3 things Georgia's defense must do to have success against Auburn
The biggest game in the SEC this weekend will take place at Jordan-Hare Stadium, where the No. 10 Auburn Tigers will host the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.
Both teams have a lot on the line, as Auburn needs a win to keep its slim College Football Playoff hopes alive, while Georgia needs a win to strengthen its resume for a CFP berth of its own.
Georgia’s defense has been one of the best in the nation this year, but defensive coordinator Mel Tucker’s unit hasn’t faced a challenge quite like this yet. Tucker was recently named to the Broyles Award (given annually to the country’s best assistant coach) list, and he’s going to have a good chance to show why he deserves to win the honor this weekend.
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Coach Gus Malzahn’s Tigers have had an interesting season, but they find themselves with an opportunity to pick up one of the biggest wins of any team in the country. They’ll be hungry to prove they belong in the CFP discussion.
However, Tucker’s defense can do a few things to stymie the Auburn offense and eliminate the Tigers from Playoff contention. Here are three strategies the Bulldogs should employ Saturday afternoon:
Use safety help on Darius Slayton
Darius Slayton only has 13 catches this year, but they’ve gone for 401 yards and three touchdowns. Slayton has found his groove the past two games, too, catching six passes for 245 yards and two scores.
QB Jarrett Stidham has gotten much more comfortable launching the ball deep to Slayton, and Slayton has done his part, sprinting behind opposing secondaries to make some big plays.
Considering the weaknesses Georgia’s secondary showed against Mizzou QB Drew Lock a few weeks ago, the Bulldogs need to make sure they don’t let Slayton beat them. He’s one of the only deep threats Auburn has, so Tucker will need to coach his safeties to not let Slayton get behind them.
Dial up some blitzes
Georgia hasn’t blitzed much this year in Tucker’s scheme, mostly because it hasn’t been necessary. The Bulldogs have been able to get consistent pressure in most games with only four men rushing.
However, they can’t take that for granted this week, as Auburn’s offensive line is playing much better than it did at the start of the season.
LB Roquan Smith leads the team with four sacks, while star DT Trenton Thompson has yet to record a sack this year. Against an Auburn offensive line that has played well in recent weeks, but is still vulnerable, running stunts, twists and blitzes should be very effective.
Every now and then, Tucker should consider bringing a corner off the edge or a couple of linebackers through the “A” gap to show some different looks to Stidham and try to make him uncomfortable in the pocket.
Attack the ball
The Bulldogs’ defense has been great, but it hasn’t pounced on many loose balls so far. In fact, through nine games, Georgia has but six recoveries on only seven forced fumbles.
Against star running back Kerryon Johnson and Stidham, if he hangs on to the ball too long in the pocket, the Bulldogs need to make sure they go for the strip. Granted, maintaining their solid tackling form will be important, but turnovers will go a long way toward deciding who wins Saturday’s game.
Even with how strong the Bulldogs have been defensively, they still only have a +3 turnover margin, which isn’t great. Winning the turnover battle should be a big focus for Tucker as his defense prepares for its biggest game of the year.