Hey, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but there’s a giant football game in Auburn this weekend, and the Tigers are going to face the toughest test of the season. Isn’t that funny? We went to Penn State for the toughest test of the season whiteout match, then had to try to break a decades-old curse for the next toughest test of the season, and now here’s the Georgia. This one will actually be the toughest game we’ve played so far, and possibly the toughest game of the whole year. Bulldogs are as stingy as they come in defense and deliver an absolute hammer blow on offense with this powerful running game. How can Auburn win? To find out, we asked Macon Dawg more than DawgSports.com to help us understand the 2021 edition of the Georgia Bulldogs.
The best Georgian quarterback to start on Saturday?
The quarterback who currently gives them the best chance of winning certainly will. While JT Daniels has struggled this season with a string of injuries, he looked good when he was able to go, completing 76% of his passes and averaging 8.0 yards per attempt and 10.5 per achievement. . He got a bad read which resulted in a pick against Clemson, but otherwise looked like the quarterback we expected.
If Georgia really needed him to play more this season I guess he would have, but Kirby Smart didn’t hesitate to want Daniels to be healthy for the latter part of the season. Fortunately, with Stetson Bennett, a fifth-year player who himself is 5-2 as an SEC starter, it’s a decision Smart didn’t have to make.
Many domestic commentators have scoffed at the fact that Georgia, despite their recruiting prowess, currently find themselves leaning on a former 5’10 walk-in / JUCO transfer to the most important position on the pitch. This is frankly a painfully lazy take. Despite the timeshare this season, Bennett has completed 71% of his passes and leads the SEC in QBR at 214.77. He also ran 85 yards on 10 carries, an offensive dimension Georgia just doesn’t have when Daniels is in the game. In the age of the modern transfer portal, having a veteran like that who can step off the bench is an indescribable luxury.
All that to say that Kirby Smart is paid almost $ 5 million a year to win football games and yes, he’s going to put his best quarterback on the pitch, and he’s lucky he has options to this regard.
UGA has 5 running backs with over 20 runs, each with at least one touchdown. Obviously, Zamir White is the bellcow, and plenty of garbage time allowed some reps depth. But can you give us a quick cheat sheet of the role each back plays? Should we expect to see the 5?
Georgia sells tail recruits on the chance to be used as soon as they enter campus but not overexploited. Running backs coach Dell McGee has been masterful in this area over the years (thanks for that, by the way). Zamir “Zeus” White is the putative starter, but at least four of the UGA tailbacks will play in each game, usually rotating series.
White (6’0, 215) is indeed the most difficult, between tackling specialist, although sophomore Kendall Milton (6’1, 220) has become a tough runner in his own right. James Cook and Kenny McIntosh are both efficient runners but tend to be used more in the passing game, often on the outside. McIntosh, in particular, had a great year off the backfield, catching 6 passes for 83 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Daijun Edwards is the fifth stringer, but he has also played in all five games this season and has worn 21 notches himself.
Who is going to be Auburn’s biggest concern from a reception standpoint?
If there is a weakness on this UGA team, it is at the receiver level, despite our best efforts. Georgia’s main threat, George Pickens, tore his ACL in the spring and is training but was not allowed to make contact. Dominick Blaylock suffered an ACL last year and is expected to return at some point this season, we just don’t know when. Last year’s main receiver Kearis Jackson returned from knee surgery in the offseason. Arik Gilbert was supposed to strengthen the receiving corps, but was taken out of action. Star tight end Darnell Washington broke his foot in camp and just returned to action last week. And promising sophomores Arian Smith and Jermaine Burton have both been limited due to lingering injuries.
And that’s how Georgia ended up starting two walk-ons and a real rookie as wide receiver in Game 1 against Clemson.
Since then we’ve seen some of the guys above work back into the rotation. But we’ve also seen the emergence of a few young guys, particularly first-year tight end Brock Bowers. He caught 18 passes for 272 yards to lead the team, had 4 touchdown passes and ran for another from the H-back lunge. At 6’5, 230 pounds, he’s so far proven too big for most defensive backs to cover one-on-one, but also quick enough to pass linebackers. Most importantly, he has shown great knowledge of the pitch and finds holes to sit on, especially on the goal line. I would expect Georgia to go to him often, but I would also expect rookie AD Mitchell to get a few touches. Mitchell received great reviews this spring and ended up early in the rotation due to all injuries. But he quickly gained self-confidence and is a tough guy to contain. I predict he will shoot at least two interference / pass hold calls in this game.
It’s shaping up to be college football’s best defense for at least several years. If you want to be successful in moving the ball, where are the “weak spots” and what is the success limit for any opponent’s attack?
Georgia leads the country in passing defense and is fourth in running defense, so I think the term ‘weakness’ needs to be addressed relatively here. But if there is one, it might be in high school, where the Bulldogs replaced three multi-year starters who are now in the NFL. When quarterbacks had time to pitch in that defense (which was rare), they were successful in beating less experienced Georgia corners in one-on-one clashes.
Georgia has allowed only one offensive touchdown all season, a fourth-quarter TD for South Carolina against the reserves. So I would say, based only on the precedents, the cap would be “10 point score”.
But after watching that Auburn attack and knowing Mike Bobo, I think he put it together pretty well. And Auburn is definitely more talented on the offensive line, at the catcher and hooker level than anyone who has faced Georgia so far, other than maybe Arkansas. Auburn can score as many points as all of the Red & Black’s previous opponents combined: 23.
In Bo Nix terms, is this the year for Kirby? Is he focused and having fun? It must be a national championship or a failure, right?
Kirby seems to have really established himself in some ways as a head coach over the past year. On the one hand, it allowed Todd Monken to take the destroyer plate off the offensive a bit more. He’s also taking calculated risks on the special teams, which have been solid under the guidance of (checks scores … adjusts bifocals, rechecks scores … special teams coordinator Will Muschamp).
But he also did a great job of keeping this team focused and the energy level just right for every game. It feels like he knows this team and how to motivate them in a way that is sometimes difficult for new coaches (or more experienced coaches) to master. In doing so, he avoided any “clunker” part thanks to what was supposed to be the relatively easy part of the program. In the past, Georgian teams could have come out flat against a UAB or Vandy or even Arkansas on a midday start. But this team comes onto the pitch with their hair on fire every week, and that’s thanks in large part to the head coach.
As for the second part of the question, no, this is not a year of championship or failure for Georgia. Kirby Smart has stacked the top three recruiting classes on top of each other and some of his best in this department just see the pitch. I expect him to continue fielding teams that are in the championship race for the foreseeable future. Auburn fans know as well as anyone that winning anything takes skill, but it doesn’t take a little luck either. The administration and boosters of Athens are content to give Smart the time it takes for talent and luck to come together in a title.
If you are Auburn, how do you attack this team?
Again, I don’t know if Georgia has any glaring defensive weakness. If there is, it could be excessive chase, so I would try to work in smuggling and counter-action passes. The way Bobo used Shenker and Fromm against LSU, letting them run away against the Tiger linebackers, could be good for big plays.
The challenge with this defense, however, has been to string together enough games to reach the end zone. So I also think there isn’t a recipe for a win that doesn’t involve the Plainsmen taking advantage of one or two short fields as well.
Finally, the Tigers absolutely can not return the ball. Every Georgia game that has gotten out of hand this season (which is everyone but Clemson at this point) got that result when Georgia quickly scored on a turnover. Moreover, the margin of victory in that Clemson game was a sixth pick abandoned by DJ Uiagalelei. If Auburn is -2 or worse in the revenue department, it could get out of hand.
I anticipate a tight first half, with a juicy Auburn crowd playing a big part in the game. But ultimately I think Bo Nix throws his first and second interceptions of the season or gets taken off the field when he extends a game a little too long against a teeming Bulldog defense.
In the end, I think Auburn’s talented defense could end up spending too much time on the pitch and giving up a few points in the second half to let it slip away. Prediction: Georgia 34, Auburn 27.
Auburn and Georgia debut at 2:30 p.m. CST / 3:30 p.m. EST on CBS this Saturday! War eagle!