Thursday, November 12, 2009

Everything You Need To Know: Georgia Auburn Preview

This week marks another edition of The Deep South's Oldest Rivalry as the Auburn Tigers/War Eagles/Plainsmen/Chicken/War Turkeys invade Athens, Ga for the 113th meeting between these two fine institutions of higher learning. The Plainsmen lead the all time series 53-51-8 while UGA has outscored Auburn 1,747-1,698 all time. The first game of the series was played in Piedmont Park in Atlanta, Georgia and has been played throughout various settings in both Georgia and Alabama before beginning the traditional on campus home and home in 1959. The locales of the game include Atlanta, Macon, Savannah, Montgomery and Columbus, Ga which held the game every year but one from 1920 to 1959.

Another reason this rivalry is so big is that it takes on more of a sibling rivalry, brother vs. brother than any of UGA's rivals. Furthermore, Auburn is very similar to UGA and their fan base as a whole is lot cooler than the Gators, Yellow Jackets, or Volunteers. In fact, many Auburn coaches were and have been former Bulldogs (Pat Dye as a famous example), and Bulldog coaches being former Tigers (Vince Dooley as a famous example). There is a ton of history between these two schools, and just reading the old stories of this rivalry makes me realize how special this game truly is.

When looking at Saturday's match-up one cannot help but wonder how in the world is UGA is going to stop this Auburn offense? Auburn has the 3rd best offense in the NCAA and by far the best offense in the SEC. In fact, they are averaging over 450 yards per game. The Tigers have rushed for 2300 yards this season and 2322 yards passing...Can you say balance? The Tiger offense is the brain child of Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn who was coaching high school football as recently as 2005. I do not mean that as a knock just a compliment to Malzahn and what he has done at Arkansas, Tulsa, and currently Auburn. It needs to be mentioned that Auburn averages 150 yards less per game on the road than at home, a nearly two yards per play difference.  The splits for conference vs. non-conference games and games against teams with winning records vs. teams with losing records are even bigger.

To learn more on the principals of Auburn's offense follow this link which I think is must read for anyone that gets into X's and O's on Saturday or Sunday.When looking at this Auburn offense their are a few things that they do well that scare me to death. They have a quarterback that does not turn the ball over as Chris Todd has thrown 17 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions this season. Second, their offense passing scheme is built on play action passing and the bootleg off of play action. A reason this is not good, is that if there is anything Georgia has shown this season, it is the fact that we often look clueless when the opposing QB bootlegs after play action. (Look at the UGA-Tennessee game as an example). The next thing that scares me is if Auburn shows any sort of Wildcat type formation. To stop the Wildcat a defense must be well prepared and disciplined, our defense has yet to be those two things this season, so why would we be prepared and disciplined come Saturday?

When UGA has the ball they are facing a Tiger defense that might be as bad as the one they face everyday in practice. In fact Auburn's defense has allowed 266 points this season, which is 31 points more than UGA has allowed. In needs to be mentioned that Auburn has played one more game than UGA, but the level of competition outside of SEC play is no where near the level UGA has faced. Furthermore, in a couple of other important defensive stats UGA is actually better than the Barners. Auburn is 11th in total defense, while UGA is 7th. In rushing defense Auburn is 10th allowing almost 170 yards per game on the ground while UGA is 4th in the conference allowing 120 yards per game. With the improvement the last three games of UGA's running game this stat only excites me for Saturday.

UGA needs to make sure they can block Auburn defensive end Antonio Coleman as he leads the SEC with 12.5 tackles for loss, including 6.5 sacks. From everything I hear and read AJ Green should be back to full health on Saturday. Green will clearly be the best player on the field and the big play ability that Green brings to UGA's offense can not be diminished as he has 15 catches of 20 yards or longer this season. Just as an FYI, this is one reception off of the national lead for big plays from the receiver position. With the running game getting better each week this season, UGA for the first time this season can use that ground game to take some of the double teams and blanket coverage off of Green. Hopefully, Bobo game plans around Green and he MUST be the main target no less than 10 times Saturday.

While I believe Georgia's offense can come close to scoring with Auburn's offense, the difference in this game will come down to special teams. More times than not this season, Georgia's special teams have been special. Blair Walsh leads the SEC in touchbacks with 14, the next closest to Blair has nine. As long as we do not try the directional kick we should make that Auburn offense drive the length of the field and this will be important. Another area of the game in which special teams can be special is when we put to Auburn. Hopefully, we do not have to punt but if we do we lead the league in Net Punting average at 44 yards per kick. Auburn's punt return team has been awful and that is putting it nicely. The Tigers’ punt return unit ranks 114th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams with a 3.8-yard average. The hidden yardage of Georgia flipping the field could be the difference between Auburn punting at midfield or trying a field goal. These points could be huge come 1030 Saturday night.

Other things that need to be mentioned before I give my prediction is that UGA has won three games in a row and has not won 4 games in a row since 1945-1949. Yes, we can end 60 years of misery Saturday night. On the other hand Auburn seniors have never beaten UGA and I am sure they remember their last visit to Athens, Ga. For those that forget, this game was the blackout that actually worked. This is probably my favorite Youtube and Sanford Stadium has never rocked like it did that afternoon and evening. Even Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson got in on the "Soulja Boy."

Saturday night should be a Big XII type shootout with very both teams defenses struggling to get the offenses off the field. When the defenses do win on Saturday I feel UGA's special teams will make a big enough difference that gives the advantage towards UGA. On Saturday night around 10:45 I will be singing its great to be a Georgia Bulldog and enjoying a nice victory cigar as the Dawgs win a close one 45-42.

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