UGA Football

Know your enemy: Auburn writer believes both teams ‘evenly matched’

Georgia running back Sony Michel (1) carries the ball in a 2015 game against Auburn.
Georgia running back Sony Michel (1) carries the ball in a 2015 game against Auburn. AP

Georgia will face Auburn for the 121st time in the history of both programs Saturday.

A lot has transpired in this storied rivalry, with Georgia holding a slight 57-55-8 advantage in the series. This year figures to be another good game, with the stakes as large as ever. Georgia enters the game 9-0 and No. 1 in the nation. Auburn is 7-2 and ranked No. 10, with the College Football Playoff still a real possibility.

The Opelika-Auburn News’ Josh Vitale was kind enough to answer a few questions about the upcoming game from the Auburn side. Here is what he had to say, including his prediction for Saturday’s matchup.

Q: What do you think Auburn's plan of attack will be against Georgia's defense?

A: Auburn's plan, as it has been all season, will likely be to use Kerryon Johnson and its run game to set up quarterback Jarrett Stidham to hit deep throws. The biggest problem the Tigers will run into is that Georgia's defense excels at stopping both of those things. Offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey will surely bring some wrinkles to try to attack the defense, but the base of the Auburn attack will likely be the same as it has all season. The biggest questions are whether or not that game plan can be effective against a defense as good as the Bulldogs', and if it isn't, whether or not Gus Malzahn is willing to adjust on the fly.

Q: Considering Kerryon Johnson was the lead back against Georgia last season, what has made him better this season?

A: The biggest factors that have led to his improvement are opportunity and, most importantly, his health. Johnson had more opportunity to be the lead back this season than he has ever before given how much Kamryn Pettway has been in and out of the lineup (he won't play again on Saturday), and he's healthier now than he was at this time last year, when he was five weeks removed from a badly sprained ankle.

Q: How much balance has Jarrett Stidham been able to add to the Auburn offense and has it made it less predictable?

A: Stidham has added an incredible amount of balance to the offense. Last year, Auburn finished the year ranked 112th nationally in passing offense. Through nine games this year, it ranks 64th. Auburn has 14 passing plays of 40 more yards this season. Last year, it finished the year with just eight. So the deep passing element the Tigers have lacked over the past few seasons is now there. As to whether or not the offense is less predictable, that's still up to Malzahn and Lindsey. In the loss at Clemson, Auburn threw too much, and it led to 11 sacks. Against LSU, the Tigers didn't throw enough and the running game was bottled up. Being able to mix both Saturday will be crucial.

Q: Do you think Auburn's front seven keys on the run to force Jake Fromm to beat the defense? If so, will that work against Auburn's secondary? If not, why?

A: I do think Auburn will key on the run, but it will not sell out. The Tigers know Fromm likely won't be asked to throw 30 times and light a defense up, but they know how efficient he's shown he can be. But even if that front seven stays in the box, Auburn does have enough talent in the secondary to potentially bottle up Georgia's receivers even without help from the linebackers. Auburn ranks 19th nationally against the pass allowing 181 yards per game and has allowed only four of nine opponents to his 200 yards through the air.

Q: What is your prediction for this top-10 matchup?

A: Auburn 23, Georgia 21. I think both these teams are incredibly evenly matched in the run game and on defense. I think the difference will come at quarterback, where I think Stidham is better equipped to win a game for the Tigers than Fromm is for the Bulldogs. That the game is at Jordan-Hare Stadium, which will feature the most hostile crowd Fromm has seen this season, sets Auburn over the edge.