The annual game between No. 7 Auburn and No. 4 Georgia was already slated to move up in the schedule before the COVID-19 pandemic forced alterations to the slate. We didn’t expect The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry to be played this early, though, as the Tigers and Bulldogs will square off in Athens, Georgia, in the second week of the season in a game that will set the tone for the races in both divisions.
Auburn is coming off of a 29-13 win over Kentucky in its opener. Sophomore quarterback Bo Nix settled into a rhythm in the second half, and finished the day with 233 passing yards and three second-half touchdowns. The defense bent, but didn’t break. Kentucky was 12 of 19 on third downs and held the ball for 36:29, but found the end zone only twice.
Georgia’s opener vs. Arkansas was disjointed to say the least. The offense couldn’t get anything going in the first half, starting quarterback D’Wan Mathis was pulled in favor of former walk-on Stetson Bennett IV and the Bulldogs needed big plays on defense and special teams to pull away from the Razorbacks.
What will go down on Saturday night’s big game in the Classic City? Let’s break down the matchup and make picks straight up and against the spread.
Auburn: The Tigers have a flat-out stud at wide receiver in Seth Williams, who is a matchup nightmare for any defense in the country. The connection between Williams and Nix was apparent in the second half when the two not only got together for two touchdowns, but on touchdown passes that were perfectly placed by Nix where only Williams could haul them in. Now the offense must progress. There are plenty of weapons for coordinator Chad Morris to weave into the plan including trace star Anthony Schwartz, veteran Eli Stove and a running back group that runs four-deep.
The other side of the ball will be fascinating in this matchup. Auburn’s linebackers, led by K.J. Britt, are monsters, and it’s unlikely that coordinator Kevin Steele will feel threatened by either quarterback Stetson Bennett IV or JT Daniels. Because of that, expect Steele to dial up blitzes from all over the place to try to confuse the Georgia signal-callers and force them into mistakes.
Georgia: Daniels was medically cleared to return, but coach Kirby Smart has not revealed if he will start over Bennett. Either way, the Bulldogs have to find a running game. Neither Zamir White nor James Cook got cranked up against the Hogs. If wide receiver George Pickens and the rest of his unit are going to get loose deep, Smart has to find a way to get things going in the backfield.
The defense for Georgia is just nasty. That group held Arkansas to just 4.2 yards per play and 3 of 14 on third downs last weekend, which allowed the Bulldogs plenty of time to figure out how to fix its disjointed offense. Linebackers Nakobe Dean, Quay Walker, Nolan Smith and Monty Rice were all over the place, and will have to maintain eye discipline against a Tigers offense that should incorporate even more eye candy into the plan in Week 2.
Date: Saturday, Oct. 3 | Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Sanford Stadium — Athens, Georgia
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Game prediction, picks
Georgia’s quarterback situation is an absolute mess. Daniels got medically cleared this week, but just how healthy is he? Is he capable of playing at the level he was at before injuring his knee in the season-opener last season? These are valid questions — especially considering it took so long for him to get cleared by doctors. Whether it’s Daniels or Bennett, Auburn’s defense will bring the heat early and often, and force multiple mistakes from the Georgia offense. Yes, Georgia’s defense is great. Blayne the best in the country. But all Auburn has to do is find a way to get to 20 points in this one to not only cover, but get the win outright. Pick: Auburn +6.5