Auburn leads 5-2
Auburn Numbers: 154 rushing / 224 passing / 378 total / 25 points per game
Georgia Numbers: 95 rushing / 246 passing / 341 total / 21 points per game
2006 Georgia Record: 6-4 overall, 3-4 conference
National Rankings and Averages:
Total Offense: 85th / 315.2 YPG
Scoring Offense: 57th / 24.4 PPG
Total Defense: 16th / 280.9 YPG
Scoring Defense: 33rd / 17.8 PPG
The last time out…
Georgia is coming off another upset loss, this time to the Kentucky Wildcats while dropping its fourth contest in the last five games. The Bulldogs started the season at 5-0, but inconsistent play at the quarterback position and struggles on defense have led to the biggest collapse in the Mark Richt Era.
The Auburn Tigers improved to 9-1 on the season with a workman-like performance against Arkansas State. The defense played a very solid game, but the offense continued to shoot itself in the foot with turnovers. The Auburn offense turned the ball over only six times in the first eight games of the season, but has equaled that number in the last two games.
About the Georgia Bulldogs…
By losing to Vanderbilt and Kentucky in the same season, the 2006 Bulldogs became the first Georgia team to lose both of those games in the same year since 1973. The only other time this has happened was in 1956. The scary thought is that Colorado probably should have beaten Georgia, and Ole Miss and Mississippi State came very close to pulling the upset, too.
Considering how inconsistently the Georgia offense has performed this season, the Bulldog defense has posted quality numbers. Georgia is currently the 16th ranked team in the nation in total defense. The Bulldogs have registered 22 sacks and forced 19 turnovers with 61 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Linebacker Tony Taylor leads the Bulldogs with 73 tackles, 6.5 plays behind the line of scrimmage and five interceptions. He clearly is having an All-Southeastern Conference season. The second leading tackler is linebacker Jarvis Jackson with 58 stops.
True freshman quarterback Matthew Stafford has been compared to John Elway and he's performed much like Elway during his rookie year in the NFL. Stafford possesses a cannon for an arm, but has completed only 51 percent of his passes while throwing 12 picks and only four touchdown passes. Running back Kregg Lumpkin leads the Bulldogs with 603 yards rushing and a 5.4 average per carry.
The Georgia offense will need a big day from Lumpkin and Danny Ware, above.
Tight end Martez Milner leads the team with 21 receptions for 302 yards. The Georgia receiving unit has been plagued with drops this season and no one has really stepped up to be the go-to guy the Bulldogs have had in the past. Mohamed Massaquoi leads all Bulldog wide receivers with 19 receptions for a 14.8 average per reception.
Mikey Henderson has been one of the most dangerous punt returners in the conference, averaging 16.9 yards per return, taking two back for touchdowns this season. Running back Thomas Brown has averaged 25.3 yards per return on kickoffs, including a 99-yard touchdown against Tennessee. Georgia is 12 of 16 in field goals and average 39.1 yards per punt.
Brandon Cox is coming off a shaky performance against Arkansas State. He made some great throws but also forced a couple of passes resulting in interceptions. The Auburn offense has recently been plagued with turnovers and cannot afford to give the ball away in the next two games. Kenny Irons was limited to one carry against Arkansas State, giving him 687 yards rushing on the season.
Courtney Taylor has a career high 47 receptions for 624 yards and two touchdowns. In the last three games, the senior wideout has 17 receptions for 287 yards and two scores. Her has been Cox's favorite target this year and he's peaking at the right time of the season.
Georgia native Rodgeriqus Smith has taken some of the pressure off Taylor.
The Tiger defense has 25 sacks, 62 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and 16 forced turnovers. Ten of the 16 turnovers have come in the last four ball games. The recent injuries to Eric Brock and Tristan Davis could mean trouble for the Auburn secondary. Brock was the second leading tackler on defense that was already vulnerable to the big pass play.
John Vaughn connected on two more field goal attempts against Arkansas State, giving him 19 on the season. Vaughn is only three away from tying the school record established by Scott Etheridge. Kody Bliss is one of the top punters in the country this season, averaging 46.4 yards per punt.
Keys to the game…
Both teams have been careless with the football in the last two games. Auburn is the better team on paper, but turnovers could become a major factor in the outcome of this game. Despite having quality running backs, Georgia has struggled running the ball this season, which is the result of inconsistent offensive line play and poor scheming by Coach Richt, who has a history of going away from his running game in close contests.
If Georgia can establish the run on Saturday it would certainly take the pressure off its freshman quarterback. Last year the Georgia offense exploited the Auburn secondary with the tight end. Look for a heavy dose of passes to the tight ends to take advantage of Auburn's secondary playing without Brock. Richt needs to be patient in his play calling with a willingness to work his way down field rather than looking for the home run ball.
Auburn's offense is executing well, but the turnover problem needs to be resolved. The offensive numbers have improved over the last three games, but the level of competition has not been very challenging on the defensive side of the ball. Against the better defensive teams this season, Auburn's offense has averaged 17 points and 254 yards per game. The Tigers have yet to prove they can move the ball consistently and score lots of touchdowns against a good defense.
The coaching staff might be forced to make a critical decision at the running back position during the game. Irons should get the start, but he's not 100 percent. Auburn is fortunate to have Brad Lester and Ben Tate, but making the decision to pull Irons off the field could be a major factor in the game as the coaching staff weighs the odds on which back gives Auburn the best opportunity for success.
It's evident offensive coordinator Al Borges has not been pleased with passing yardage early on during the season. In the last three games Auburn has averaged nearly 239 yards passing, but the level of competition has to be considered before putting a stamp of approval. One thing is for sure--Auburn will need to be balanced on offense to beat Georgia and Alabama.
Before the season started, I thought a 10-2 regular season was a fair expectation for the 2006 Auburn Tigers. With the way the team has played this season, 10-2 still sounds about right, though Auburn should be heavy favorites based on the way Georgia and Alabama have performed this season. Auburn closes the season with its two biggest rivals, and rivalry games almost always bring out the best of both teams.
Auburn has been more consistent than Georgia, which is evident by each team's won and loss records. Of course, if South Carolina and Ole Miss can challenge Auburn, it would be a major mistake to overlook Georgia or Alabama, even with all of their issues on and off the field. The Georgia Bulldogs have enough talent to beat Auburn and the Tigers will have to execute on both sides of the ball to secure a victory. Except for the Arkansas game, this Auburn team has been up to the challenge against the better teams on the Tigers schedule.
Tuberville knows the importance of these last two games and the coaching staff won't be challenged to motivate the players to play their best against Georgia or Alabama. The overall scoring margins indicate a 23-13 victory for Auburn.
Scoring margins from the four common opponents point toward a 20-8 Auburn victory. The scoring margins from each team's last three games goes in favor of the Tigers again, 26-11. Through 10 games, the scoring margins projected Auburn at 30 points per game on offense, three points higher than the actual 27 per game. On defense, the scoring margins projected 12 points per game allowed, which has been 11.5 on the season.
Since arriving at Auburn, Tuberville has compiled a combined 10-4 record against Georgia and Alabama. The majority of players on the Auburn roster are from those states, which makes this game special to the Tigers. This season, Auburn has shown a tendency to play down to its level of competition, but the mere fact that this is a rivalry game should inspire the best from the players and coaching staff.
Auburn 23, Georgia 16
Previous Predictions and final scores:
Washington State -- 35-21 / 40-14
Mississippi State -- 30-7 / 34-0
LSU -- 23-20 / 7-3
Buffalo -- 48-0 / 38-7
South Carolina -- 24-6 / 24-17
Arkansas -- 27-13 / 10-27
Florida -- 10-21 / 27-17
Tulane -- 38-10 / 38-13
Ole Miss -- 27-12 / 23-17
Arkansas State -- 34-10 / 27-0