PASSING GAME: Joe Cox has had his moments this season, but until last week’s blowout win over FCS opponent Tennessee Tech, he had thrown at least one interception in each game. But while his struggles have been well documented, he does have one of the best weapons in the SEC at his disposal in wide receiver A.J. Green, the conference’s leading receiver. Green may get some help this week, too, as Georgia’s tight ends are coming off a week in which they totaled seven catches – their high-water mark in one game in four years.
RUNNING GAME: What was once a disaster has slowly become closer to a minor inconvenience for the Bulldogs. After struggling to move the ball on the ground with any consistency for the first six weeks of the season, a shakeup on the offensive line and a stronger dedication to the running game behind Caleb King and Washaun Ealey, has Georgia headed in the right direction. But despite 304 yards on the ground last week, the Bulldogs still rank 83rd nationally in rushing offense.
FRONT SEVEN: Fresh off a game in which they held Tennessee Tech to negative yardage on the ground, the Bulldogs are feeling good about their run defense. Georgia is fourth in the SEC against the run, and has not allowed a 100-yard rusher all season. The pass rush has improved as the season has progressed, too. The Bulldogs tallied six sacks a week ago and Justin Houston, the team’s best pass rusher, returns from an elbow injury this week.
SECONDARY: It has been a long year for Georgia’s defensive backs. The Bulldogs have allowed three quarterbacks to throw for more than 300 yards against them so far this season and rank 11th in the SEC in pass defense. Making matters worse, the bad plays have hardly been offset by good ones. Georgia has just five interceptions as a team this season, two of which came from reserve safety Baccari Rambo.
SPECIAL TEAMS: There have been a few inconsistencies on special teams for Georgia, including two fumbled returns, but for the most part, the Bulldogs have been kept alive by big plays by their special teamers. Drew Butler leads the nation in punting, Blair Walsh is 13-of-14 on field goals, and Brandon Boykin already has two kick returns of 100 yards for touchdowns. He set a team record for kick return yards against Florida.
COACHING: In his ninth year at Georgia, Mark Richt is the dean of SEC coaches, but he has never been through a season quite like this. The Bulldogs are just 5-4 with losses in their past three rivalry games and still need one more win to become bowl eligible. Fans have decried Richt’s unwillingness to make dramatic changes, and his coaching staff has come under increased scrutiny with each loss. Auburn represents another chance to calm the critics, however, and Richt has enjoyed three straight wins in the rivalry. He has pointed to the 2006 season when his team was also 5-4 but pulled a stunning upset of the Tigers in Auburn, the first of three straight wins over ranked opponents.
OFFENSIVE MATCHUP: A.J. Green vs. Auburn’s secondary. Green missed Georgia’s last game against Tennessee Tech with a bruised lung, but said he’s healthy this week and aiming to make up for lost time. Auburn ranks ninth in pass defense in the SEC, but Green admits a great deal of respect for senior cornerback Walter McFadden. While McFadden will be tasked with the primary job of slowing the SEC’s top receiver, the standard plan against Green has been to roll a safety over in coverage. That job will fall to 5-foot-9 Desmond Washington, a converted corner who may have some trouble going up against Green for the occasional jump ball.
PREDICTION: Auburn 33, Georgia 30.