Before the Florida 445-yard bullying, the Georgia defense averaged only 105 rushing yards allowed per game. Where Georgia was once ranked No. 2 in run defense in the SEC, the Bulldogs, now out of the top 50 in college football, average 153.1 allowed yards per game.
Continuing the struggles, despite bringing home a 63-31 win over Kentucky, the Georgia defense still gave up 214 rushing yards, 120 of which came in the second quarter alone.
“We shouldn’t have laid down in the second quarter like we did against Kentucky,” nose guard Mike Thornton said. “It wasn’t play-calling mistakes. It wasn’t guys missing alignments. It was lack of execution. We have to play a full four-quarter game, or more, this week.”
The Auburn senior tandem of tailback Cameron Artis-Payne and quarterback Nick Marshall have together legged out 1,888 yards in 2014, averaging 132.2 and 77.6 yards per game respectively. Both are top 10 in the SEC in yards per attempt (Marshall, 6.2; Artis Payne, 5.7).
As a former Georgia cornerback, the Bulldogs are familiar with the mobility of Marshall, who is tied for first in the SEC with his 11 rushing touchdowns. Even knowing the threat Marshall poses, the Georgia players said that they look more at their run game as a whole, rather than target Marshall.
“I wouldn’t say that we don’t focus on guys. We focus on more of a team effort than we do just one guy. It’s a whole team,” Thornton said.
Between its run-happy quarterback, multiple running backs and receiver Corey Grant, the Auburn offense poses a huge threat on foot. The Tigers are averaging 286.4 rushing yards per game. In a close game against Texas A&M just one week ago, Artis-Payne, who leads the SEC in rushing yards (1,190), hammered 221 yards over 30 carries– a team high for the Tigers.
The lowest number of yards (128) Auburn has put on the board all season was in mid-September versus No. 20 Kansas State.
“The challenge is going to be trying to slow those guys down. It’s nearly impossible to think we are going to go out and stop those guys for negative yards,” senior cornerback Damian Swann said. “We gotta find a way to go out, get some stops, create some negative plays.”
Richt detailed how physical the defense will have to get against the Tigers.
“Everybody's gotta play their gaps properly. Everybody's gotta make sure that if they're in charge of containing a play that they don't let it bounce outside,” Richt said. “And when our safeties and corners are in position to make plays, if they're the unblocked guy, they gotta make them. They gotta be aggressive and go after it and get these guys on the ground.”
Swann remained tight-lipped about the Bulldogs’ preparation methods for the Tigers’ run power. He didn’t want to “set off any alarms” by offering what the Bulldogs defense might put into action Saturday in Sanford.
Thornton talked about the mentality going into Saturday’s SEC faceoff, saying that no matter what happened on the previous play, whether there’s a stop for negative yards or the opponent gets a first down, the defense still has to get back to the line of scrimmage on the next play.
In that case, Auburn could be a test of mental strength just as much as physical strength for Georgia.