Georgia football: 5 reasons the Bulldogs will beat Auburn in the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry
Georgia had to have been pleased with Tuesday’s College Football Playoff rankings that slotted it at No. 4, ahead of No. 5 Alabama and putting it alongside No. 1 LSU as a pair of SEC teams in the top 4.
And while the longer-term goal is to maintain their shot at a Playoff return, the Dawgs have a short-term goal to knock out.
A win Saturday at No. 12 Auburn clinches the SEC East and puts Georgia in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 7 in Atlanta for a 3rd consecutive year. Barring a letdown against Texas A&M and Georgia Tech in the final 2 games of the regular season after Saturday, the Bulldogs will be playing for a spot in the Playoff next month at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Auburn, though, has other ideas.
The Tigers aren’t mathematically out of the SEC West race, but barring absolute chaos in LSU and Alabama’s camps, to say their chances of making it to Atlanta are slim is a massive understatement. But it doesn’t mean they can’t play spoiler. The Dawgs are all but out of the Playoff discussion with a loss Saturday, while Alabama could suffer the same fate if Auburn wins the Iron Bowl on Nov. 30.
Saturday’s matchup should favor the Dawgs quite well, though. Here’s 5 reasons they’ll extend their winning streak to 3 in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry:
1. Lawrence Cager and George Pickens have caught fire
Did you hear that sound after Saturday’s game against Missouri? That was the sigh of relief from Georgia fans when Kirby Smart announced that Lawrence Cager, who left just before halftime with a shoulder injury, would be fine to play against Auburn.
That’s big news because the grad transfer from Miami is developing into a force. Before exiting against Mizzou, he had 6 catches for 93 yards and would have been well over the 100-yard mark.
Keep an eye on George Pickens, too. The true freshman, a former Auburn commit before flipping to Georgia, finished with 5 catches, 62 yards and 2 touchdowns against Mizzou, including a pretty catch in the end zone in the 4th quarter in which he gave himself just enough room along the sideline to make the grab. A 3rd touchdown, this one a 68-yarder, was wiped out as he was whistled for an illegal formation.
Cager will play a big part, but it’s Pickens — who will be looking to show out against the team he once pledged to — who might steal the show at Jordan-Hare.
2. Auburn’s offensive line has been a little leaky
Auburn true freshman quarterback Bo Nix was sacked just 5 times over his first 5 games. That’s not terrible, to be completely honest.
However, over his past 4 games, he’s been sacked 8 times. That includes 3 times against LSU, where he struggled to 15-of-35 passing and only 157 yards.
Granted, Georgia isn’t the most prolific pass-rushing team in the country (it has just 20 sacks thus far) but it has to feel good about the chance to exploit the Tigers’ offensive line and get to their young quarterback in the same fashion LSU did.
3. Bo Nix has been inconsistent
Here’s the thing about Nix: When he’s good, he’s pretty good. He was 30-of-44 for 340 yards in a win against Ole Miss in Auburn’s last game. Against Mississippi State, he went 16-of-21 for 335 yards and 2 touchdowns. He rallied Auburn in the season-opening win against Oregon.
He’s only thrown 6 interceptions this season.
That being said, he’s had his share of struggles. Outside of the previously mentioned LSU game, he was 11-of-27 for 145 yards against Florida, and while he did throw a touchdown, he also tossed 3 interceptions. While the Tigers beat Oregon in the first game of the season, he was 13-of-31 and threw 2 interceptions despite 2 touchdown passes.
The youngster’s going through some growing pains that could very well manifest themselves Saturday, which benefits Georgia.
4. Georgia’s elite rushing defense
Boobie Whitlow has been available to play over the past couple of weeks, but Gus Malzahn has opted to leave him off the field in favor of D.J. Williams. The true freshman had a strong game against LSU with 13 carries for 130 yards but faced an uphill battle against Ole Miss managing just 93 yards on 24 carries despite 1 touchdown.
And against a Georgia rushing defense that’s barely given up anything on the ground, it probably won’t matter if Whitlow or Williams starts. Consider that this is a unit that has held 6 teams to double digits rushing and has allowed no more than 163 yards in a single game while giving up just 2.8 yards a carry.
If Nix is having an off day and Malzahn is forced to turn to his running game, things don’t look good for the Tigers at all.
5. Jake Fromm’s experience
There’s one glaring area where Nix can’t match Jake Fromm: experience. Nix is still navigating through his freshman season.
Saturday will mark Nix’s 10th game. His counterpart will be playing in his 39th game and starting for the 38th consecutive time. Fromm has had his ups and downs this season, but he has played in some of the biggest games in the program’s recent history throughout his career. Not much, if anything, rattles him.
None of that is a knock on Nix, but rest assured Fromm will be as ready as usual to lead his team into battle against the Tigers in hopes of helping Georgia punch yet another ticket to Atlanta.
Especially given what happened the last time Fromm visited Jordan-Hare.