The Georgia Bulldogs and Auburn Tigers.
The Deep South’s oldest rivalry, and a game that could mean everything for both teams in 2014.
The series has been in a virtual deadlock for years now, with Auburn holding the slight 55-54-8 edge at this time.
In 2013, it was the game that catapulted Auburn into their unthinkable run to the BCS National Championship game. Nick Marshall to Ricardo Louis on 4th-and-impossible. A desperation heave. A Hail Mary. A prayer that was answered and in the process crushed Georgia’s hopes of a 3rd straight trip to the SEC championship game.
Don’t count on it again, Auburn.
The 2013 Auburn Tigers weren’t supposed to be that good (12-2, 7-1 SEC), and the 2013 Georgia Bulldogs weren’t supposed to be that bad (8-5, 5-3 SEC). One was blessed by luck, the other cursed by injuries.
This year Gus Malzahn and his band of former Bulldogs will march into Sanford Stadium and try to make it two in a row for the first time since 2004-05.
Auburn Key Departures
The Tigers didn’t lose much on offense, but what they did lose will be tough to replace. Tre Mason was the workhorse for this offense, and kept them in a lot of games. It’s possible one of the Tigers’ other backs will step up, but to match Mason’s productivity will be difficult.
Robinson was Auburn’s best offensive linemen, but the rest of the unit remains intact. Sometimes losing one component of a line can throw the whole thing into a flux, but with Malzahn’s system, that probably won’t be an issue with Auburn.
Defensively the Tigers were gutted, especially in the secondary, which was a weak point to begin with. Teams that have speedy and deep wide receiver corps (like Georgia) could possibly be able to feast on Auburn.
A minor point, but still could be crucial in close games, both a new kicker and punter are going to be taking the field for the Tigers this year.
Auburn Key Returning Players
The nation’s No. 1 ranked rushing offense won’t take much of a drop off even though its two best players, Mason and Robinson, decided to leave early for the NFL
Quarterback Nick Marshall knows how to work this scheme, and with most of the outstanding offensive line returning – led by center Reese Dismukes – this unit should be considered the strength of the team. But even with that, teams are going to begin planning for what Auburn brings this year, and it’s certain that Nick Marshall will be expected to throw the ball more than last season.
Guard Alex Kozan was recently injured and lost for the season, which could have an impact on the Tigers’ run game.
Defensively the Tigers are solid in their front seven. Not spectacular, but solid. Their defensive line is going to be put to the test once again against Georgia, and if all the Bulldogs backs are healthy, it will turn into a very long afternoon for Auburn’s line.
There are three starters returning to the secondary for the Tigers, which may or may not be a good thing. Obviously one more year of experience helps, but the fact is that Auburn’s defensive backs may not be good enough to match up with top receivers regardless of how experienced they are. If Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason begins to have his way, then that will loosen things up for the running backs as Auburn’s linebackers drop back to give pass support.
Auburn Suspended Players
QB Nick Marshall and CB Jonathon Mincy have both been suspended for the start of the season opener against Arkansas, and unless Auburn opens up a huge lead in the first few possessions, they’ll both end up playing in that game. The Tigers – and Marshall in particular – are going to be under a microscope this season, so if any trouble arises, it could mean players lost for the Georgia game eventually. Right now, there’s nothing.
Outlook for the Game
This game could end up being yet another close call for the Bulldogs, depending on how Georgia’s young and inexperienced secondary is performing to that point.
Auburn is going to want to keep the ball on the ground, but against a suspect secondary, Malzahn may opt to have Marshall air it out a bit.
Health is going to be one of the biggest factors in a late-season game like this. If both rosters are pretty much intact and healthy, this is Georgia’s game to lose. They’ve got better players up and down both sides of the rosters. But if injuries begin to become a concern, then it’s a toss-up.
Special teams could also end up playing a huge role in this game. The score is usually close, and Auburn will be playing with both a new placekicker and punter.
Pencil in Georgia by 2 for now. Our game week preview will have more information by that time.