With hype surrounding Auburn, Georgia in rare territory on Saturday
Nothing about Georgia’s season has been “under the radar.”
That has been the case from the start of a pressure-filled Year 2 of the Kirby Smart era. With Georgia fans desperate not only for improvement but an SEC East title, Smart delivered on both fronts. It didn’t matter that his starting quarterback went down in the first half of the season opener, or that he had a true freshman get his first career start on the road at Notre Dame.
That meeting in South Bend was the last time that the Dawgs were, well, ‘dogs. It has been nearly three months since Georgia wasn’t favored to win a game.
On Saturday, Smart’s squad isn’t the favorite. That is Auburn, which just bullied Alabama two weeks after it did the same to Georgia. Auburn enters Saturday with all the hype and expectations to continue its blitzkrieg through the SEC in the final month of the season.
How can anyone pick against Auburn right now? That’s what the experts will continue to say all week leading up to the SEC Championship. And frankly, what’s to say they’re wrong? It’s not like the Tigers trucked the Dawgs back in September. That wound is still fresh.
So yes, while it’s a winner-take-all showdown for an SEC crown and a College Football Playoff bid, it’s starting to feel like Georgia is the team with nothing to lose.
Maybe “nothing to lose” is the wrong way to put it. To say that missing out on the Playoff with Georgia’s senior-laden team would be “nothing” is incorrect.
But Georgia should absolutely show up like the team with nothing to lose.
After all, the Dawgs would have been underdogs in Atlanta regardless of who won the Iron Bowl. Nobody in their right mind would’ve been picking against Nick Saban in an SEC Championship, and few would assume that Georgia could flip a 40-17 result against Auburn in a matter of weeks.
How quickly we forget, though, that after 10 weeks of the season, Georgia rightfully earned its place as the No. 1 team in America according to the CFP rankings. Take away that one bad afternoon and this squad outscored its opponents by 238 points this season. There’s a reason Georgia was favored in every game after Notre Dame.
Up until that Auburn loss, there was nothing to suggest that Georgia wasn’t Alabama East. Week in, week out, the Dawgs were expected to dominate. And that’s exactly what they did.
Nobody is expecting that kind of game on Saturday. Auburn has no perceived weaknesses and Georgia is the team with chinks in its armor. At least that’s what the last month told us.
Can Georgia use that to its advantage? Absolutely.
Can Smart make the proper defensive adjustments to shut down a red-hot offense that hasn’t had to troubleshoot mid-game in over a month? Can offensive coordinator Jim Chaney add some new wrinkles like Gus Malzahn and Chip Lindsey did against Georgia?
“Adjustments” is the word of the week for Smart and his staff. Sure, his team had to make tweaks here and there throughout the season. He might not have liked the way his team finished a game one week, or he might not have been pleased with a couple of coverage breakdowns in another.
But this game will come down to whether Georgia can make significant adjustments against an Auburn squad that stole its lunch money three weeks ago.
If the Dawgs are flying to the football and winning the battle up front, their chances of capitalizing on those adjustments soar. For all we know, it’ll be Auburn learning how to make adjustments when a banged-up Kerryon Johnson can’t touch the ball 30 times. The Tigers offense was a mess when Johnson missed the Clemson and Mercer games.
That reason alone could make this a much more even fight than the one on Nov. 11. On that day, Auburn played like the team with nothing to lose. The Tigers took chances on offense, brought heavy pressure on defense and cruised to arguably the most impressive victory of the 2017 season.
Saturday is Georgia’s chance to take a page out of Auburn’s playbook.