AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn football coach Gus Malzahn loves to point out every year that every game is “different.” According to Brandon Marcello of Auburn Undercover, Malzahn used the word “different” a dozen times in his Tuesday news conference.
Malzahn better hope this upcoming matchup with undefeated Georgia (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET/2:30 p.m. CT, CBS) truly is different. His teams have lost three consecutive games to the Bulldogs, averaging just a little more than 8 points in those losses.
But Malzahn can point to one key area that’s different for Auburn, especially in comparison to its last two losses to unranked Georgia teams.
“I will say this: We are healthier as a team,” Malzahn said. “And I will say this: Our starting quarterback is healthy. So I can’t say that the last two years. I feel good about where we’re at going into this game.”
In 2015, Auburn had only 62 passing yards in a 20-13 loss to Georgia. The Tigers used both an injured Sean White and a struggling Jeremy Johnson at quarterback in that game, and they never were able to move the ball consistently through the air.
In 2016, White tried to play through a shoulder injury and completed just 6 of his 20 pass attempts. He tossed a pick-six that would serve as Georgia’s only touchdown.
But now, in 2017, Auburn enters the annual matchup against Georgia with a healthy quarterback who is on a hot streak.
Auburn sophomore quarterback Jarrett Stidham has completed 65.2 percent of his passes for 1,368 yards, 9 touchdowns and just 1 interception in his last six games — all SEC contests.
The Tigers are averaging 229.4 passing yards per game and 9.0 yards per attempt this season. They only averaged 169.5 yards per game in 2016 and 173.7 yards per game in 2015.
Auburn’s improved success rate in passing, especially on deeper attempts, has been key to the Tigers’ season so far. They’ll enter the Georgia game with a chance to stay alive in the SEC championship and College Football Playoff races, thanks in large part to their efficiency downfield.
“I think our greatest growth has really been that our receivers are making even more plays down the field,” junior running back Kerryon Johnson said. “When you do that, that’s huge. … When we are able to do that, this offense is very hard to stop, as we’ve shown. We’re capable of putting up a lot of points.”
Stidham and the Auburn passing attack will have to bring their A-game to Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday. Georgia’s defense currently ranks second nationally in passing yards allowed per attempt, so the Tigers will have to get creative with their newfound consistency at quarterback.
“You just have to figure out ways to do it,” Malzahn said. “You have to figure out a way to make explosive plays on these guys. That’s the challenge. When they can stop the run and they can still play two safeties, it’s tough. So, you have to be balanced. Against a good team, the more talented the defensive team is, the more important it is to be balanced, and that’s the challenge.”
Auburn left the Georgia game late last season needing to find answers in the passing game. In the weeks following that loss in Athens, the Tigers picked up Stidham, a transfer from Baylor, and hired offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey.
Now they’ll enter the rematch — against a title-contending Georgia team — alongside their fellow coaches and teammates who have struggled to move the ball at all against the Bulldogs.
“It probably motivates the fact that it was a tough loss; that’s what motivates players,” Malzahn said. “And the opportunity this year motivates players. We weren’t overly healthy at that point, and we’re a little healthier now. You don’t dwell on the specifics, but you can use things to motivate you, but the bottom line is the opportunity is what’s before our players.”
The post Auburn football: Big differences between this team, last 2 teams to lose to Georgia appeared first on SEC Country.
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