Auburn stands as Bulldogs’ biggest reality check yet

Gut feeling: Georgia’s trip to Auburn this week will be the sternest test this season of the Bulldogs’ worthiness.

Notre Dame brought a certain oldie-goldie excitement to town, like the Eagles coming to play Sanford Stadium. And they did put on a good show, surprisingly good.

Florida was a higher-ranked team than Auburn — and it already owned an 11-point win over the Tigers. But that game in Jacksonville never seemed to hold real dread. Again, talking gut here.

Auburn is that opponent that can really unsettle things, gastrointestinally speaking, like a gas-station burrito with a blurred, illegible expiration date.

And going to Auburn, that raises the agita twofold.

The Bulldogs have certain clear advantages over these Tigers. The greatest is this: In such a high-profile game, you’re going to trust a quarterback like Jake Fromm over Auburn freshman Bo Nix. Against Florida, Nix threw three interceptions. He completed just 43 percent of his passes against LSU. Georgia coach Kirby Smart declared that Nix is going to be a good player in the SEC for a long time. You just don’t want him to prove Smart prescient Saturday.

On the road, the Tigers have lost both games they have played against currently ranked conference opponents – the No. 11 Gators and No. 1 LSU. Neither of those were as egregious as losing to South Carolina on a day when Georgia valued the football less than it does a two-star’s homemade recruiting video.

What Auburn has is a habit of making the Bulldogs life uncomfortable at times like this. Look back no further than 2017, when they traveled down I-85 No. 1 in the country and got routed 40-17. Georgia would win the more important rematch in the SEC Championship game, but the trauma of that trip to Jordan-Hare Stadium remains fresh.

Going to Auburn is a more frightful proposition than a trip to any summer-festival port-o-let. Cross the border into Alabama and turn back your watch and your expectations.

And once Georgia arrives Saturday afternoon, it must contend with much more than 87,000 or so Alabamans revved up on day drinking and a lifelong resentment that comes from working the same neighborhood as Nick Saban.

Nix certainly prefers his home surroundings — in four games at Jordan-Hare, he has averaged 261 yards passing, completing 65 percent of his throws. That’s more than 100 yards, and 17 percentage points better than his road numbers. None of his six interceptions have come at home.

Georgia likes to run the ball. Auburn likes to tackle people who run the ball. All across the Tigers’ defensive line, are big, angry people who seemingly have been there since the second Clinton administration. Senior Derrick Brown, from Sugar Hill, leads them. Against LSU, he had a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries, just the kind of thing the Bulldogs can’t tolerate.

And while it may be a treat to the ears whenever someone announces another tackle by Big Kat Bryant – “When someone says Markaviest, I kind of cringe,” Auburn’s junior defensive end said of his given name — that would not be music to any Bulldog on Saturday.

Nobody has held LSU’s offense to fewer than 36 points ... except Auburn (a relatively miserly 23).

Georgia, as Georgia is wont to do, bludgeoned Auburn into submission at its place last year with 303 rushing yards. If it does anything resembling that Saturday, that would be the surest sign yet that the Bulldogs’ offensive line — beat up as it may be — is as burly as advertised. A win of any sort would do more to justify faith in this team than any other this season.

Everything else has been but prelude to Saturday at Auburn.