Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Georgia Preview

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It's the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry. Nothing else needs to said about this, right?

Well, of course there is.

It's here. And my, how things have changed since the beginning of the season. In the preseason, this was a game that I had a big "L" . How could it not? Georgia's offense was primed to EXPLODE with Old Man Murray at the helm and perhaps the best backfield in America with Gurley and Marshall. Georgia had dependable outside weapons and Lynch at TE, who is one of the best. The SEC east (specifically Tennessee) did a number on UGA and they were down to barebones on offense. Additionally, their defense wasn't quite up to typical Georgia standards. Ironically, they had hit rock bottom when I had written my Mid-Season Back Half of the Year Expectations.  Backing that up were two tough losses. Their loss to Missouri started all the Missouri hype. Then they dropped to....Vandy? They bounced back to beat Florida, who may be the worst team in the SEC and Appalachian State. WHOOOOOOOO.

UGA has quietly gotten some weapons back and Murray has owned Auburn's defense in his career. Most importantly, they have Gurley back. I watched him in the loss to Florida. He did not look like his was NEAR 100%, though. The media is siting his ankle, but he looked out of shape to me. Case in point, after his long TD run, he was essentially done for the day....sucking on oxygen on the bench. But, that's been a few weeks and I expect him to have gotten back into game shape. The ankle, however, most likely isn't better, though it may be good enough.

Auburn, on the other hand, is healthy and winning big despite not throwing the ball. The defense is playing...well...ok.

I can't wait to load up on Friday morning and get the camper down there. It will be the first time I have brought the camper. LET'S GET TO IT!

Offense
Same question everyone else has: Can Auburn win without throwing the ball? Well, yes. They've done it two weeks in a row against  two teams that are....not so good. Will they put up points against UGA? First off, it's hard for me to think of UGA this way, because we are so used to them being dominate on defense, but my answer? Yes. Georgia hasn't kept ANYONE out of the 20s except Appalachian State. They rank 77th for points against. The most telling thing is, every quality opponent, Florida not withstanding, has put up at least 30 points.

Georgia has given up 100 yard rushers in pretty much every  game this year, including their wins against USC, Clemson, Tennessee, and Vandy just to get started. Guess who is up next? The best rushing attack in college football...regardless of what the real stats say. Seems to me that it's the same song, different verse. The difference though, is that Georgia has the talent that Arkansas and Tennessee don't have. Face it, both of the aforementioned teams knew what was coming after them and they couldn't stop it. Why? Was it coaching? No. They were whipped up front. They were lost in the zone read. They were out accelerated on the edge. Georgia has more talent than both of those two team's defenses combined. Georgia puts a premium on recruiting defenses. Richt knows the same thing that Beilema and Jones know. Put 8 in the box and make Marshall throw it. Make sure to seal off the outside edge. Marshall has shown that he has ELITE speed on the edge and a liquid movement that no one can seem to control. The kid is slippery and you can't have him in the 3rd level before someone finally touches him.

Here is the problem with that: You can't have your cake and eat it do. Alabama has time and time again shown that even the elite of the elite, being coached by the elite, can't control a true dual threat QB. But wait, Marshall isn't a true dual threat. He can't throw like Manziel and Cam. That's true. Stay with me.  You can't seal up the edge, stuff Mason, protect against wide open passes and....wait for it....keep Marshall from going right up the gut.

The biggest threat against UGA won't be the outside zone read. It won't be Mason up the middle. It won't be the speed sweep. It will be Marshall on delayed QB draws. Marshall will force UGA to either turn their backs on the deep throw and give him the middle of the field or make them play the draw and give Coates and Co a slight jump on the ball. Dismukes and company have done an impressive job upfront, and while I do believe that UGA still has elite high school players, they have not been able to create the pocket busting pass rushers that were left vacant last year. I fully expect that Reese and Co force the pass rush outside and Marshall gouges the middle of the field with the draw. A MLB, no matter how gifted, is no match for the maneuverability of Marshall in space. The only question is, can he take a few shots. I hearken back to the 2010 LSU game. Cam broke the game in two with his up the middle running. Over and over he dropped back, stepped up in the pocket, and had 7-10 yards before the MLB could make a play. But, Cam was SLIGHTLY bigger....It seems like Marshall has had an injury in every game he has lowered a shoulder. The beauty is, I think he will be smart enough to know when to slide.

Don't get me wrong. Mason will have an 85-100 yard game. I even expect him to have another multi-TD game.

Coates and Co will have more targets this week than last. Just because the UGA defense will have to make changes in coverage to account for Marshall's runs. There will be a breakdown in coverage at some point, maybe even several times. Will Marshall be on target? I think so.

I want to see Uzomah more. I think we all do. When he has been healthy and used in the passing game, err...when the passing game has been used while he is healthy....he has been a factor. He is a matchup nightmare. I can't help but compare him to TAMUs Evans. He has great hands, as can be seen in his 2 TD catches this year. We have seen him get behind defenses on multiple occasions. And, he can catch the ball in traffic. I am starting to think that the UT TD catch was just to knock the dust off of a future hookup...either this week or next. It was a too beautiful of a play call and execution not to use it again.

My offensive leaders? Marshall 10/15 for 140 yards and 2 TDs. 20 rush attempts for 120 yards and 1 TD. Mason has 85 yards and 1 TD. Coates has 2 catches for 80 yards and 1 TD.

Defense
Despite who they play, the Auburn D has had a steady MO throughout the year. Give up yards and fieldgoals. Make great adjustments in the 2nd half. It's been a long time since Auburn has had the ability to make changes, for the better, at halftime. This team has a knack for cracking down at half time. They also have the ability to get turnovers in the first half, which covers their inability to stop yards from getting piled up. The problem is, they have not played a true elite running back. Arkansas has a good tandem. Neal is a great running back. None of these have the 5 star and future 1st or 2nd round RB abilities that Gurley has. Yet, we won't truly know the status of Gurley until we see him run early in the 1st quarter. He is the keystone of this game for the Dogs. They cannot beat Auburn without him. Don't get me wrong, Murray will get his. But, as long as the Tigers keep from giving long TDs, they will be ok. What I mean is, they must force long drives. They must make UGA score from the redzone. That doesn't mean they will keep them from scoring...because they will. But, if Auburn can force a 50% TD ratio in the redzone, Auburn can win...easily.

I say that with the conviction that the Auburn D-line can stop Gurley in the redzone. Even though they have been gashed by the run between the 20s, the Auburn defense knows how to stuff the run in the redzone. Like I said about the Auburn secondary, if they can prevent Gurley from busting off a long TD run, they will win.

Most importantly, if they can force UGA into first half field goals, they will have it made.

In the second half, I believe Gurley will be worn down. If Auburn can come out of the tunnel at half with the lead, making him throw it, Auburn will sail. This is the first time in a long time that I can also say that forcing Murray to throw the ball is a good thing. The secondary has played excellent down the stretch, aside from being unable to control Mike Evans from TAMU. Nobody has been able to do that yet, so I don't fault them too much.

Let's not forget that Murray can run the ball. He hasn't had to in his time at UGA, but he is very effective running. It puts a lot of pressure on the Auburn defensive line to keep him under control and in the pocket and even more on the secondary who must maintain coverage. The D-line can't allow him to buy himself time. The Auburn D-line must collapse the pocket from the outside in. Push those offensive linemen into the passing lanes. And, I think they will.

Special Teams
There is NO WAY they can repeat their performance from last week, and yet, it makes every single return man THINK that they can take it the distance every kick. So, while I don't expect an returning TDs, I do expect the field to get swapped consistently. Yet, they must remember that even the best return can be undone by a fumble.

I do expect the Special Teams to win the day, and not because of returns. Parkey sinks a late field goal to seal the victory against a late push by Murray.

Players to Watch
Marshall. I think he really opens some eyes this week with his true Dual Threat ability. I don't think he is a great passer, and nobody will be convinced of that either. But, he will make some gorgeous long throws off of play action to open receivers. It will drive people nuts because he will look like a Heisman passer, hitting almost every pass. Additionally, he will eat up the UGA defense with his running. Can he stay healthy?

Dee Ford. He has made the official list of the best defensive ends. He didn't record a sack this past week. He makes 2 sacks this week. Don't just credit him, though. Credit his interior defensive linemen who collapse the pocket for him.

The Auburn D-backs. They will give up some yardage Saturday, especially in the 2nd half when the Dogs get desperate. But, for every negative play they make, they will make a huge positive play in the form of a clutch pass breakup or INT.

The Line
UGA has owned Auburn in the last half-decade. The meetings haven't been close, either. These two schools have a lot of bad blood between them, but you already knew that. Expect a lot of emotion in this game. Parkey seals the deal late, though Auburn will hold the lead in the 2nd and 3rd quarters.

Auburn takes it 31-28 in a thriller.