What To Watch: Georgia at Auburn

Auburn's running game will again be under the microscope as the No. 7 Tigers take on 25th ranked Georgia.

Can They Do It Again?

What more can you say about Auburn's running game this season? Leading the league with an average of 320 yards per game on the ground, the Tigers have been able to dominate both Arkansas and Tennessee on the road the last two weeks without throwing the football with any regularity. Attempting just 16 total passes the last two games, Auburn has put up 677 rushing yards on the way to scoring 90 points.

It probably won't be that easy this week as Georgia's defense is at its best when stopping the opposing running game. Giving up just 126 yards on the ground per contest, the Bulldogs allowed 197 to Clemson, 226 to South Carolina, 189 to Tennessee and 145 to Vanderbilt, showing they can be vulnerable at times. On the flip side they allowed LSU just 77 on the ground and gave up a combined 39 rushing yards to North Texas and Appalachian State.

While it's doubtful that Auburn will attempt fewer than 10 passes for the third consecutive game, if the Tigers can have success on the ground and start wearing down Georgia's defense then it wouldn't be surprising to see Gus Malzahn stick heavily with that approach again hoping it will pay big dividends in the fourth quarter.

Defense Needs To Start Strong

One of the trends for the Auburn Tigers this season has been a defense that starts out slow, but plays its best football in the second half of games. While playing well in the final 30 minutes is always important, if Auburn can match that production level for the first half of the game the Tigers could do some really big things the final two games of the season.

That starts this week against Georgia. An offense that has as much balance as any in the league, Auburn's first order of business is going to be stopping the run and talented back Todd Gurley and forcing the Bulldogs into third and long situations. That should allow the pass rush to get after Aaron Murray and create some havoc. If Auburn struggles against the run then it opens up the entire playbook for Georgia, especially the play-action game down the field. That could make for a long day for the Tigers if that's the case.

Todd Gurley is a key player for UGA.

If Auburn does slow the Georgia running game it will be because the defensive line made plays. Doing a much better job of that this season than last year, junior Gabe Wright says that the goal now is to play for a full 60 minutes of quality football and that means starting fast.

The Down Is Three

One of the areas that Auburn has made the biggest improvement in this season is third downs, both offensively and defensively.

Converting 46 percent of the time on offense while allowing opponents to convert on third down at just a 34 percent clip, the Tigers are fifth in the SEC in both categories. Georgia on the other hand has struggled in both departments. Currently 40 percent on third downs on offense, the Bulldogs are 10th in the league. Defensively, opponents are converting 42 percent of the time, which is 11th in the league only ahead of Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky. If those percentages hold up Saturday it would go a long way towards Auburn's 10th win of the season.

Young Pups

While Georgia is talented some of the reasons for the struggles on defense are because of inexperience. Even with nine games under their belts in 2013, the Bulldogs have just four players on defense with more than eight career starts.

Linebacker Amarlo Herrera leads the way with 26 career starts with cornerback Damian Swann (24), nose tackle Garrison Smith (19) and linebacker Jordan Jenkins (15) the others. In all 13 Georgia defenders have gotten their first career start this season. Herrera, Jenkins and Swann are the only players to start every game on defense for the Bulldogs this year.

By contrast, Auburn has 11 players who have started at least nine games for the Tigers on offense and that doesn't include tight end C.J. Uzomah and wide receivers such as Trovon Reed, Quan Bray and Ricardo Louis who all have loads of experience for the Tigers. Experience could be the factor in Auburn's favor from an offensive standpoint and if the Tigers can continue to score points it will make them tough to beat.

Mr. Cool Tested Again

Nick Marshall has been a steadying influence for the Auburn offense all season long. Even in the rough times he has remained calm and poised under pressure. That will be tested this weekend when his former team rolls into Jordan-Hare Stadium to stop him.

Nick Marshall

The emotions will likely be running high for the former Georgia defensive back, but the drive to get another win will will him even more laser sharp. With the weapons to make plays on the perimeter when needed, Marshall's running ability will challenge a young Bulldogs' defense that will need to play sound fundamental football to slow down the Tigers. If he can connect down the field early in the game it could be another big day for the speedy junior.


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