I see two teams trying to do the same thing – establish early leads with the run and force the other team to play from behind with the weaker part of their offense – the passing game. Each team will try to get there with different tactics: Auburn will push tempo and use plenty of option. Georgia will be more deliberate and pro-style but will still show some of its own option look with the newly-installed wildcat package. Both teams would prefer to use the passing game as a counter-punch whether through play-action or as an option on a packaged play.
Most of us wrote off last week’s win because of Kentucky’s swan dive, but it really was the best blueprint for a win going forward. Get out on top, turn things over to the defense, let the running game wear down the opponent and build the lead, and put the offense in the hands of a quarterback who’s less likely to turn it over. Georgia isn’t built to win many games if things unfold differently.
Before the Kentucky game coaches talked about seeing time for both Lambert and Ramsey, and we did see both in the first half. But as it became obvious that the defense could keep Kentucky off the board and that the running game was starting to break longer runs, Lambert was the only quarterback used. Coaches seem to believe, and I tend to agree, that Lambert is least likely to make the mistakes that could erase a carefully-crafted lead. That might be damning with faint praise, but isn’t that what most “defense + Chubb” preseason analysis boiled down to? We’re hearing the same talk of multiple quarterbacks this week, but the flow of the game will affect who we see. If Georgia again gets a lead and is running the ball well, I expect Lambert to remain in the game to manage the lead. If Georgia’s in a hole, that might be when we throw caution to the wind and see more of Ramsey.
Georgia’s offense certainly isn’t built for the three-touchdown comeback we saw in 2013. We’re not going to win a shootout in the 30s without a lot of help from defense and special teams (as at Tennessee.) The Georgia defense was overwhelmed by this offense two seasons ago before making just enough stops in the second half to facilitate the comeback. But that was a different defense and a different coordinator. The Dawgs didn’t exactly stop Auburn last year, but they made enough plays and forced enough turnovers to allow the offense to pull away. The Dawgs only posted 123 passing yards on 19 attempts last year, and that’s exactly how they’d like things to look on Saturday.
Auburn is probably a little better structured for a comeback. They’ve already come back from 14 down at Arkansas to force overtime. Passing is definitely the weaker part of their offense, but they do have the ability to go vertical and find Louis downfield. They’ll also try to stretch the field horizontally with quick receiver screens and jet sweeps as elements of their option. A good tackler like Parrish could be poised to make some big plays on the outside.
The ideal offensive strategy for each team seems to play into the strength of the opposing defense. Georgia has been better against the run (Tennessee notwithstanding), and Auburn’s defensive line has a couple of legitimate stars in Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson. Each team has welcomed back an injured defensive lineman – Lawson has made a huge difference over the past two games, and Chris Mayes played a significant role in Georgia’s shutdown of Kentucky. Speaking of Tennessee, I wonder if Malzahn doesn’t try to get Jeremy Johnson a little more involved in the running game after seeing what Dobbs was able to do to Georgia. Johnson has only run the ball 26 times for a net of 75 yards this year, but he is second on the team in rushing touchdowns.
It will be a much more difficult challenge for Georgia’s shuffled offensive line. The crowd noise will be a factor, though the noon kickoff beats a later start. Georgia’s tackles were abused by the Auburn outside rush two years ago, and Lawson will present another tough assignment wherever he lines up – especially if it’s opposite Wynn who will be making just his second start at left tackle. That dominant Auburn line two years ago took away the run, but the Dawgs more than made up for it a year ago in Athens with 289 yards on the ground. Last year it was Gurley and Chubb chewing up yards on the ground. Now Michel, Marshall, and even Godwin, Hicks, Douglas, and others will hope to have similar results.