Gus Malzahn sees in Georgia ‘one of the best overall defenses’

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn reacts to a call during the second quarter of against Kentucky Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in Auburn, Ala. (Butch Dill/AP)
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn reacts to a call during the second quarter of against Kentucky Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in Auburn, Ala. (Butch Dill/AP)

Credit: Butch Dill

Credit: Butch Dill

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn knows his team will have a tough task in generating offense Saturday, when the Tigers play Georgia at 7:30 p.m. at Sanford Stadium.

In the first game of the season, No. 4 Georgia limited Arkansas to 4.2 yards per play, 280 total yards and 10 points. Despite the small sample size, the Bulldogs look poised to continue their defensive performance from last season, when they had the best defense in college football, according to sports-reference.com.

“(We’re) looking at a team that is probably the most talented team overall in the SEC,” Malzahn said Tuesday. “Very well-coached. You look at them defensively, they’re very sound. They make you earn stuff. They don’t give up a whole lot of big plays.”

No. 7 Auburn put up 29 points on Kentucky last week in its first game, but Malzahn knows his offense will face a much tougher challenge this weekend in Athens. The Wildcats currently rank 35th in total defense, while Georgia comes in at No. 6.

Last weekend, quarterback Bo Nix went 16-of-27 for 233 yards and three touchdowns, and the Tigers added a rushing touchdown from running back D.J. Williams.

Georgia allowed the Razorbacks 77 rushing yards on only 2.8 yards per attempt.

“Last year, we played them late in the season. I don’t think they’d given up a rushing touchdown all season,” Malzahn said. “We had one on a quarterback run. They’ve got just about everybody back, so you’re looking at not just one of the best rushing defenses — if not the best rushing defense — in the country, but one of the best overall defenses.”

When the two teams met last year, Auburn scored 14 points in the fourth quarter after being down 21-0 to make things close late in the game. The Bulldogs sacked Nix on the Tigers' last drive to keep them from completing a comeback, but it was Nix’s strong performance that got Auburn back in the game.

On Saturday, Auburn will need a similar performance from Nix to put pressure on Georgia’s defense. Last year, Nix passed for 245 yards and one touchdown, and added the aforementioned rushing touchdown as well.

“You have to have everything available against a good defense, whether it’s run, pass or whatever," Malzahn said. "Bo did some really good things last year. It was a tough loss. ... I felt that in the fourth quarter we had a really good chance with his leadership.”

Auburn opened this week as a one-touchdown underdog, and Malzahn is no stranger to the challenges that come with playing in Athens. Though Sanford Stadium won’t be close to capacity, the Tigers are preparing for a loud crowd that’ll make things difficult.

This will be the earliest Auburn and Georgia have met since the rivalry’s first game in February 1892. But Malzahn knows that regardless of when these two teams play, the game is always important.

“It feels exactly as it would in November,” Malzahn said. “We know how important it is. This game usually has a direct effect on the East and the West (divisions in the SEC). It doesn’t matter if we’re playing today or in November or in March.”

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