GAME NOTES: The seventh-ranked Auburn Tigers attempt to continue their amazing season, as they play host to the 25th-ranked Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday afternoon.
Georgia came into the 2013 campaign with national championship aspirations, but thanks in part to an insurmountable number of injuries, those dreams have been dashed following losses to Clemson, Missouri and Vanderbilt. The Bulldogs have righted the ship of late, however, winning back-to-back games to get reintroduced to the AP poll. UGA most recently dismantled FCS foe Appalachian State in its Nov. 9 Homecoming game, 45-6.
"In the second half (against Appalachian State), we played a whole lot better," UGA coach Mark Richt said. "We created some turnovers and played so many young guys, so that was great."
At 4-2 in league action, Georgia still has an outside chance at the SEC East crown, although it would need Missouri (5-1) to falter down the stretch.
Auburn has been nothing short of outstanding in Gus Malzahn's first season as head coach, going 9-1 overall and 5-1 in conference, with its only setback coming at nationally-ranked LSU back in September (35-21). The Tigers are winners of six in a row, including last week's 55-23 thumping of Tennessee in Knoxville, and they have a chance to make a statement in their final two games, both in this matchup and on Nov. 30 when they host No. 1 Alabama.
"Any time you're playing good teams, you have to play your best football," Malzahn said. "We talked about improvement in each practice and each game and I feel like for the most part we've done that all season. We're going to have to continue to do that because you're talking about two of the better teams in all of college football (Georgia and Alabama)."
This bout marks the 117th meeting between Georgia and Auburn, making it the seventh-most played rivalry in the nation, and after all those matchups, the all-time series is even at 54-54-8. The Bulldogs dominated last season's contest, 38-0.
Despite losing several receivers and running backs to injury this season, the Georgia offense has remained potent with 35.6 points and 478.6 yards per game, thanks to the play of its senior quarterback.
Although the Heisman hype has waned, Aaron Murray has still played very well this season, completing more than 63 percent of his passes for 2,477 yards with 25 touchdowns (five rushing) against only seven interceptions. After tossing two scoring strikes in last week's win, Murray now holds the SEC record with 115 career TD passes, but he is happy to put that accomplishment in the rearview mirror.
"I'm more glad that it's over and we can move on and I don't have to worry about that question anymore," Murray said. "It is a huge honor to be out there and lucky enough to play four years here and that's the biggest honor. You have to be able to go somewhere and play in a great offense that really allows me to move the ball around and make plays with great players around me."
Todd Gurley missed three contests with an ankle injury, but has been dynamic when on the field, racking up more than 100 yards per game while scoring six touchdowns.
Chris Conley (30 receptions, 418 yards, four TDs) and Michael Bennett (24 receptions, 322 yards, three TDs) are the team's leading receivers, even though both have missed time with injuries. Conley is listed as questionable for this contest as he is nursing a bum ankle.
The Bulldogs' biggest issue, even on top of all the injuries on offense, has come on the defensive side of the ball where they allow 28.8 points per game. The unit has forced just nine turnovers.
Ramik Wilson is one of the SEC's top tacklers with 92 stops. Ray Drew (8.0 TFL, 6.0 sacks) and Jordan Jenkins (9.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks) have made an impact behind the line of scrimmage.
Auburn is one of the few teams in the league which boasts a stronger offense than that of Georgia (38.6 ppg, 493.3 ypg). Most of the Tigers' damage has come thanks to the nation's third-ranked rushing attack (320.0 ypg), which rolled up 444 yards versus Tennessee last weekend.
Although Nick Marshall didn't do much with his arm (3-of-7, 35 yards, TD, INT), he ran for 214 yards and two touchdowns on his way to being named the SEC Offensive Player of the Week. He now has 734 rushing yards, 1,301 passing yards and 15 total touchdowns this season.
"He's a great athlete," Malzahn said. "He's starting to understand the offense, he's making the right decisions and when he gets the ball out in the space, he can really do some things."
Few running backs in the nation are having a better season than Tre Mason, who has run for 1,038 yards with an SEC-best 16 touchdowns, seven of which have come in the past two games. Cameron Artis-Payne (568 yards, five TDs) and Corey Grant (504 yards, four TDs) also make the most of their limited touches, while Grant also returned a kickoff for a score last week.
While the receivers don't get much work, Sammie Coates has proven to be explosive when given the chance with 26 receptions for 648 yards and five touchdowns. His 24.9 yards per catch is second in the nation behind only Baylor's Tevin Reese.
Auburn's defense has held up its end of the bargain, allowing only 20.4 points per game while picking off 11 passes. Four of those interceptions have been snagged by Robenson Therezie, who also has 44 tackles. Cassanova McKinzy leads the way with 49 stops, while Dee Ford has racked up big numbers along the defensive line (10.5 TFL, 7.0 sacks), despite missing two games.
Georgia has shown recently that it is not ready to throw in the towel, and it can still make some noise in the SEC with a strong stretch run. That said, the 'Dawgs will have their hands full on the road versus a relentless Auburn rushing attack.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Auburn 38, Georgia 30