When Georgia runs through its banner to open Saturday’s game against Auburn, it’ll probably look exactly the same.
After plenty of fan-driven anticipation for the Bulldogs to wear black jerseys for the first time since November 2016, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart seemed surprised that added energy was even a thought.
“For energy and enthusiasm, I don’t think you need energy and enthusiasm against Auburn,” Smart said. “If we do, we’ve got some other problems.”
Georgia (8-1, 6-1 SEC) has tuned out any semblance of outside noise as it prepares to face Auburn (6-3, 3-3 SEC). It doesn’t matter to the Bulldogs that they’ve clinched the SEC East, and the thought is that nothing is needed to get them ready for a rivalry game of such magnitude.
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Charlie Woerner, a Georgia junior tight end, quickly shot down the idea of a uniform change. Then, after saying he’s “not a flashy guy,” decided to have some fun when asked his alternate uniform color of choice in a not-too-pressing media availability.
“I don’t know,” Woerner said. “Maybe some gold, or silver.”
Shenanigans aside, Georgia knows it must win Saturday — and the rest of the regular season — in order to return to the College Football Playoff. Georgia leads the series 58-56-2 and has won four-of-five matchups.
Here are three things to watch for in Saturday’s game (7 p.m., ESPN).
Status of Cleveland, Mays and Gaillard
Yes, you read that correctly — three of Georgia’s key offensive linemen may not play Saturday against the Tigers. Ben Cleveland (fibula), Cade Mays (stinger) and Lamont Gaillard (hyperextended knee) have been part of the rash of injuries to the Bulldogs’ offensive line.
Cleveland has continued to practice-and-recover from an injury suffered earlier in the season. He has traveled to the last two games away from Sanford Stadium, but Smart remains mum on a clear illustration of his progressions. Gaillard, Georgia’s stalwart as a senior center, is “day-to-day” after suffering the injury on the first drive of the Kentucky game.
Mays, the freshman who has earned starts due to injury, was given the same timetable as Gaillard. Both of the linemen with the “day-to-day” label were limited in practice throughout the week.
Is Georgia’s concern over Auburn’s offense warranted?
Georgia has seen Auburn’s offense erupt in the blowout 40-17 blowout loss the Bulldogs suffered at Jordan-Hare Stadium last season. That performance resonates in Smart’s mind a year later as one of his first comments was in regard to Gus Malzahn’s offense.
Smart called it “eye candy.” He knows of the misdirections — reverses, speed sweeps, counters and whatever else it may be. It’s a dynamic that can cause confusion to opposing defenses.
“Gus has always tried to establish the run and they’ve got a guy who’s a really elite passer and they’ve got some really good wideouts,” Smart said. “That combination makes it where they’re really explosive in the passing game. I know the mantra they have ... their ability to commit to the run is something they always do.”
In theory, Smart’s comment is true and would give Georgia cause for concern against its rival. But it’s not the same Auburn offense that featured now-Detroit Lions’ rookie Kerryon Johnson. In fact, in a 28-24 win over Texas A&M, Auburn amassed only 19 rushing yards on 21 carries.
Georgia also has history on its side. In Auburn’s last four trips to the state to play the Bulldogs (2011, 2014, 2016 in Athens, and the 2017 SEC Championship), it has scored seven points in each game and none after the first quarter.
Biggest recruiting weekend of the year
Georgia has gone five weeks without a home game, which means five weeks without the opportunity to host recruits on campus (arguably one of Smart’s biggest strengths comes on the recruiting trail).
Now that the Bulldogs are back in front of their home crowd, it serves as the biggest recruiting weekend of the season. It all sets up perfectly for Smart and staff: A night game against arch-rival Auburn with a rowdy crowd in the stands.
Georgia will have a slew of prospects in attendance, including Owen Pappoe, a five-star linebacker committed to Auburn. The Bulldogs hold the third-ranked recruiting class nationally, according to 247Sports.com, with 17 commitments.
“It seems like we’ve gone forever without a home game so it’s kind of like everybody is ready to come back,” Smart said. “And the fact we’ve got a night game probably makes it where more people can make the travel. … we’re expecting a lot of prospects. It’s a chance to showcase our new facility again and show them a good time.”