Georgia got trucked by Auburn the last time these two teams met. What do the Bulldogs need to do to avoid a similar fate?
Jess Leslie: Offensively, Georgia has to be able to run the football. In their first meeting, Auburn held UGA to 46 total rushing yards. That’s insane. If it falls on Jake Fromm to win the game with his arm because Auburn has shut down their run game AGAIN, it could be another long night for the Dawgs. Defensively, UGA has to be able to slow down Auburn’s run game and get to Jarrett Stidham. Sounds easier than it is.
Brandon Cain: Georgia’s offensive line needs to step up. From providing better protection for quarterback Jake Fromm to its run blocking. Not only against Auburn’s defensive line, but at the second level as well.
Jonathan Waldrop: Jess said it about the game falling into Fromm’s hands. What I was most surprised about watching the Iron Bowl was how effective the Tigers’ secondary was in shutting down not just Ridley, but the entire passing game. Fromm has some very good receivers to throw to and relying simply on Chubb and Michel and Swift and Holyfield is a fool’s errand.
That being said, I do think the Dawgs will have more success on a neutral field. If they get a couple scores behind, though, it may be insurmountable. This Tigers team feeds off momentum. If you believe in that sorta thing.
Bryan Manning: Just like Jess said, the ‘Dawgs must run the football. Defensively, they’ll be better this weekend. On offense, though, if Georgia can’t run, it will not win. Jake Fromm has gotten so much better, but he needs help.
Anthony Brown: Running the ball is a must for UGA, but also Fromm will have to make plays to win this game for them. Auburn is tough at some point he has to make a big time throw on 2nd or 3rd down to keep droves going and get points. Doesn’t have to win the game on his arm, but they can’t win if he just plays well enough not to lose.
Assuming Kerryon Johnson can’t go in the SECCG, what is Auburn’s path to victory?
Jess: Kam Martin (Kerryon’s backup) is a pretty good back, so if Auburn’s offensive line continues to play as well as they have been, he’ll get a lot of carries. Martin, however, is not the blocker that Kerryon is. I suspect we’ll see Stidham dump the ball off quickly to guys like Ryan Davis or Will Hastings in the backfield, high-percentage plays that basically fabricate a running game.
Brandon: Early on Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham will have to dink and dunk his way down the field with short passes. Once the Tigers’ O-line and Kam Martin start gaining 4 or 5 yards a play on the ground, it’ll open up passes of 20-plus for Stidham to sling the ball down field.
Jonathan: Those intermediate routes to Davis in the Iron Bowl were absolute killers to a team that is normally as defensively sound as any in college football. If they make those crossing routes play after play, then relying upon either a banged up Kerryon Johnson or Kam Martin won’t be as pivotal.
If they put a couple of drives together with some mixing and matching, the Tigers will be fine. Where UGA lives on defense is at LB and if they’re living in the Auburn backfield, then Kerryon Johnson’s injury could be the least of their troubles.
Bryan: For as good as Johnson is, Auburn can still move the ball without him. Johnson is a stud and the Tigers need him, but fortunately they have some depth in the backfield. It’s not a death sentence if he doesn’t play. Jarrett Stidham happens to be a pretty good quarterback.
Who is the biggest X-Factor for both sides?
Jess: For UGA, it’s Jake Fromm. He was 13-of-29 the first time these two teams played. I think Auburn will again commit to shutting down Chubb and Michel, so if Fromm can’t get into some kind of rhythm completing passes, it won’t go well for Georgia. For Auburn, it’s Jarrett Stidham. Even if Kerryon does play, he won’t be 100% healthy, so Stidham will have to play his best game of the year to knock off a revenge-seeking Georgia defense.
Brandon: For Auburn, I’ll split it’s between kicker Daniel Carlson and linebacker Jeff Holland. Carlson had four field goals in the last meeting, while Holland had five tackles, three quarterback hurries and a sack. If Kerryon Johnson doesn’t play, Auburn might have trouble converting on short yardage situations, thus putting Carlson on the field to at least put three points on the scoreboard.
Holland’s ability to fill gaps and stuff Georgia’s running game would be big for the Tigers. Georgia's X-factor is offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. The Bulldogs struggled against Auburn’s defense the last time out, and Chaney will need to have a good game plan and have some in-game adjustments to win the game.
Jonathan: For UGA, it’s Roquan Smith. He’s your team’s MVP this year (no disrespect to aforementioned RBs). If he can play like a Butkus Award finalist, calling pre-snap reads, running sideline to sideline, I think that will have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the defense and UGA can pull it off. For Auburn, since Jess took Stidham, I’ll say Daniel Carlson. He’s as dependable as any kicker in the country and if UGA clamps down on some red zone drives, you know you have him to get you some points. Plus, he was the one that got it going for them the first time around.
Alex Dusza: Special Teams. While Daniel Carlson gets the headlines, he’s missed six field goal attempts on the year which ties him for eighth in the SEC percentage-wise. Rodrigo Blankenship may not draw the platitudes of Carlson, but the Georgia kicker is 13/15 on the year. If a kick is needed down the stretch, Carlson has been there more than Blankenship so I’ll give him the slight edge.
Bryan: For Georgia, it’s Nick Chubb. The ‘Dawgs need a big game from Chubb and Sony Michel. If not, it’ll be the same result as the last meeting. Fromm has improved throughout the season, but I don’t trust him to beat a team as good as Auburn without a running game. For Auburn, it’s Stidham, especially if he doesn’t have Johnson. If Stidham has a big game and takes care of the football, Auburn has a chance to beat Georgia again.
Your pick to win, and SEC Championship Game MVP?
Jess: I picked Auburn to lose to both Georgia and Alabama in the regular season, so out of necessity, I have to pick Auburn to lose to Georgia this time too. The score will be 42-37 in Georgia’s favor, and Chubb will be the game MVP with 203 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns. Are you picking up what I’m putting down?
Brandon: In our mid-season roundtable, Jess and I were the only ones to accurately pick the division winners. It’s hard to beat a team twice in one season, but everything seems to be coming up Auburn this season. I’ll take the Tigers, and the state of Alabama winning the title game for a sixth consecutive year.
Uga is the MVP even though it is the inferior bulldog mascot to Butler Blue, and third-best dog mascot in the SEC. In all seriousness, this award has gone to a defensive player four times since 1992 and a QB has won it 14 times in that span. Based on that I’ll give it to Stidham.
Jonathan: As much as it pains me to say this, Auburn is the dumb-dumb team of destiny this year. It happens every few years for them and their time has come back around. They’re riding a wave and if they’ve gotten this far, it’d be pretty stupid of them not to finish it off. Really stupid of you, Auburn. Anyway, Stidham’s your MVP and now I’m going to go sob on the bathroom floor in my underwear.
Alex: UGA is the inferior bulldog mascot in its own conference (and I say that as an Ole Miss fan).... As for the MVP, I’ll go with Stidham as well.
Bryan: Auburn isn’t blowing Georgia out this time. I do believe the Bulldogs are able to run the football this weekend and Fromm makes a couple of big throws late. UGA wins 27-24 and Chubb is the MVP.