Georgia vs Auburn: 5 reasons why Tigers keep it close

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It’s No. 2 Georgia (5-0) versus No. 18 Auburn (4-1) this Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Al.

The Bulldogs, a two-touchdown favorite, roll into the Plains coming off a 37-0 win over No. 8 Arkansas and Auburn, off a 24-19 win over LSU in Baton Rouge.

Former Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo is in his first season as the Tigers’ play-caller, and former Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason runs the defense as a part of a new coaching staff, which is led by first-year head coach Brian Harsin.

Last year, the Dawgs won the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry 27-6, led by quarterback Stetson Bennett, who may get another shot at the Tigers if starter J.T. Daniels is, once again, unable to go.

Here’s five reasons why Auburn could keep this one close:

Georgia injuries

Georgia wide receiver Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint is taken off the field after he was injured during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Florida, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Georgia is still without three receivers. Dominick Blaylock, Arian Smith and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint have been working their way back from various minor injuries but still haven’t been able to practice full-speed.

UGA coach Kirby Smart preaches a ‘no practice, no play’ mentality, so unless these guys are able to get meaningful reps on the practice fields this week, Georgia will be missing some of its star playmakers.

Smart commented on the group on Tuesday.

“We have a chance of getting all three. They were out there running, hitting 18-19 mph. They weren’t running full speed, but they were moving around,” Smart said on Tuesday. “Rosemy probably has the best chance, but each one of them has a chance to make it back. But they’re not taking a lot of reps. They’re hitting walk-through reps, but we’re going to see if they can clear by Thursday or Friday.”

Who’s quarterback?

Georgia quarterback JT Daniels (18) walks off the field after their 62 to 0 win against Vanderbilt at Vanderbilt Stadium Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021 in Nashville, Tenn.
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Yes, more injury talk for the Bulldogs. Starting quarterback J.T. Daniels missed last week’s matchup with a lat injury and is still not throwing in full-motion in practice, signaling it will be likely be Stetson Bennett at signal-caller on Saturday.

The system is different with Bennett in. More running, conservative play calling and short to intermediate passing will be expected. That said, Bennett has shown that he is more than capable of managing the game how the Georgia staff wants.

Last week, Bennett led a Georgia offense to 30 points, while only throwing 11 total passes for 72 yards and the Dawgs proceeded to rush for 273 yards, by far a season-high.

If Bennett is in and Auburn drops in coverage, look for the Bulldogs to pound the run game and rely on great defense.

Bo Nix as a scrambler

Oct 3, 2020; Athens, Georgia, USA; Auburn Tigers quarterback Bo Nix (10) throws the ball as he is chased by Georgia Bulldogs linebacker Nolan Smith (4) during the second half at Sanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

While it hasn’t exactly been Bo Nix’s season, the Auburn quarterback showed some impressive playmaking ability last week versus LSU, particularly outside of the pocket.

If there is one way to stretch a defense, it’s with a mobile quarterback who can make throws from outside the numbers. Nix showed that skill in this wild touchdown to seal the game in Baton Rouge last week:

Nix finished as the team’s leading rusher with 74 yards on 12 attempts, while completing 23 of 44 passes for 255 yards and that touchdown.

If the Tigers want to pull off the upset, Nix must play lights-out against a Georgia defense that ranks 1st in total defense, 1st in yards per play and 1st in yards per game.

Tigers at home

Auburn quarterback Bo Nix (10) dives in for a running touchdown at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. Georgia defeated Auburn 21-14.
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We all remember the ‘Prayer at Jordan-Hare’, when Georgia had the game won in 2013 and Auburn’s last second Hail Mary fell into the arms of a Tigers receiver for the game-winning touchdown.

Not bringing the play up to rub it in Georgia fans’ wounds, but the point is that crazy things have happened on the Plains in this rivalry, and it wouldn’t be all that surprising to have another close game.

UGA looks like the best team in the country, but if the Bulldogs get sloppy and start to buy into the hype, there is no telling what we could see on Saturday afternoon against an Auburn team that is 4th in SEC defense, while scoring 40 points per game.

UGA looking ahead?

Oct 31, 2020; Lexington, Kentucky, USA; Georgia Bulldogs wide receiver Kearis Jackson (10) runs with the ball against the Kentucky Wildcats in the second half at Kroger Field. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

The battle for the SEC East may be already decided. With Florida’s loss to Kentucky last week, it will be the Wildcats in Athens next Saturday to decide who appears in Atlanta, barring any upsets this weekend.

That means another huge matchup in Athens with championship ramifications, enough to at least perk the Dawgs’ ears for what happens in Lexington Saturday night.

Georgia versus Auburn, the Bulldogs’ first true road test, is set for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff on CBS.

Get ready for the game! J.C. is joined by former Georgia defensive tackle Toby Johnson to reminisce, talk UGA’s defense and preview Auburn on a new episode of “UGA Football Live with J.C. Shelton.” Listen here: