Auburn and Georgia meet Saturday afternoon at Jordan-Hare Stadium, facing off for the 117th time. And after all these years, the series is tied, 54-54-8. To get some insight on the other side of the Tigers' second-biggest rivalry game, we swapped questions and answers with Mr. Sanchez of Dawg Sports, SB Nation's Georgia blog. For our answers to Mr. Sanchez's questions, click here.
College and Magnolia: Georgia has suffered a ton of injuries this year, so many that it's hard for an outsider to keep track. I know Todd Gurley is back in action, but what's his condition going into this game? What about the rest of the team? Which playmakers are back, and who's still out?
Mr. Sanchez: It's a fluid situation for the rest of the team. Chris Conley seems out (reportedly a game time decision), but Michael Bennett is back. Of course, Keith Marshall, Malcolm Mitchell, and Justin Scott-Wesley are long term absentees. At TE, we gain one and lose one it seems as Arthur Lynch is good to go but Jay Rome is now out. JUCO WR Jonathon Rumph has missed all season with a hamstring issue but is back on the field and playing. LG Dallas Lee is also suspect for the game, with freshman Brandon Kublanow slated to take his place. On defense, it seems Toby Johnson is ready to go on the DL, and considering Auburn's rushing attack that is much needed. Backup LB Reggie Carter is out. Starting S Tray Matthews is back. I think that's most of them, but I'm probably missing some.
Gurley is healthy, but not 100% and his conditioning isn't back. Or at least it hasn't been the last two games. He's still a good back, but a bit of explosion is missing, and he's getting tired quick. I'd assume they've given him as much running and endurance work as the ankle will allow, but I don't think we see Todd Gurley at his best until the bowl game when he has a few weeks to really let it heal and then get his work in.
CaM: What are Georgia fans' thoughts on Nick Marshall? Is there any disdain for him succeeding at a new position with a major rival, or is he receiving well wishes?
MS: I think most wish him well aside from this Saturday's game of course. He was a great talent, but he did something really dumb (reportedly stealing from teammates' lockers). I don't think there's any disdain for him succeeding at QB, because he had that ability but didn't want to play there in Athens. Media reports often forget Marshall was a big time basketball player (top 150 in the country on several lists out of high school), and was going to play both sports in college. He admittedly felt the time away in the spring he'd be spending on the hardwood would hinder his ability to lead a team as a QB, so he shifted to DB. It's great to see a kid take advantage of the talents he was blessed with, and get his life going in a positive direction when it could have turned worse.
There is some disgruntlement at the way some media outlets portray his story or Mettenberger's as though they are overcome these adverse conditions. They're both kids who did something really stupid, and because of their actions had to suffer the consequences. They persevered and are successful football players right now, but their situations are in large part due to their own actions and decision making. The media tries to make it out like some sob story, instead of a kid being dumb and finally growing up.
CaM: Other than Gurley and Aaron Murray, which Georgia player on offense might make a huge impact on the game?
MS: There's a few to pick from here. Arthur Lynch, when we remember we have a TE, is a great playmaker. He's got soft hands, can find seams in the defense, and makes big plays. Reggie Davis can bust a long one at anytime with his speed. JJ Green can also break a big play with his elusiveness, and we love watching Brendan Douglas run over people.
The biggest impact though probably comes from John Theus, Kenarious Gates, and the OL. They've been inconsistent up front, and the blocking always looks better with Gurley handling the ball than Green or Douglas. And Murray has proven over time that if you can get pressure on him early, he gets rattled and makes costly mistakes. If the OL gives him time, he can carve a defense up with the best of him. But our OTs struggle with speed rushers, so how well Theus, Gates, and the rest handle Dee Ford, Carl Lawson, and the rest will have the biggest impact on how well Georgia's offense plays.
CaM: What will the Dawgs do on defense in an attempt to stop Auburn? Georgia's run D has been pretty good, so do you think the Tigers will have to really open up the passing game to move the ball and score points?
MS: Georgia's defense has been pretty strong against the run (4th in the conference at 126 yds per game and allowing less than 3.5 yds per attempt), while one of the worst against the pass (only A&M and Missouri have been worse). So the numbers would have you think that Auburn's best chance to move the ball will be through the air. I'm not certain of that though.
We're still young, and have communication problems. We also will chase, so misdirection can burn inexperienced players, and OLB Leonard Floyd is a slender guy so he can be pushed off the edge. Communication has been horrible defensively, particularly in the back 7, so Malzahn's offense may be able to exploit a lot of the problems there getting Marshall and Mason in space. I like our ILBs (Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson) better than most, but they aren't the fastest and can get caught up in trash trying to chase, so Malzahn may have success isolating them in the run game to see if they can bring down someone 1 on 1 in the open field.
If Chris Mayes and Toby Johnson are healthy and good to go, then our DL is solid especially with Ray Drew stepping up in a big way. Georgia's DL has to control the tackle box if it is to have any chance at being successful.
CaM: Where do the Bulldogs have their biggest advantage in this game? What matchup makes you most confident?
MS: I'm not entirely sure we have one. Considering Auburn's run D, you'd naturally point to Gurley. But Gurley isn't 100% so that's hard to say. I'd say Aaron Murray, but I think highly of Ellis Johnson and think he'll have a great gameplan to go with. Auburn's weakness throwing the ball can't be taken advantage of by Georgia's secondary, so that can't be it either. I guess you gotta go with Murray, particularly considering his success in this game the last two years. Him, or whoever is matched up against the Tiger LBs (be it Lynch, Gurley, Green, etc).
CaM: And where is Georgia at its greatest disadvantage, causing you the most concern?
MS: LT vs Dee Ford. I've got very little confidence in keeping him from flying around the edge. That, and Tre Mason in the open field against our ILBs as said above.
CaM: How confident are you in a Georgia win, and how do you think the game plays out? What's your final score prediction?
MS: I'm more confident than I should be given the health and recent form of the two teams. But then, history in this series shows that being the home favorite is frequently a bad thing and that is a big part of my confidence. Improved health in Gurley makes a difference, which would make it a great rushing battle.
I'd guess a high scoring matchup, with lots of big plays, and whoever has the ball last wins. I'll take Auburn 44, Georgia 41.
More from College and Magnolia:
- Wednesdays with (Oscar) Whiskey: Standing in the sun
- College football viewing guide: Week 12
- Auburn basketball: November thoughts
- Auburn vs. Georgia 2013: TV schedule, key players and more