In the past two seasons, Georgia knew Auburn would come into its annual rivalry game looking to run the ball a bunch.
This season, the Tigers can afford to be a bit more balanced with their offensive approach.
Having added junior college transfer quarterback Jarrett Stidham to the program, Auburn has been able to get vertical on its opponents this season. That has made its offense a lot more difficult to defend. This season, Auburn ranks 22nd nationally and third in the SEC in total offense at 466.1 yards per game.
And it’s getting the production almost split down the middle in terms of running and passing the ball.
“They’ve changed some things up,” head coach Kirby Smart said. “They’re mixing it up a little bit. They’ve got a quarterback that can throw it. They’ve got a really good group of wideouts that he can throw it to. And they’ve got a really powerful back.”
On the ground, running back Kerryon Johnson is averaging 124 of Auburn’s 236.7 rushing yards per game. Stidham is averaging 221.8 passing yards per game. Auburn has gone from having the SEC’s last-ranked passing defense in 2016 to the third-best this season.
Last season, Auburn was unable to pose much of a passing threat against Georgia, which enabled the defense to key on the run. The Tigers were the No. 9 team in the nation entering the game, with Georgia pulling off a 13-7 upset at Sanford Stadium.
But with the Tigers’ ability to throw or pass out of any formation this time around, Georgia is aware that Auburn probably won’t be as predictable.
“I’m sure they’re going to present things in a different way,” senior defensive back Aaron Davis said. “They’re probably going to look for a great game-plan to try to expose us. Playing them in the past has helped us as far as having some familiarity. But we have to be prepared for anything they throw at us.”
Like any team, Georgia’s primary focus will be to stop the run since that’s what Auburn primarily wants to have success with. And when Georgia can slow the run down and force a team into throwing the ball more than it would like, it has generally fared well with its outcome.
Nationally, Georgia ranks fifth in rush defense by allowing only 89 yards on the ground per game. In games where Georgia held its opponent to less than 100 rushing yards, it forced teams into a completion percentage of only 57.7. Three teams have run for over 100 yards against Georgia this season – Appalachian State (136), Mississippi State (177) and Florida (183). Yet in those games, the opposition has only have completed only 51 percent of its passes for an average of 105.7 yards.
Point is, Georgia has taken at least one aspect away from every offense it has faced.
Inside linebacker Roquan Smith said Georgia will do its part to limit Johnson and the Auburn rushing attack first.
“We just have to make those guys one dimensional,” Smith said. “If we stop the run, we make you one dimensional and you have to put it in the air. I think (Johnson’s) an awesome runner. He runs with his pads down. He’s a great guy, he leads the SEC in rushing (touchdowns). He’ll be a great challenge for our defense.”