Saturday Night NCAA Football: Georgia/Auburn Preview

by Big Al Staff

The 124th meeting of “The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry” takes place Saturday night with the Auburn Tigers traveling to Athens to face the Georgia Bulldogs. This game has national championship implications since the loser will have a difficult time being one of the four teams to qualify for the College Football Playoff since the abbreviated season will likely not leave room for a team with a loss on their resume.

Georgia won their opening game last week at Arkansas with a 37-10 victory. The game felt closer than the 27-point margin suggests, with the Bulldogs going into halftime with just a 7-5 lead. The Georgia defense looks stout once again as they held the Razorbacks to only 280 yards. Eight starters return from last year’s defense that led the nation by allowing 12.6 points per game. Cornerback Eric Stokes and safety Richard LeCounte are both All-American candidates. The Bulldogs offense remains a work-in-progress after they averaged only 4.3 yards per play.

Georgia has an unsettled quarterback situation with four players in the mix. The Bulldogs thought they had their solution as to who would replace Jake Fromm last winter when Jamie Newman decided to transfer from Wake Forest as an eligible graduate student. With comparisons to Cam Newton, Georgia thought they might even have a Heisman Trophy candidate under center. Those dreams ended in the fall when Newman opted-out from playing this year due to COVID concerns. J.T. Daniels transferred to the program in the spring from USC after redshirting his sophomore year with the Trojans. Daniels tore his ACL in the opening game last season. The former five-star recruit played eleven games as a freshman, but he did not get cleared to play last week. Head coach Kirby Smart tapped redshirt freshman Dwan Mathis as his starter, but the dual-threat quarterback struggled to move the offense. Former walk-on Stetson Bennett came on in relief to complete 20 of 29 passes for two touchdown passes along with 211 yards to lead the Bulldogs to victory.

Bennett is likely to get the start Saturday night off that winning performance. Mathis remains highly-regarded, so he still might get playing time with a specific package of plays to take advantage of his mobility would not be a surprise. Daniels did get cleared to take part in full-contact practices on Monday so he could see action in this game despite his limited work with the offense. Georgia has yet another prized recruit in freshman Carson Beck, who could also figure into the plans of Todd Monken. The first-year offensive coordinator was directing the Cleveland Browns offense last year at this time.

The Georgia offense returned only three starters from last year’s group. The Bulldogs are breaking-in new groups at running back and wide receiver, but the offensive line may, once again, present the biggest concern. Georgia gained only 121 yards on the ground last week while averaging only 2.9 yards-per-carry. They also allowed three quarterback sacks.

Auburn does not have a quarterback controversy with sophomore Bo Nix leading the team. Nix threw three touchdowns in the second half last week to lead the Tigers to a 29-13 victory at home against Kentucky. Nix completed 16 of 21 passes for 233 yards without an interception while adding another 34 yards on the ground.

Yet Auburn needed a +3 net turnover margin to overcome being outgained by the Wildcats by a 383 to 324 margin. The Tigers led by just an 8-7 score at halftime. Auburn struggled to get their running game going as they ran the ball 30 times for only 91 yards with their longest gain being for 13 yards. The Tigers revamped defensive looks tough once again as they generated eight tackles-for-loss with two sacks. Those numbers were with Big Kat Bryant in limited action, but the defensive end appears to be in full health for this showdown.

Georgia has won 12 of the last 15 meetings between these two teams since 2006. The Bulldogs won last year’s game by a 21-14 score as a 3-point favorite and a total of 42.5 on November 16th. Nix completed 30 of 50 passes for 245 yards in that game while rushing for another 42 yards. But Nix rarely threatened the Georgia secondary in that game as he averaged just 4.9 yards per attempt. The Auburn defense returns five starters from the unit that limited the Bulldogs to a mere 3.92 yards-per-play.

The stakes will be high at Sanford Stadium. BookMaker lists Georgia as a 7.5-point favorite with the total at 44.5. ESPN has the broadcast at 7:30 PM ET.

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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