Tigers, who beat Vanderbilt 23-16 at home last week, will try to run their winning streak to seven while the Bulldogs will attempt to win their second straight after beating Kentucky 27-24 in Lexington.
Here’s a look at how the teams match up on Saturday at Sanford Stadium (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS):
WHEN AUBURN HAS THE BALL
QB Sean White vs. Georgia pass defense: More than two-thirds into the season, White continues to be the SEC’s most accurate and highest-rated passer. The redshirt sophomore has completed 69.1 percent of his passes for 1,617 yards, 9 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.
White, who did not start against the Commodores but played the entire second half, has rushed 48 times for 145 yards and 2 scores. He didn’t start because he apparently injured his shoulder two weeks ago against Ole Miss but should be good to go for Georgia.
The Bulldogs are sixth in the SEC against the pass, allowing 205.9 yards per game. They’ve been much tougher over their last three games, yielding a total of 362 yards to Vanderbilt, Florida and Kentucky — not exactly a Murderers’ Row of passing attacks.
White is averaging just under 20 attempts a game. Despite his shoulder injury, he still managed to complete 10-of-13 passes for 106 yards and a TD in one half of work last week.
RB Kerryon Johnson/Kamryn Pettway vs. Georgia run defense: Johnson has rushed 125 times for 616 yards. The sophomore is fourth in the SEC in rushing TDs (9) and is 10th in rushing yards per game (77).
Johnson, who averaged 103.4 rushing yards over his first five games before injuring his ankle against Mississippi State on Oct. 8, has averaged just 10 carries and 39 yards over his last two contests. He’s not 100 percent and neither is Pettway, who appeared to pull a muscle on his last carry last week.
Under first-year defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, Georgia has been solid against the run, allowing 118.2 rushing yards per game to rank third in the SEC and a shade behind LSU. The Bulldogs allowed the Wildcats to run for 186 yards on 40 carries.
Pettway is the first Auburn player to run for 150 yards or more in four straight games since Bo Jackson accomplished the feat in 1985. The No. 1 rushing team in the SEC would love to have its top runner back, but if Pettway can’t go, Johnson should be healthy enough to make more of an impact than he’s been able to the last two weeks.
WR Tony Stevens vs. Georgia pass defense — Despite missing the last two games with an undisclosed injury, Stevens remains Auburn’s leader in catches (24), receiving yards (408) and TD grabs (3). All signs point to him returning against the Bulldogs.
During a four-game stretch earlier this season, Georgia allowed an average of 306 passing yards to Missouri, Ole Miss, Tennessee and South Carolina. Auburn is more than likely to run for that amount than throw for it, but there obviously have been moments when the Bulldogs have been burned through the air.
WHEN GEORGIA HAS THE BALL
QB Jacob Eason vs. Auburn pass defense: It’s been a season of growing pains for the true freshman, whose touchdown-to-interception ratio (11-5) hasn’t been bad. But he certainly could improve upon his completion percentage of 53.3, which ranks 12th among starting signal-callers in the SEC.
At 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds, Eason hasn’t scared anyone as a running threat yet. The quarterback has lost 34 yards on 25 attempts.
The Tigers are 11th in the SEC against the pass, allowing 230.4 yards per game. Auburn has been particularly shaky in this area over the last two weeks: Chad Kelly burned the Tigers for an Ole Miss-record 465 yards before Vanderbilt’s Kyle Shurmur threw for 221 yards in his second-most productive outing of the season.
Eason has had games such as his 5-for-17 performance in a 28-14 victory over South Carolina. But he’s also led the Bulldogs to game-winning rallies against Missouri and Kentucky.
It’s a matchup between the inexperienced Eason and Auburn’s experienced secondary, which includes seniors Joshua Holsey and Rudy Ford, juniors Stephen Roberts and Tray Matthews and sophomore Carlton Davis. Playing at home will definitely be to Eason’s benefit.
RBs Nick Chubb/Sony Michel vs. Auburn run defense: Like Auburn, Georgia boasts two of the better running backs in the SEC in Chubb and Michel. Chubb has rushed 146 times for 691 yards and 5 touchdowns while Michel has run 95 times for 487 yards and 2 scores.
Even with those two players in their backfield, the Bulldogs are only eighth in the conference in rushing yards per game (178.3). Believe it or not, Auburn is outrushing Georgia by more than 120 yards per game.
The Tigers, meanwhile, are fifth in the SEC against the run, allowing nearly 126 yards per game. Auburn has also yielded four rushing TDs – only Alabama has allowed fewer with three — and the Tigers are giving up 3.7 yards per carry, which also ranks fifth in the league.
Georgia’s running game has been feast or famine this season. After running for a season-high 326 yards against South Carolina, the Bulldogs followed that up with 96 yards on 54 carries combined against Vanderbilt and Florida.
After allowing more than 200 rushing yards in back-to-back games against Texas A&M and LSU, Auburn hasn’t yielded more than 120 in any of its last five contests.
WR Isaiah McKenzie vs. Auburn pass defense: Like Stevens does for Auburn, McKenzie leads Georgia in receptions (32), receiving yards (459) and touchdown catches (6). He has two 100-yard receiving games this year, but both came within the first three weeks of the season.
Junior Javon Wims might be supplanting McKenzie as Eason’s primary target. Wims had 5 catches for 90 yards – both career-highs – last week.
With 20 catches for 253 yards and 2 TDs, tight end Isaac Nauta is having a nice freshman season. Against the Wildcats, seven Bulldogs caught passes from Eason.
With Wims and Nauta emerging, it might be hard for McKenzie to get back in the mix. Nevertheless, Auburn would be wise to keep an eye on him.
Georgia’s running game has been slightly better than its passing attack. Auburn has been better against the run than it has been against the pass.
Daniel Carlson, who made three of four field goal attempts last week, leads the SEC in makes (20) and attempts (22) and is second in percentage (90.9). Right behind Carlson – who had one of his attempts blocked by Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham after he hurdled Auburn’s offensive line – is Georgia counterpart Rodrigo Blankenship, who lifted the Bulldogs over Kentucky with his game-ending field goal.
The bespectacled Blankenship has made 9 of his 10 field goal tries.
Auburn’s Kevin Phillips is 10th in the SEC with an average of 41 yards on 26 punts. Georgia’s Marshall Long is averaging 38.7 yards on 23 more punts to rank 13th.
Auburn leads the league in punt return coverage, holding opponents to minus-3 yards on 2 returns. Georgia has yielded an average of 6.7 yards on 18 returns to rank eighth in the SEC.
Georgia’s Reggie Davis is fifth in the conference in kickoff return average (23.3). The Tigers have allowed 19.2 yards per kickoff return to rank fourth in the league. Georgia (25.8 yards per return) is 12th in the same category.