Auburn Tigers vs. UGA Bulldogs (-30) (o/u 39)
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Kickoff: 3:30 pm EST, Saturday, October 8th
Location: Sanford Stadium, Athens, GA
Where to Watch: CBS
No Love Lost
The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry comes to Athens this Saturday for the 127th meeting between the Dawgs and the Plainsmen. Auburn Head Coach Bryan Harsin has helped the Tigers to a 3-2 record so far this season with narrow wins of 3 points over Missouri and 8 points over San Jose State.
They crushed Mercer, but also were humbled 41-12 by Penn State and lost a close contest with LSU 21-17 after failing to score in the second half. Believe it or not, Auburn will face their first road test of the season in Athens this week.
The Auburn Tigers
Bryan Harsin isn’t exactly beloved by the Auburn family. The head coach went 6-7 last season, winning 3 SEC games. Then, a flurry of transfers and significant changes on the coaching staff raised more eyebrows.
Smoke Monday is one of my favorite Auburn players, for his proficiency for getting ejected from games. He claimed that Harsin “truly don’t understand kids that come from nothing, kids that come from the hood.”
Another player who transferred out said “Coach Harsin has the true mindset for a winner but has a terrible mindset as a person.” Not exactly glowing reviews from your players. After an investigation, Auburn decided to keep Harsin on board. I doubt his rocky start to the 2022 season has endeared him to anyone. However, if he’s fired before the end of the year, Auburn will need to cough up $15 million to buy out his contract.
Part of the struggle for the Auburn Tigers this year may be that they are about as decisive on who should be running the offense as they are on which mascot represents their school.
QB TJ Finlay got the nod to start for the first three games. He failed to impress against Mercer and San Jose State, throwing 3 interceptions between the two games. He added another pick in the Penn State blowout, and lost the starting job to 3rd stringer Robby Ashford after presumed back up QB Zach Calzada decided to undergo season-ending surgery.
Ashford has seen snaps in each game, but is turnover-prone. He has thrown 3 interceptions in his 5 appearances so far. An impressive athlete, Ashford thrives when he extends plays with his legs and the play script goes out the window. He has game-breaking speed, but struggles with his consistency throwing the ball.
Running back Tank Bigsby is one of the best in the SEC. Auburn pairs him with Jarquez Hunter for a formidable duo out of the backfield. Bigsby is a physical runner, but also an adept receiver with 13 receptions this season.
The Auburn Tigers are a bit of a paradox of a team. They have players that can make explosive plays but they also are -9 in turnover margin for the season. They have fumbled a staggering 15 times this year, losing 4 of them.
Despite their talent at RB and QB, they have only managed to average 22.4 points per game so far this year, while converting a mere 33% of 3rd downs. Auburn’s offensive line has held back this team’s chances, and have faced a plethora of injuries. They have a guard playing center at the moment due to injury and just lost a starting EDGE defender in Eku Leota with an injury as well.
Speaking of injuries, Georgia is hoping to get healthy as quickly as possible.
After DT Jalen Carter picked up an MCL injury last week, he will be out this week and likely several more. The good news is that receivers AD Mitchell and Arian Smith are getting closer to full strength. Smith, the fastest receiver at UGA, played in a handful of snaps last week at caught one pass. Mitchell is Stetson Bennett’s preferred target, and could help solve some of their red zone woes when he returns.
Unfortunately, starting ILB Smael Mondon has an ankle injury that will likely keep him from playing. Look for Trezman Marshall and Xavian Sorey to pick up the slack in his absence. Mondon is UGA’s most athletic linebacker and will be missed in keeping Robbie Ashford from punishing the defense with his scrambling. Suspended DB Javon Bullard is expected back this week after spending last week on the practice squad.
The Offensive Line
Georgia learned just how disruptive a poor offensive line performance can be last week at Missouri. While the second half last week was much improved, Georgia cannot continue to give up so many negative plays. They need to settle on their best 5 linemen and play to their strengths.
Related to the blocking concerns is red zone scoring. They averaged less than 3 yards per play in the red zone against Missouri. It doesn’t matter so much if you average 500 yards per game if you can’t punch it in. The Dawgs will want to protect the ball this game as well, after going -5 in turnovers over the last two games. Ultimately, if the Dawgs can execute at the level they are capable of, they will put up plenty of points.
How the Bulldogs Match Up with the Auburn Tigers
If Georgia needed any more motivation to prove themselves this week, they received it from Auburn’s center, Brandon Council. He said, “If we can keep them out of their third down packages, we can demolish them, I believe.” Thank you, Brandon.
How quickly the Dawgs have gone from being called the greatest talent ever assembled to predictions of being demolished by a rival who have lost 8 of the last 10 meetings to the Red and Black.
Ultimately, this is a show-and-prove kind of week for the Dawgs. As 30-point favorites, they will show this week if they are capable of putting their struggles behind them or if they are merely pretenders.
I expect Auburn to hit several explosive plays against the Dawgs during the game. Georgia’s secondary showed last week that when quarterbacks extend plays, they can lose sight of their assignment.
Ashford will certainly do so, and his running will provide further threat. I no longer expect a quick fix for Georgia’s offense. I’m expecting to see some struggles still on the offensive line and in the red zone. I think the Dawgs will look better, but still not the juggernaut they seemed in the first three weeks.
A 30 point spread is staggering, given the injuries and struggles Georgia has had.