ATHENS -- Jordan Jenkins was asked if he was sick of hearing about Nick Marshall or Tre Mason or Auburn ranking third in the nation in rushing yards.
“Yeah, I hear it all the time,” said Jenkins, Georgia’s sophomore outside linebacker who also happened to grow up an hour from Auburn. “When I went home in the open week, all I heard about was how Auburn’s gonna destroy you all, how Nick Marshall’s gonna shake you, how they’re gonna put up 40 on us.”
Not that Jenkins doesn’t think the trash talk is legitimate.
“They turned that whole program around,” he said. “The last couple years everybody treated Auburn like a whipping dog. Now they are treating other teams like a whipping dog.”
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Whether Georgia can avoid the same fate Saturday depends heavily on how Jenkins and his teammates do in stopping Marshall, Mason and that ground game.
Auburn’s running game has been spectacular this season, especially during the past five games, and now ranks third in the nation. Marshall and Mason offer up a two-pronged attack. Marshall has 734 rushing yards from the quarterback position, and Mason has 1,038 at tailback, leading the SEC.
It’s the effect of a triple-option offense, which Georgia has faced plenty before. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is 4-0 at Georgia against triple-option teams, including 3-0 against Georgia Tech. But Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn isn’t running the triple-option. It’s a power running game, with Marshall’s ability to pass the ball forcing defenses to stay honest.
“When they throw it, they hit chunk plays, they hit huge plays,” Georgia defensive line coach Chris Wilson said. “So what they’ve done is they’ve been able to set a lot of them up in the run game.”
But here’s the good news for Georgia: While it has overall been shaky on defense, its run defense has been its saving grace.
In fact, Georgia will be the highest-ranked run defense (20th in the nation) that Auburn has faced this year. The two best run defenses, statistically, that Auburn has faced to this point were Mississippi State (34th) and LSU (51st). Those were also Auburn’s two worst rushing outputs of the season.
Of course, both of those were in September, and since then Marshall, Mason and the offense have been on a huge roll.
So for a Georgia defense that believes it’s improving, this game doesn’t come at a great time.
“This is definitely gonna be a test of faith for us,” Jenkins said.
So how does Georgia go about containing Auburn? Georgia’s defensive players have emphasized discipline and assignment football this week. That means, as defensive end Ray Drew said, not deviating from the defensive play call.
“You’ve gotta trust the guy beside you that he’s going to do what he’s supposed to do,” Drew said. “If you know that you’re supposed to be in the B-gap, you’ve got to stay in the B-gap. You can’t see the ball pop out, and you try to bounce into the A-gap and try to make the play.”
It also places a premium on the ends and outside linebackers, who will be charged with preventing Auburn’s ballcarriers from getting outside -- and into open space.
“The edge guys are gonna either win or lose us the game,” Jenkins said. “If we get caught up in the game and don’t maintain our responsibility, then Nick or whoever’s back there might break loose and go for about 30. Because they’ve got some fast cats. If you mis-read or let Nick get outside, he’s gonna get about 30 or 40 yards.”