Over the next couple of weeks, we will be taking a quick look at every Auburn opponent on the 2020 schedule.
2019 Record: 12-2 (7-2)
2020 Signing Class: 1st (1st SEC)
Head Coach: Kirby Smart (5th Season)
- QB Jake Fromm - 234/385 (60.8%) 2,860 yds 24 TD 5 INT
- RB D’Andre Swift - 196 carries 1,218 yds 6.2 avg 7 TD 7 rec 24 yds 9.0 avg TD
- WR Lawrence Cager - 33 rec 476 yds 14.4 avg 4 TD
- OT Andrew Thomas - 1st Round Draft Pick
- OT Isaiah Wilson - 1st Round Draft Pick
- DT Tyler Clark - 26 tackles 8.0 TFL 2.5 sacks
- LB Tae Crowder - 62 tackles 4.0 TFL 4 PBU FR TD
- S J.R. Reed - 54 tackles 2.0 TFL 0.5 sacks INT 7 PBU FR FF TD
- QB Jamie Newman (GS) - 220/361 (60.9%) 2,868 yds 26 TD 11 INT 180 carries 574 yds 3.2 avg 6 TD (@ Wake Forest)
- QB J.T. Daniels (RSo) - 216/363 yds (59.5%) 2,672 yds 14 TD 10 INT
- WR George Pickens (So) - 49 rec 727 yds 14.8 avg 8 TD
- OL Ben Cleveland (Sr)
- C Trey Hill (Jr)
- OLB Azeez Ojulari (RSo) - 33 tackles 6.0 TFL 5.5 sacks
- LB Monty Rice (Sr) - 89 tackles 3.0 TFL 3 PBU
- S Richard Lecounte (Sr) - 61 tackles 4.5 TFL 4 INT 3 PBU 3 FR 2 FF
It hasn’t taken long for Kirby Smart to build an even more impressive recruiting machine in Athens, GA than the one he left in Tuscaloosa. For the third time in four years, Smart signed the #1 recruiting class in the country per 247 Composite. That means, at least on paper, the Dawgs are more talented than every opponent on their schedule in 2020.
Despite the Dawgs tremendous success over the past three seasons, that national championship trophy continues to elude them. In 2017, UGA got spanked in Jordan-Hare only to rebound in Atlanta before blowing the national title game and kickstarting the Tua hype. In 2018, LSU dropped 36 points on the Dawgs in Death Valley and once again UGA choked a 2nd half lead to the Tide in a championship game. Last year, UGA inexplicably lost at home to South Carolina before getting run out of Mercedes-Benz Stadium by eventual the national champion LSU.
UGA has been one of the best programs in the country the past three seasons, consistently loaded with elite talent but haven’t yet been able to reach that ultimate mountain top. Can 2020 be the year?
Well it helps the Dawgs should field the best defense in America this fall. LSU hung 37 points on that unit in the SEC title game but no other offense surpassed 20. UGA kept offenses out of the endzone through stout run defense and a smothering secondary. Per SP+, the Dawgs defense was the best in the country in 2019 and most every major piece returns this fall.
Up front, UGA loses Tyler Clark who lead the Dawgs in tackles for loss last season but everyone else is back. Georgia runs a lot of three man fronts and asks their big guys up front to eat space so they don’t necessarily post gaudy stats. But they excel at plugging gaps and eliminating anything between the tackles. Throw in 5-star signee Jalen Carter and this unit is definitely in the running for one of the best in the country in 2020.
At the second level, Tae Crowder is gone but senior captain Monty Rice returns along with a host of former elite prospects in the likes of Nakobe Dean, Channing Tindall and Quay Walker. On the edge, Azeez Ojulari looks poised to be a breakout star following his 8 sack redshirt freshman season. UGA is also hopeful five start signee Mekhail Sherman can be an instant impact player off the edge.
In the secondary, UGA returns four starters including turnover generating machine Richard LeCounte. There’s also a bunch of young talent that could take starring roles this fall. Guys like Tyrique Stevenson, Divaad Wilson and 5-star signee Kelee Ringo. A lot of NFL talent on the backend of this defense.
But none of that will matter if UGA can’t get its offense out of 2009. That’s why Kirby Smart pushed last year’s offensive coordinator James Coley out the door and brought in Todd Monken. Monken became a rising star back in 2011 when he elevated Oklahoma State’s offense to one of the best in the nation. After two seasons in Stillwater, he took the head coaching job at Southern Miss coming off a winless year under Ellis Johnson. He quickly turned the Golden Eagles back into a formidable opponent in the C-USA before bolting to the NFL. Smart is hoping Monken can have the same type of impact on the Dawgs offense as Joe Brady did on LSU last season.
He has some interesting pieces to work with in 2020. Jake Fromm made the surprising decision to jump to the NFL after a solid 2019 season. That opened the door for UGA to poach two of the top QB transfers on the market in Jamie Newman and JT Daniels. Newman was the offense for Wake Forest last season, throwing for over 2,800 yards and rushing for 500+ more. Daniels is a former five star who lost his job at USC following an injury last fall. He needs a waiver to be eligible in 2020 but those can be unpredictable so it wouldn’t be shocking to hear his waiver gets approved. If that were to happen, a very interesting QB battle would be on Kirby’s hands and we’ve seen in the past that Smart handles those extremely well...
With D’Andre Swift, Lawrence Cager and Brian Herrien all gone, it’s clear who the top weapon will be in 2020 for this Dawgs offense, former Auburn commit George Pickens. Pickens lived up to all the hype, both good and bad, last fall. He lead the Dawgs in receiving yards but also missed time due to punching a defender in the face. If the Dawgs can keep him under control, he’s got a chance to have a huge sophomore season.
Up front, Georgia lost two first round draft picks at tackle, an expected starter to the transfer portal and their outstanding offensive line coach. But the cupboard is far from bare with some talented interior OL talent returning plus some young elite OT talent including 5-star signee Broderick Jones.
Who will run behind that offensive line is still up in the air. Zamir White was once the nation’s top ranked running back but has been slowed by injuries. James Cook is an explosive weapon in the open field but hasn’t been used outside of a gadget guy. There’s buzz around Kenny McIntosh and a stud true freshman in Kendall Milton. There’s no question UGA will have talent but whether they can replicate Swift’s production is a major question heading into the fall.
For Auburn, it’s all about finding ways to generate offense against this stout UGA defense. The Tigers defense has played well enough for Auburn to win every contest against Kirby’s Dawgs since 2016 but only once has the offense scored more than two touchdowns. Unsurprisingly, that’s Malzahn’s lone win over Smart.
This is also the first time since 1936 that Auburn and Georgia face off outside the month of November. I think the move up in the schedule helps the Tigers especially with spring practice cancelled. UGA is hoping to make a pretty major offensive scheme change and that’s going to take time to implement with a new quarterback, offensive line and running back. Chances are good that it won’t be running at full speed this early in the season. But truthfully Auburn’s chances of victory come down to the offense. Can Chad Morris unlock the missing component to put points up on this Smart defense? If so, Auburn could escape Athens with their first W since 2007. If not, a very familiar scene could play out in Sanford Stadium this October.