5 things to consider as No. 2 Georgia travels to Auburn

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

ATHENS – Georgia and Auburn renew the Deep South’s oldest rivalry when the two teams meet for the 126th time Saturday. For the 32nd time, the venue will be Jordan-Hare Stadium, where some crazy things have happened over the years.

In one of the more competitive rivalries of all-time, the Bulldogs actually have won nine of the past 11 meetings – including four in a row – to pull ahead 61-56-8 in one of the SEC’s most-played matchups. No. 2-ranked Georgia (5-0, 3-0 SEC) comes in as a two-touchdown favorite, as the Tigers (4-1, 1-0) are seeking to start over under first-year coach Bryan Harsin, previously of Boise State.

Here are few storylines to take into consideration heading into Saturday’s contest:

On the road again

Saturday’s game will be the Bulldogs’ first true road game of the season.

The season opener versus Clemson was in neutral-site Charlotte with a 50-50 ticket distribution. Georgia’s first SEC away game was played at Vanderbilt, where the Bulldogs’ fans outnumbered the Commodores 3-to-1 in the 40,000-seat stadium.

But only about 7,000 UGA fans are expected to be among the 87,451 spectators on hand for Saturday’s game at Jordan-Hare Stadium, which traditionally is one of the loudest and most raucous stadiums in the SEC.

As Georgia did for the Arkansas game last week, Auburn players and coaches have been calling for the Tigers’ fans to be extra loud and rowdy against the Bulldogs.

“I think it’s important, obviously, for a homefield advantage,” Auburn quarterback Bo Nix said. “When a team like Georgia, who’s had great success and who’s really good and is going to come in very well-prepared, very well-coached, I think a home-field advantage like Auburn would mean a lot for us players. I just think it could have a huge impact on our team and maybe the outcome of the game.”

The Bulldogs won the last matchup at Jordan-Hare in 2019, but had to hold on for a 21-14 victory after leading 21-0 at the half. When they came to The Plains as the nation’s No. 1 team in 2017, Georgia lost 40-17.

Stetson Bennett’s show

Smart will be fielding quarterback questions all the way up to kickoff, as per usual. But make no mistake about it: this is Stetson Bennett’s show now.

Yes, starter JT Daniels will return to action eventually. But when you’re a quarterback and the medical directive for the week is not to throw the football during practice, you’re not getting ready to face the greatest challenge of the young season.

Bennett has proved more than capable of handling the responsibility. Playing most of the Vanderbilt game and starting against Alabama-Birmingham and No. 8 Arkansas last week, the 5-11, 190-pound senior has completed 70.7% of his passes for 515 yards and six touchdowns with two interceptions.

Dating to last season when he started five games, Bennett is 6-2 as Georgia’s starting quarterback. He also came off the bench to lead the Bulldogs to a come-from-behind victory over Arkansas in 2020.

Daniels, a 6-3, 210-pound junior has a Grade 1 strain of the latissimus dorsi muscle in his back. He played one quarter against Vanderbilt on Sept. 25 and did not play last week.

Containing Bo Nix

It wasn’t very complicated why Auburn was able to beat LSU last week.

“We couldn’t tackle Bo Nix,” LSU linebacker Damone Clark said. “That’s the biggest thing. Way too many missed tackles.”

You can be sure that Georgia took note.

Tackling problems haven’t really been a problem for the Bulldogs, who enter Saturday’s game leading the nation in total defense and scoring defense and are among the top teams in the SEC at pressuring the passer with 18 sacks and 80 pressures. But Georgia hasn’t faced a quarterback yet that’s as mobile as Auburn’s Nix.

“Keep him in the pocket; keep in the pocket,” Georgia linebacker Channing Tindall said, repeating the statement for emphasis. “He likes to get out, and that’s the probably the number priority for stopping him.”

Georgia done well in two previous encounters with Nix. In victories each of the past two years, the Bulldogs sacked Nix five times, allowed him 50 yards on 24 rushes and given up 422 yards on 57% passing with a touchdown and an interception.

Run-game resurrection

Georgia leads the SEC and is ranked fourth national in rush defense at 70.6 yards per game, but Auburn isn’t far behind. The Tigers are giving up only 87.2 yards per game on the ground and a miniscule 2.56 yards per carry.

That was part of Auburn’s success in dispatching LSU last week. The Bayou Bengals managed only 33 yards on 25 attempts, which included three sacks of quarterback Max Johnson.

Georgia is coming off its best rushing effort of the season with 273 yards in the 37-0 win over Arkansas. But the Tigers are going to be bent on not allowing the Bulldogs similar success this weekend.

“In the SEC, that’s a big part of football, a big part of offense, just being able to run the ball and take over games when we need to,” senior tackle Jamaree Salyer said. “So, I think that helped us a lot being able to do that last week. We’ve still got growing to do, and we’ve got better teams to play, but I’m excited about it.”

Familiar faces

Georgia will recognize a lot of faces on the Auburn sideline Saturday. As always, the Tigers heavily recruit the state of Georgia. In fact, 30 players from the state of Georgia crowd the Tigers’ roster.

But the Bulldogs know two people at Auburn quite intimately.

Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo is a former Georgia player and longtime assistant coach. Auburn offensive line coach Will Friend also worked with Bobo at UGA under former coach Mark Richt.

Meanwhile, Demetris Robertson will take the field for the Tigers at wide receiver. The senior from Savannah played the past three seasons at Georgia before transferring to Auburn for his final season of eligibility. Robertson is fourth on the team with 17 catches for 172 yards and he has scored two touchdowns.

Bobo, of course, was Smart’s teammate at Georgia and happens to be one of his best friends. Bobo left Georgia to become head coach at Colorado State. After his tenure with the Rams ended, he coached South Carolina’s offense under Will Muschamp last year and became interim head coach after Muschamp was fired. He was retained briefly by new Gamecocks coach Shane Beamer before bolting for Auburn in January.

“Obviously, Mike has done a tremendous job in our conference and in his career taking his best players and finding ways to highlight their positives,” Smart said. “I think he’s done that with this unit.”

On a side note, Bobo was the quarterback of record in one of the most incredible games ever played between the Tigers and Bulldogs. Bobo led Georgia to a 56-49 victory in four overtimes at Jordan-Hare Stadium in 1996. Bobo’s touchdown pass to Corey Allen with one second remaining in regulation sent the game into overtime, the first OT game in the history of the SEC.