Is this a formality? Do we really just care about the final result and not the journey to get there today? Many think that with the first road game and a situation that could put Auburn at .500 on the early portion of the year, Bryan Harsin might be gone if he falls in Athens today.
Auburn is roughly a 30-point underdog today, and if the loss that we expect to see actually happens, then there’s nothing telling us that Harsin is keeping Auburn competitive with its rivals. Meanwhile, the Tigers can’t do anything — ANYTHING — after the first 20 minutes of a game, and they’ve been forced to watch as leads dissipate and opponents come back to take late wins.
The latest sin in the Harsin confessional is the loss last week to LSU, where Auburn blew a 17-0 lead. Turnovers, stagnant offense, and who knows what else led to Auburn allowing 5 passing yards in the second half, AND LOSING. Today is a chance for the Harsin opponents to show that there is no proof of concept, that he’s trending downward, and that the gap between the haves and the have nots in the SEC is getting wider.
Or, he could win....
WHEN GEORGIA HAS THE BALL: Georgia’s offense has sputtered some over the past couple of weeks. They had a sleepy performance against Kent State, and trailed the Golden Flashes for a time during a 39-22 win, and then last week were taken to the wire at Missouri. Now, it’s impossible to be taken to the wire by Missouri more than Auburn was, but Auburn wasn’t the top-ranked team in the country at the time.
They had trouble running the ball, which bodes well with the Tiger defensive front playing solid ball at this point, but this offense has been predicated on other strategies than your typical power rushing attack. While the offense couldn’t put up points with regularity, they racked up yards through the air, and Stetson Bennett has somehow become a legit Heisman candidate with his early-season performance.
Georgia’s plan this season has been getting the ball in the hands of the playmakers wherever they are, and letting them cook while the five-stars up front block. Bennett has thrown 31, 34, 23, 36, and 44 times in each preceding game this season, which is a far cry from the offense that Kirby Smart employed during his first few seasons. Despite those numbers, Todd Monken’s offense is essentially just extending the power run game to the boundaries when they throw. Bennett only has five touchdown passes, and he’s averaging more than 300 yards per game, but this is still Georgia football, it’s just got a bit of a different veil.
Brock Bowers is one of the most terrifying players in the country at tight end, and he can score from literally anywhere on the field at nearly Cam Newton size, and they’ll use him in the passing and rushing game. Kenny McIntosh is the leading receiver (as a running back out of the backfield), with Ladd McConkey and Darnell Washington picking up the slack on the edge. It’s not a passing attack that’ll dazzle, but it’s one that works and they integrate everybody.
Rushing, we’ll see the attempts to keep things honest. They’ve been running about a 50-50 split with rushing and passing attempts, and Kendall Milton is the leading rusher with four scores and a 6.0 ypc average on 45 attempts. There are plenty of dudes back there as well, with McIntosh adding in another 35 attempts and two touchdowns. Daijun Edwards is another name we’ll see, as he’ll rotate in evenly with Milton.
It’s an attack that’s predicated on letting talent be better than the defense, and it’ll get frustrating watching the Bulldogs hit on short plays over and over before hitting you with a super-annoying Ladd McConkey touchdown over the top.
WHEN AUBURN HAS THE BALL: After last week, is there hope? Probably not against this defense, but Auburn found something that worked (for one half at least) with freeing Robby Ashford a little more. He threw for over 300 yards last week, and the first quarter was the most exciting we’ve seen the Auburn offense this year by far. Of course, it didn’t last, and that’s the inscrutable part of all of this. Why in the world haven’t they been able to sustain success when they do something well? It’s on coaching, for sure.
However, against this Georgia defense, Auburn will likely not have much in the way of the running game, even with Jalen Carter out for this game with a sprained MCL. The Tiger offensive line likely won’t be able to generate much push, and Brandon Council’s comments certainly aren’t going to mean much when the ball is snapped. Tank Bigsby has had little room to run against sub-par defenses, and Georgia might be the best defense in the country.
All of that aside, the main problem we’ve seen with Auburn has been the turnovers. Last week, one fumble resulted directly in a scoop-and-score touchdown to get LSU on the board. Two interceptions late ended potential scoring drives, with one coming on a poorly-called trick play in a goal-to-go situation. The other was a good play by an LSU defender, who said that he knew what was coming because we ran the play SIX TIMES before that.
I don’t expect that this will be a master class for Auburn when it comes to offense, and at the end of the day it might the last time we see Bryan Harsin call a game for the Tigers.
SERIES HISTORY: Georgia leads the all-time series 62-56-1, with the Bulldogs dominating the series this millennium. Auburn hasn’t won in Athens since 2005, and the Tigers only have seven wins over the Bulldogs since the turn of the millennium.
LAST MEETING: Georgia won 34-10 last year in Auburn.
LAST WEEK: Auburn lost a 17-0 lead to LSU before falling 21-17, while Georgia had to come from behind in CoMo to beat Missouri 26-22.
TUCKER GREGG AWARD CANDIDATE: I’m going with Kenny McIntosh. He’s going to have about 8-10 rushing attempts, and several receptions as well, and they’re all going to be for clutch conversions and annoyingly meaningful yardage.
RANDOM PREDICTION WITH NO BASIS IN REALITY: Auburn gets a Jason Smith 2015 Iron Bowl-esque touchdown catch on some sort of wild bounce pass, and for a moment Georgia fans are remembering 2013 and Auburn magic. It might be Auburn’s only touchdown of the day, unfortunately.
KEYS FOR AUBURN:
- Win the turnover game, by a lot. Auburn is going to need to be +3 in turnovers today to have a chance, and that’s a humongous ask after what we’ve seen this season so far. The Tigers are going to need a defensive score, a special teams snafu, and a couple of really short fields to be able to put up points on this defense. With Anders Carlson having a little bit of the yips, it’s suboptimal, but we’ll need him to channel his older brother today.
- Don’t allow the killshot. You’re going to take little jabs and body blows with this Georgia offense, but you can’t let them hit the bomb over the top, and you can’t let them sneak Brock Bowers into some reverse situation or a little slip over the middle. This offense wants to drive and drive, and maybe you let them and try to make them string together 12 plays in a row. Chances are they’ll make more mistakes that way.
- Auburn Jesus. No other way to say it. We need something kooky today. Need a tipped touchdown pass for Auburn, a flukey turnover, a field goal that somehow goes wide on a windless day. The talent gap is too great, and Auburn has to figure out a way to overcome that canyon.