Auburn, Ala.--The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry is upon us once again. In an annual football game that dates back to 1892 and has been contested 119 times, the No. 9-ranked Auburn Tigers (7-2, 5-1 SEC) and the Georgia
Bulldogs (5-4, 3-4 SEC) will face off in a pivotal battle in both teams’ seasons.
The Tigers come in with a great deal of momentum having reeled off six-straight wins, but injury concerns, particularly on offense, are something to watch on Saturday The SEC’s leading rusher Kamryn Pettway (173 rushes, 1,106 yards, seven touchdowns) pulled up with a non-contact quadriceps injury late in the fourth quarter during the Tigers’ 23-16 victory over the Vanderbilt Commodores. If he plays on Saturday how effective Pettway will be is uncertain for Saturday's 2:30 p.m. contest at Sanford Stadium.
Georgia’s defense is solid foe and may be ready to take on whoever lines up in the backfield for Auburn. The Bulldogs run a base 3-4 scheme under new head coach Kirby Smart and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. The star of the defensive line is sophomore defensive tackle/end Trenton Thompson (35 tackles, two sacks), who leads the team in tackles for loss with five. Thompson sat out of the game at Kentucky with a hip injury, but is expected to be back for the Bulldogs.
Alongside him on the defensive line are starters John Atkins (14 tackles) at nose tackle and former Auburn commitment David Marshall (17 tackles, two 1/2 sacks, one forced fumble) at end. Much like Auburn, the Georgia defensive line likes to rotate, so also expect to see plenty of tackle Julian Rochester (29 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble) and tackle Tyler Clark (11 tackles, 1/2 sack).
The four linebackers that the defense deploys will be a tough test for the Auburn rushing attack. Led by Roquan Smith (55 tackles, one pass defensed, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery) and Natrez Patrick (55 tackles, one sack, seven quarterback hurries) in total tackles, the unit ranks tied with Colorado for 19th in the country in rushing yards allowed per game (118.2). Accompanying Smith and Patrick at linebacker is the team leader in sacks, Lorenzo Carter (28 tackles, four sacks, one fumble recovery, 11 QB hurries), and the team leader in hurries, Davin Bellamy (35 tackles, two 1/2 sacks, 13 quarterback hurries). They will be trying to make White uncomfortable in the pocket as much as possible on Saturday.
The secondary consists of a fiery, experienced group that likes to create turnovers headed by safety Aaron Davis (38 tackles, one sack, one interception, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery). The other safety is Dominick Sanders (24 tackles, 1/2 sack, five passes defensed, two interceptions). At the cornerback spots are Malkom Parrish (37 tackles, one sack, eight passes defensed, one interception, one forced fumble) and the youngest of the group, sophomore Deandre Baker (25 tackles, one sack, one INT, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery). Often, Georgia uses a 4-2-5 defense with ballhawk senior Maurice Smith (35 tackles, one sack, one interception, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries) playing at the STAR position.
Offensively, the Bulldogs have struggled in 2016 even though they return multiple high-profile names from former coach Mark Richt’s team. The most notable of those players is running back Nick Chubb (146 carries, 691 yards, five touchdowns). Chubb hasn’t had the impact many were expecting since suffering a bad knee injury last season vs. Tennessee, but he's definitely capable of putting up some big numbers. It does help that he isn’t asked to carry the full load as Chubb splits time with Sony Michel (95 rushes, 487 yards, two TDs).
Georgia’s receivers are small in stature, but have big play-making ability. The leading receiver is 5-8, 175-pound Isaiah McKenzie (32 catches, 459 yards, six touchdowns, one rushing TD). The Miami, Fla., native is also a dynamic returner with five touchdowns in his career (four punt return TDs, one kickoff return TD) including the game-winner vs. Auburn last year. Terry Godwin (24 receptions, 307 yards) is another wide receiver who can hurt Auburn with his quickness and elusiveness in the open field. The tight end is true freshman Isaac Nauta (20 catches, 253 yards, two touchdowns).
Ole Miss developed a blueprint for offenses to copy with Chad Kelly and a short passing game that was more effective against the Tiger defense than anything else this season. Vanderbilt had an off week to prepare, but the 'Dores also found success with a very average Kyle Shurmur. The guy who will need to step up if Georgia attempts this same strategy is true freshman quarterback Jacob Eason (145-272 passing, 1,754 yards, 11 touchdowns, five interceptions). Eason is still rather inexperienced, but the former five-star recruit has more raw talent than both Kelly and Shurmur.
On special teams for the Bulldogs walk-on kicker Rodrigo Blankenship (9-10 on field goal attempts, long of 49) is coming off a fantastic performance where he went a perfect 4-4 and hit the game-winning field goal on the road vs. Kentucky. Marshall Long (49 punts, 38.7 average) will handle the punting duties.