Facing an Auburn team that is physical on offense and defense with speed at key positions, he said the biggest challenge for his Georgia Bulldogs will be stopping a power running game led by sophomore Ronnie Brown that averages 212 yards per game.
"Auburn is an extremely physical football team," Richt said. "They block extremely well and this Brown kid is just as effective as Cadillac was. He's strong, he's physical and he's fast, he's a great tackle breaker. He's tough as nails. They give him the ball and he responds. He does get stronger as the day goes on. They have two great tight ends that are physical. Their run to play-action pass is outstanding. (Jason) Campbell is a guy that when things break down can run for first down yardage. They're going to give us all kind of problems."
Georgia counters with one of the top defensive fronts in the SEC, led by All-American candidate David Pollack. Tops in the league in sacks with 11 and third on Georgia's team in tackles with 79, including 17 for losses, he has become a weapon for the Bulldogs and Auburn Coach Bobby Petrino said he's a player the Tigers will have to account for when calling plays.
"He's a good football player," Petrino said of Pollack. "I think one thing that helps him out is they are so physical inside that he gets a lot of one-on-one matchups. He'll flip sides but he'll be on Mark (Pera) most of the day. We'll try to get him some help when we can when we're throwing the ball.
"The key for us is going to be if we're able to run it well and put them in a situation where they believe they have to stop the run. You are then in a little different mode as a defensive lineman trying to get to the quarterback when that happens. If we can dial it up right, you would like to run the ball well and make them be worried about the run and then execute your play-action off of that."
A junior in his first full season as a starter, Pera has improved greatly as has the entire offense. Working at weak tackle where he normally is without a tight end for help against pass rushing defensive ends, Pera said this week will be his biggest challenge so far this season because of Pollack and the depth Georgia possesses up front.
"We just watched a little bit of them on film and they are a good team," Pera said. "Their front eight is real good, their backers and their line. They get off the ball well. They are good players and we're going to have to bring our ‘A' game and play well this week because it's a big challenge for us. Like Coach ‘Tub' (Tommy Tuberville) told us earlier this is why we came here, to play Georgia to go to the SEC Championship game. These next two games will be big and this one is a challenge for sure."
Being able to run the ball and control the line of scrimmage would mean the world to Campbell. A sophomore who continues to thrive in Petrino's ground-oriented offense, he has thrown eight touchdowns and just one interception this season and completed 68.1 percent of his passes. This week he said his challenge is to trust his offensive line and stay poised in the pocket.
"The main thing is I have to keep my eyes downfield," Campbell said. "I have to stay focused and continue to read my coverages. I have a great offensive line in front of me and I let them do their job and I do my job. I just have to stay focused and keep my eyes downfield and not focus on the rush."
If Campbell is able to do those things, it could spell trouble for a Georgia defense that has some question marks in the secondary. Giving up 207 yards per game through the air, the Bulldogs are vulnerable to the big play and that is something this Auburn team has improved on tremendously since early in the season. With 13 plays of more than 20 yards in the last three games, the offense has gelled into the group that Pera thought was possible before the season.
"It has been fun to watch because I was excited at the beginning of the year to see the offense because I thought through spring and two-a-days that we had a chance to be very good," Pera said. "I've been pleased with what we've done so far, but we've got two games left. It's a two-game season now like the coaches have been telling us. You have to win these two for it to be worth it."