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What To Watch For: #7 Auburn @ #4 Georgia

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Can the Tigers end a 15 year drought?

Georgia v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

We’ve reached week 2 of the Auburn football season and the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry is already upon us. Your beloved Tigers travel to Athens to face the hated Bulldogs for a pivotal early season top 10 showdown.

Auburn took care of business at home behind a strong 2nd half defensive performance and an opportunistic 4th quarter offense. The Dawgs looked like dog crap for two quarters before a QB change and a Hog meltdown eventually broke this game open. Both teams showed potential but both left this weekend with some important questions that still need to be answered.

For both of these teams to be taken seriously moving forward, winning this Saturday is important. The Dawgs especially face a ridiculous early season gauntlet that involves Auburn, Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky and Florida. Lose this game and they could be staring at a 3-3 record come early November. As for Auburn, the schedule looks pretty light following this contest so a win would allow them to build some serious momentum heading into a home showdown with the LSU Tigers.

Plus it’s the DSOR. It’s a damn big game no matter the rankings.

Enough preamble though let’s get to the matchups.

CAN AUBURN’S RUN GAME BE SITUATIONALLY GOOD?

Auburn is not going to run the ball well Saturday. Just go ahead and prepare yourselves for that fact. This UGA front 7 might be the best unit the Tigers face all season and this young offensive line isn’t going to transform into road graders in just a single week of practice.

However, I don’t think Auburn needs a dominant rushing attack to win this Saturday. Chad Morris knows the strength of this offense is the passing game. For the first time in quite awhile, Auburn is schematically setup to operate in a pass first offense. So for the Tigers to win Saturday they don’t need 150+ rushing yards (though it wouldn’t hurt), what they need is a run game that is very good in important situations.

If this unit can convert 3rd & short downs and in the redzone, Auburn wins this weekend. That’s easy to type but gauging from this past Saturday’s performance it’s a tall ask for this inexperienced bunch. One of the big red flags from the Tigers performance against Kentucky was their failure to convert short yardage situations on the ground. The redzone ground game was ok with one score but could have had a 2nd touchdown if D.J. Williams hadn’t fallen down.

Auburn must be better on short yardage situations and they need to show the ability to finish off drives near the goal line. If the Tigers finish with a sub 4 yards per carry but are able to cap off drives or keep them alive on the ground then that should put the Tigers in a great spot to win this weekend.

AUBURN’S DEFENSIVE LINE MUST DOMINATE

Auburn’s offensive line isn’t the only unit that had its struggles this past weekend. Georgia’s talented but inexperienced unit had some serious problems with an average Arkansas front 7. The Dawgs only rushed for 121 yards on 42 carries. That’s 2.9 yards a carry. They also gave up 3 sacks and committed a number of penalties.

Yes there are some former big time recruits up front but this group did not look like the mighty UGA offensive line of years past. In fact, I think Auburn played a better unit this past Saturday in the `Cats. If the Tigers can carry over their play from that 2nd half into this weekend, they’ve got a great chance to turnTodd Monken’s much hyped offense into a one dimensional attack. From there it’s Auburn’s secondary vs an unproven QB with some talented wideouts. I’d like Auburn’s chances.

TURNOVERS LOOM LARGE

Both Auburn and Georgia were able to pull away late in large part due to their opponent’s completely melting down. Kentucky QB Terry Wilson dropped the ball at the mere sight of Jamien Sherwood and an ill advised fake punt lead to Auburn planting the final dagger of the afternoon. Arkansas was hanging tight but a blocked punt and a pick 6 turned a close game into a rout.

I don’t expect either teams to meltdown this Saturday but a turnover could be what decides this game. Yards and points will come at a premium so field position will be huge. Whichever defense can force the opposing offense into a critical mistake will likely be the team to escape with an important victory.

BO NIX HAS TO BE GREAT

For Auburn to win this game Saturday, the talk all next week should be about the arrival of Bo Nix as one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC. He looked very good against Kentucky but he’ll need to be even better against what will likely be the best defense he faces this season. He’ll have to navigate a pocket that could become compromised at times and do a better job standing in to deliver a key pass while getting hit. He’ll have to be smarter about how he escapes the pocket and create some big moments on broken plays.

I absolutely believe he’s capable of getting it done but it’s going to mean playing his best game of his career on Saturday. Auburn doesn’t need a game manager this weekend. They need a game winner. They need a quarterback confident enough to take some hits, get back up and deliver some dimes. He’s got the playmakers on the edge to attack this defense. It’s time he shut up a lot of doubters and end a 15 year drought.

War Eagle!