Damian Swann was asked this week if he thought having Jeremy Pruitt calling the defensive shots for Georgia would give the Bulldogs an edge against Auburn’s offense this season. Pruitt was, of course, the architect of FSU’s defense that beat the Tigers in the BCS Championship game in January.
“The Florida State tape ain’t got nothing to do with it,” said Swann, a senior defensive back. “We believe in our coach, and our coach believes in us. As long as we’ve got that connection, as long as we believe in each other, we’ll be fine.”
The reality is, nobody has really stopped Auburn’s offense, not even FSU. The Tigers rolled up 449 yards and 25 first downs in that game. In the end, with Jameis Winston’s touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds remaining, the Seminoles simply outscored them, winning 34-31.
And that’s pretty much how it’s gone since Gus Malzahn brought his no-huddle, hurry-up, spread to The Plains two years go.
Only Kansas State has effectively slowed the Tigers. The Wildcats “held” Auburn to 359 yards on 76 plays in a 20-14 loss Sept. 18. Otherwise, the only “stopping” of the Tigers has come from them.
Auburn committed four turnovers on two fumbles and two interceptions in their 38-23 loss to then-No. 3 Mississippi State on Oct. 11. The Tigers lost three fumbles in Saturday’s 41-38 loss to Texas A&M. But they rolled up 582 yards against the Aggies and 441 versus K-State.
And the primary way Auburn advances the football is running with it. But with quarterback Nick Marshall at the controls, the Tigers are fairly proficient in all phases. They are No. 1 in the SEC in rushing (286.4 ypg), No. 1 in third-down conversions (55 percent), No. 1 in pass efficiency (162.9), No. 2 in total offense (506.9 ypg) and No. 3 in scoring (38.7 ppg).
Marshall is the SEC’s 10th-leading rusher at 78 yards per game and averages 253 yards of offense per game. Running back Cameron Artis-Payne leads the SEC with 1,190 rushing yards.
“The challenge is going to be trying to slow those guys down,” Swann said. “It’s nearly impossible to think you’re going to go out and stop those guys for negative yards. You know, that’s what they do. That’s how their offense works. But we’ve got to figure out a way to go out and get some stops and create some negative plays where we can give ourselves a better chance.”
The Bulldogs rank fifth in SEC at 338 yards allowed per game. But they’ve struggled against the run, especially lately. Florida rolled up 418 rushing yards in a 38-20 win two weeks ago. Even Kentucky, which lost to Georgia 63-31, managed 214 yards on the ground and three rushing touchdowns.
Senior nose guard Mike Thornton was infuriated with the way the Bulldogs played in Lexington, particularly in the second quarter. Kentucky got loose for 141 yards during that period, including 119 rushing.
“We shouldn’t have laid down in the second quarter like we did against Kentucky; that was what happened,” Thornton said. “It wasn’t any playcalling mistakes. It wasn’t guys (being) misaligned. It was just lack of execution. We have to play a full four-quarter game — or more — this week.”
The Bulldogs’ primary issue has been the outside linebackers providing perimeter containment and linebackers and safeties filling interior gaps. That will be at a premium Saturday.
“Well, everybody’s gotta play their gaps properly,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “Everybody’s gotta make sure that if they’re in charge of containing a play that they don’t let it bounce outside. And when our safeties and corners are in position to make plays, if they’re the unblocked guy, they gotta make them. They gotta go, they gotta be aggressive and go after it and get these guys on the ground.”
That’s Pruitt’s plan, Swann said, plain and simple.
“They’re going to put a heckuva game plan together, and it’s going to be on us to execute it,” he said. “That’s all it’s going to come down to.”