Raise your hand if you had Auburn coming into the Georgia game riding a six-game winning streak. Raise your hand if you had Auburn firmly planted in the BCS top 10 on the third weekend in November. Raise your hand if you thought Auburn would boast the top rushing offense in the SEC with two weeks remaining in the regular season.
You probably didn’t, and I know I didn’t. What Gus Malzahn has done this year is truly remarkable. Many knew Auburn had better talent than the 3-9 2012 team’s record demonstrated, but few, if any, thought the Tigers could match that amount of losses with wins in 2013, particularly with two games remaining on the schedule.
Whether it’s running back Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne, Corey Grant or quarterback Nick Marshall, Auburn’s rushing attack has been off the charts. The Tigers are combining to average an astounding 320 yards per game, which is 85 yards per game more than the next closest SEC team (Missouri).
The two remaining contests will prove to be the most formidable pair of challenges the Tigers face this season. But if we have learned anything through 10 games, it is that Auburn shouldn’t be counted out.
This week, the Georgia Bulldogs roll into the ‘loveliest village on the plains,’ and they will present some problems for Auburn.
In contrast to their rival, it has been a rocky road for the Bulldogs this year. They began the season with a near miss at Clemson before beating South Carolina and LSU at home. At which point, many thought they were BCS Championship contenders. Then, the injury list began to lengthen. In a three-point overtime win at Tennessee, they lost star running back Keith Marshall and leading wide receiver Juston Scott-Wesley for the remainder of the season. In addition, All-SEC running back Todd Gurley had previously been injured. The next two weeks, Georgia suffered back-to-back beatings from Missouri and Vanderbilt.
After an off week, Georgia beat Florida by three and took care of Appalachian State last week. They have seemingly turned the tide of their season back in a positive direction, while getting healthy.
This is not the same Georgia team that was pounded by Missouri, but it’s also not the talented team that ran roughshod over South Carolina. They have made a valiant effort in returning to the win column, but I don’t think it will be enough to pull the upset this weekend.
Georgia’s run defense is the best Auburn will have faced this year. Nick Marshall will be forced to make plays with his arm, which I think he is more than capable of doing. Marshall has proven that he can make clutch plays in the passing game (see the last drive of the Mississippi State game).
I do have questions about how Ellis Johnson’s defense will slow down Aaron Murray and the Georgia offense. If Todd Gurley is healthy, expect a heavy dose of his presence in the game. But Auburn’s defense has found a way in almost every game to keep the opponent out of the endzone.
The game should be high-scoring with both teams making outstanding plays. But I think Auburn has a little bit more on both sides of the ball and will achieve a major win this weekend.
An Auburn win sets up a titanic matchup with top-ranked Alabama at the end of the month. Since the SEC Championship Game began in 1992, the Iron Bowl has never been played with the right to represent the Western Division on the line. A win by Auburn over Georgia tomorrow and that is reality.