Here are some considerations as Georgia heads to Auburn:
“It may seem weird next year,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said of playing Georgia in October next season.
It seems weird to hear Malzahn to say that because his complaints have everything to do with the game being moved out of its traditional mid-November slot to earlier in the season.
Malzahn complained about the Tigers having to end every season facing their two biggest rivals, Georgia and then Alabama. Never mind that they always had a patsy in between, such as Samford this year.
Well, Malzahn got his wish. The SEC moved the Georgia-Auburn game into October. The Bulldogs will play host to the Tigers on Oct. 10 next year, essentially switching the game with Tennessee, which moves to Nov. 14.
Meanwhile, as if it was trying to play a cruel joke on the Tigers, the SEC moved LSU into Georgia’s vacated spot. So now Auburn will play LSU and Bama in back-to-back weeks to end next season -- this time, with no patsy in between.
2017 (not) revisited
The similarities are uncanny between this year’s matchup and the one Georgia and Auburn played in 2017. The Bulldogs were undefeated and still getting used to their new No. 1 distinction in the CFP rankings when they arrived at Auburn to face a two-loss team.
But like this year’s Tigers squad, which has only close road losses to No. 1 LSU (23-20) and then-No. 10 Florida (24-13) marring its worksheet, that 2017 Auburn team had lost only to No. 3 Clemson (14-6) and No. 18 LSU (27-23) narrowly on the road. The Tigers knew then their season could be made by upsetting the top-ranked Bulldogs, which they did decidedly, 40-17.
Georgia, recently and controversially ranked No. 4, seeks to avoid the same fate. The Bulldogs point to poise as the most important factor in doing that. Last time, they were whistled for four personal fouls and also muffed a punt to turn a competitive first half into a second-half blowout.
The Pickens Factor
Georgia receiver George Pickens figures to draw a lot of attention, both from the Auburn defense and the Auburn fan base. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound freshman is from Hoover, Ala., and was a longtime commitment for the Tigers. But the 5-star prospect flipped to the Bulldogs on signing day in February and has played a big role on Georgia’s offense.
Pickens will arrive as UGA’s second-leading receiver, and his 389 receiving yards ranks tops among SEC freshmen (tied with Texas A&M’s Jayden Wyderman). He’s coming off a two-touchdown performance against Missouri that included another 68-yard score that was negated by penalty.
One of Pickens’ traits is a fiery, competitive disposition that has contributed to him drawing at least one personal-foul flag this season and more than a few warnings from refs, coaches and teammates.
Health of Hill, Cager
The best news for Pickens is he won’t have to go it alone. Senior wideout Lawrence Cager has been cleared to play after a chronic shoulder injury sidelined him against Missouri. The Bulldogs’ leading receiver (32 catches, 470 yards, 4 TDs), had six catches for 93 yards before his shoulder popped out of socket on a 30-yard catch 25 seconds before halftime. UGA trainers popped it back in and, while he did not return for that game, Cager reportedly has been able to practice all week in Athens.
More of a question is the health of starting center Trey Hill, who was sidelined in the first quarter against Missouri and did not return because of a left-ankle sprain. Hill was also was cleared to practice this week. However, Georgia has not said if he will start or if it will go with Mays, who took most of the snaps after Hill went out. With Mays at center, Ben Cleveland played right guard, where he earned SEC offensive lineman of the week honors with an 86 percent grade.
O-line play will be paramount as the Bulldogs face one of the more formidable D-lines in football, led by seniors Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson and junior “Big Kat” Bryant. All three were vigorously recruited by Georgia, against whom they are 1-3.
It would appear the Bulldogs have a decided advantage at quarterback. Few QBs in college football have competed on big stages more than Georgia junior Jake Fromm. The Bulldogs are 32-6 with him at the helm, and he’s proved to be a wizard on third down.
But Fromm also was the QB of record for UGA in 2017, a night when he was sacked four times, hit and hassled twice that and completed only 13 of 28 passes on a night the Bulldogs rushed for only 46 yards. Getting Georgia into good plays and out of bad ones will be paramount against an Auburn's decorated defense.
Then there’s Auburn’s Bo Nix. The 6-2 freshman has been a different quarterback entirely at Jordan-Hare Stadium than away from it. In games against Oregon in Arlington, Texas, and at Florida and LSU, he has completed 41 percent of his passes with six interceptions and four touchdowns. Against SEC competition at home (Mississippi State and Ole Miss), Nix has two TDs and no interceptions on 71 percent passing.