Georgia football: Auburn's offense a step behind previous years, and that helps the Bulldogs
On Nov. 11, 2017, the Auburn Tigers ripped the Georgia Bulldogs 40-17 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in a game that opposite of what some people probably expected.
Sure, the Tigers had scored 40 or more points in 5 of their previous 6 games after a slow start to the season. But the Dawgs were cranking out points in a big way themselves: They had matched or exceeded 31 points 7 times in 9 games. Five of those games were 40-plus point efforts; one was a 53-28 blowout of Missouri.
That had to have meant a shootout was in the cards.
Not even close.
What Auburn did to Georgia that day, while topping No. 1 Alabama in the Iron Bowl to clinch the SEC West for just the second time in 5 seasons, put it on the cusp of becoming the first 2-loss team to make the College Football Playoff if it beat Georgia again in the SEC Championship Game.
There were a number of key pieces to Auburn’s 2017 offense: Kerryon Johnson (a notable absence against FCS Mercer and Clemson where the Tigers scored 24 and 6 points, respectively) ran for over 1,300 yards while recording 18 touchdowns on the ground and 2 more through the air; he had gone off for 32 touches, 167 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Bulldogs 3 weeks prior. Jarrett Stidham threw for over 3,100 yards and 18 touchdowns, 3 of those coming against Georgia. His favorite receivers, Ryan Davis and Darius Slayton, finished the season by combining for 10 touchdowns and 1,458 yards.
And while the Tigers tried to echo what it did at Jordan-Hare in Atlanta, the Dawgs rattled off 28 unanswered points, including 15 in the 4th quarter, to win 28-7 and secure their place in the Playoff. Stidham threw for just 145 yards and just 1 touchdown and the Tigers’ rushing attack was held to 114 yards as Johnson managed just 44 yards on 13 carries.
What would the following season hold? While Stidham’s yardage numbers dropped off slightly as he threw for around 300 fewer yards, he matched his touchdown total from 2017. Slayton and Davis accounted for 1,216 of those yards and 6 of those touchdowns, but the arrival of true freshman Seth Williams meant yet another target for Stidham to choose from. The Tigers’ rushing numbers figured to dip a little with Johnson declaring for the NFL Draft after the 2017 season, but between Boobie Whitlow, Kam Martin and Shaun Shivers, it held its own with 4 200+ yard rushing games, while cresting the 300-yard and 400-yard marks on 2 other occasions.
But Georgia prevailed again. The Tigers managed 102 yards on 20 carries, and despite Stidham being forced to throw it more, he finished with just 163 yards on 24-of-36 passing as the Dawgs used a 17-point second quarter to win 27-10 at Sanford Stadium.
With the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry shifting back to Jordan-Hare this year, the Dawgs will look to yet punch another ticket to the SEC Championship Game. It will do so facing an Auburn offense with more questions this time than the previous 2 years.
True freshman Bo Nix has experienceed some growing pains as Stidham’s successor. Whitlow is “getting better” as he recovers from a knee injury, meaning there’s a chance that D.J. Williams will get most of the carries. Seth Williams is a known quantity as he continues to develop into one of the SEC’s top receivers, while speedster Anthony Schwartz continues to develop his role in the Tigers’ offense.
What about scoring? The Tigers topped 50 points against Kent State, Mississippi State and Arkansas. Outside of that, they have yet to score more than 28 points, and it’s safe to say that they won’t do so during Saturday’s game, either.
All of this is a huge plus for Georgia. Auburn is far from devoid of talent, but this isn’t the group that averaged almost 34 points a game in 2017. The Dawgs’ defense, a unit that hasn’t allowed more than 20 points, 163 rushing yards and 275 passing yards in a single game this season, should be up to the task of taking care of business down in The Plains.
And Auburn’s shot at revenge will have to wait one more year.