Our old friends at DawgSports.com are back for another visit, just as we all expected after we beat them a few weeks ago. We’re splitting up this SEC Championship Q&A into two parts, and our first look today focuses on the matchup of the Auburn offense vs the Georgia defense. Enjoy!
The main star of the first Auburn-Georgia matchup was Kerryon Johnson, as he racked up over 200 all-purpose yards in the win. Now, he may not play this Saturday. Do you think Georgia having to essentially prepare for what may be a very different gameplan from Auburn hurts them, or is it evened out by not facing Johnson?
With 224 passing yards and three touchdown passes Jarrett Stidham did enough to down the Bulldogs through the air all by himself. So if I were an Auburn fan I would consider the Johnson injury much less of an issue than some in the media are making it out to be. That sentiment is bolstered by the fact that Georgia's problem was more getting off blocks at the point of attack. If the 'Dawgs can't shed blockers before Auburn's talented albeit less seasoned backs get into the second level it won't matter if your grandma is toting the rock.
Where I think Johnson's injury could have an effect is actually in the Tiger passing game. This is probably no secret to your readers but Kerryon Johnson is a really good pass blocker. Can he step up and stop the rush if he has to lower than dinged shoulder to do it? If he can't go, can Auburn's other tailbacks protect Stidham the same way he has the latter half of the season? I think that's a story that should be getting more focus.
Kam Martin would be giving up as much as 60 pounds to Georgia's rushing outside linebackers. Do you bring in Chandler Cox, who doesn't seem to be much of a running threat? Johnson's ability to pass protect keeps him on the field for a lot of snaps and provides a lot of optionality for Lindsey and Malzahn. Not having him has the potential to really gum up the offensive works.
Auburn exploited the Georgia defenders on the perimeter with passes of all different varieties -- screens, throwbacks, deep balls, etc. Which Bulldog defenders need to step up and play better in the passing game?
All of them? Auburn had a great game plan against Georgia and executed it very well to boot. When you do that you blow out the #1 ranked team in the country. Georgia has to do a better job of getting to Jarrett Stidham (which, as we just discussed, miigghhhtttt be a slight bit easier this time around).
But the secondary also needs to win some one-on-ones that they lost in Auburn. What worries me is Auburn's offensive staff now having a better idea of how to exploit the Bulldog secondary. The misdirection and window dressing seemed to work really well, especially as the Georgia defense started pressing for stops in the second half. That can't happen again if Georgia wants to have a shot in this one.
The offensive line did a great job of protecting Jarrett Stidham in the first meeting, and now he's shown that he can be more of a runner. Do you think Georgia will throw some more blitzes in or try to sit back and make Stidham go through his reads more in this game?
That's a great question, because it exposes a critical dilemma for Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. Stidham was able to make the Bulldogs pay for blitzing in the first matchup, dropping some balls right in behind the blitz. He's just too good a quarterback to be allowed to sit back and read.Georgia has to do a better job of deceiving Stidham and not letting him trust his initial reads. That will likely mean some smart pressure, but Georgia isn't going to be in position to bring the house on every play.
In his two games at Auburn running offenses in the SEC Championship, Gus Malzahn's teams have scored 56 and 59 points. It seems like the Tigers have taken momentum from beating Alabama and elevated it in Atlanta. How does Georgia take an early advantage and keep it this time?
Honestly I think Georgia needs to catch a break (or two) early. Whether it's a turnover or a busted coverage leading to a score, Georgia is going to need to score early and force Auburn to press some. I do think the neutral site environment makes a difference. Once things started rolling downhill in Jordan-Hare that home crowd deserves a lot of credit for turning it into the most hostile environment I think Georgia has played in since at least 2014.
Another bright spot is that I think Georgia fields a much stronger defense than Missouri did in 2013 or South Carolina did in 2010. But on the other hand Gus seems to have a knack for making that transition from the Iron Bowl. And I think he's helped this year by having a veteran team that understands what's at stake and is playing with a ton of confidence. That doesn't bode well for the Bulldogs.
Auburn defense vs the Georgia offense comes your way later in the week! War Eagle!