When Georgia and Auburn meet for the SEC championship next Saturday, the game will come only three weeks after the Bulldogs were drilled 40-17 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. I believe this game will be different. It will be physical but it will be close. Auburn is favored by 2-1/2 points according to Vegas Insider and 1-1/2 points according to Odds Shark.
Why should anybody believe the Bulldogs have a good chance to win the rematch? Here are five reasons:
1. The venue: The game will be played on a neutral site (Mercedes-Benz Stadium is closer to Athens than Auburn but the crowd will be close to a 50-50 split). Point spreads swing only three points for the home team and obviously a field goal would not have made the last game much closer. But Auburn’s best performances and all three of the Tigers’ wins over ranked teams this season have come at home: 49-10 over No. 24 Mississippi State, 40-17 over No. 1 Georgia, 26-14 over No. 1 Alabama on Saturday. Conversely, the Tigers lost 14-6 at No. 3 Clemson and 27-23 at unranked LSU. Auburn is 7-0 at home, 3-2 on the road (the wins coming at Missouri, Arkansas and Texas A&M, none of whom had a winning SEC record (9-15 combined). Different place, different game.
2. Georgia’s humbling: Before the Auburn game, the Bulldogs had not been in a difficult game since the 20-19 win at Notre Dame in Week 2. There was no hint that the players had become cocky or complacent but several in the past two weeks have mentioned how that loss brought them back to earth. From Natrez Patrick: “It kind of grounded us. It showed us no one is going to just give it up for you.” That could just be a rationalization but Georgia players certainly haven’t seemed shaken by the defeat and they’re looking forward to a rematch.
3. Market correction: Georgia was physically dominated on both lines of scrimmage. Auburn has proven to be a really good team -- possibly the best team in the nation right now. But the discrepancy between these two rosters is not nearly as great as that one game would indicate -- if there’s any discrepancy at all. It was an example of two teams playing at opposite ends of the spectrum. I find it difficult to believe Georgia’s defensive front will get dominated by Auburn’s offensive line again. Logic suggests Georgia will figure some things out, and the Bulldogs’ young offensive linemen will be better equipped to handle adversity.
4. Kerryon Johnson: The Auburn running back torched Georgia’s defense with 32 carries for 167 yards (5.2 per carry) and two catches for 66 yards, including a 55-yard touchdown in the last meeting. But will he be at full health for the rematch? Johnson left the Alabama game with a right shoulder injury and coach Gus Malzahn not surprisingly offered little information afterward (“He’s got a shoulder issue. We’ll see where we’re at.”) Johnson was the SEC’s leading rusher during the season and he led the Tigers win over Alabama with 104 yards and two touchdowns (including one on a pass). Johnson Tweeted out later that he’ll be “fine.” Maybe nothing a little numbing agent can’t fix. Or maybe it’s worse.
5. The Jake Fromm factor: If the Tigers’ defense plays as well in the rematch as it did two weeks ago and against Alabama, the Georgia freshman will have to make some throws. He didn’t do that at Auburn. One of Fromm’s strengths this season has been his ability to learn from mistakes. He also has not been fazed by his surroundings -- and his only loss as a starter has come on the road. This will be a neutral site game. Fromm bounced back from the Auburn loss with strong performances against Kentucky and Georgia Tech, although neither one of those defenses obviously compare to the one he’ll go against next week. Some of his throws against the Jackets in difficult circumstance included a 12-yard back-shoulder toss to Javon Wims to set up the Bulldogs’ first touchdown, a 21-yard dart to Wims for the second touchdown and a 39-yarder to Mecole Hardman over the middle. Fromm will need to give Auburn’s defense something to think about.
From the win over Georgia Tech
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