Last Saturday, Auburn shocked the college football world for the second time in two weeks with a 26-14 over Alabama. Doing so propelled the Tigers to a second SEC Championship Game in five years as well as a number two spot in the College Football Playoff bracket.
The first two-loss team in the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings, Auburn is playing with a razor-thin margin for error, but you wouldn’t know it when watching the Tigers play.
Gus Malzahn has been carrying himself with a quiet but firm confidence the past month, and that attitude has manifested itself in the play of his Tigers. Auburn believes it can beat any team in the nation, and the Tigers want to prove their 40-17 win over Georgia on November 11 wasn’t a fluke.
In the SEC title game, Auburn will be asked to down its third top ten opponent in four games — a tall task under any circumstances. But if any team can do it, why not this Auburn team?
|GAME TIME||4:00 PM ET|
Tigers Key Player
JARRETT STIDHAM, QUARTERBACK
While most of the attention has been on Kerryon Johnson (and rightly so), Stidham has somewhat quietly played his two best games of the season in Auburn’s biggest games of the season. In wins over Georgia and Alabama, the Corbin, Kentucky native completed 72.3 percent of his passes for 451 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions, and added 54 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns.
He’s been the difference-maker Auburn has needed him to be, and his stellar play is reflected in the performance of the Auburn offense. If Johnson misses the SEC title game, Stidham’s arm will become even more important. Fortunately, he’s proven that he’s the type of quarterback who can win games with his arm.
Bulldogs Key Player
ROQUAN SMITH, LINEBACKER
Georgia’s leading tackler likely hasn’t forgotten about when these two teams met three weeks ago, when the Tigers rolled up 237 rushing yards on 5.2 yards per carry. Before that 40-17 loss, the Bulldogs were giving up 89 rushing yards per game on 2.9 yards per carry.
If Georgia wants to avoid a second straight mishap against the Tigers, the Bulldogs defense will need that level of production against Auburn’s offense. It starts with Smith, who leads Georgia with 4.5 sacks and is second on the team with 8.5 tackles for loss.
Game Preview and Analysis
The last time these two teams met, Auburn outscored the Georgia 24-10 in the second half en route to a 40-17 blowout. The Tigers outgained the Bulldogs 488 to 230, including 237 to 46 on the ground.
It was Auburn’s first win over a number one team since beating Alabama to finish the 2013 regular season, and catapulted the Tigers into position to make a College Football Playoff appearance.
But Saturday should be different. While Auburn’s defensive line should still wreak havoc in the Georgia backfield and Jarrett Stidham is as sharp as ever, the SEC title game should be a lot closer.
The Bulldogs will be out for revenge, and with a potential playoff berth on the line, they’ll have plenty of motivation (along with the fact that a conference title is on the line too) to take down the Tigers.
That being said, Auburn already has a blueprint of how it can beat Georgia. On defense, the Tigers can stuff the running game and force Jake Fromm to drop back more than he’s used to. And on offense, the second Stidham can take the top off the Georgia defense, the entire middle of the field will open up.
Georgia will attempt to establish the run game more effectively than it did November 11, when the Bulldogs averaged just 1.4 yards per carry. And on defense, the Georgia front seven has to be more disruptive of the Auburn passing game.
The one factor that could dramatically alter the game’s outcome is the health of Kerryon Johnson. After suffering a shoulder injury against Alabama, the SEC’s leader in rushing and total yards per game could miss the SEC Championship Game.
If he can’t take the field, the backfield duties will fall to Kam Martin, who has only carried the ball 64 times this year.