Here’s something I wrote after last year’s Auburn game:
… The team I saw play in the fourth quarter and will itself into a lead was a team that could challenge any other team in the country. But that’s something I’ve seen in other games that were either losses – the third quarter against Missouri comes to mind – or came in wins that were much closer than they should have been, like the first half against Florida. The problem, as it’s been all season, is consistency.
When this team plays like its collective hair is on fire, when the coaches are aggressive, when the players are focused on their assignments, Georgia is a dominant force, good enough to challenge for that national title game sights were set on at the beginning of the season. But when the coaches succumb to their more passive sides – and there’s a part of me that admits it’s hard not to want to rely on Gurley, even when the other team run blitzes like a sumbitch, or to play soft zone to protect a bunch of green defenders who aren’t up to speed – you get first halves like we saw on Saturday.
How’s that for your “the more things change, the more they stay the same” observation, hunh?
When it comes to defending Malzahn’s offense it is easy to get lazy and frustrated. The key is – as it is most weekends – is playing disciplined football. The defense just needs to do its job. Against Kentucky, which we’ll break down tomorrow, Georgia, again, had times where they played excellent against the run because guys did their jobs – but, other times, we saw guys trying to do too much and getting burned. This is a game where you have to have a workman-like attitude, bring your lunch-pail, and go to work. All 11 guys, doing their job, every play. That is the key to slowing down Auburn’s power run game.
I don’t think anybody expects Georgia run defense to stop Auburn. But we have to hope it can at least take a stab at containing it. The fly sweep that Malzahn called repeatedly in last year’s game worked… except for the two occasions when Leonard Floyd stayed home as he was supposed to. Discipline matters, obviously. (Remember my earlier comment about Lorenzo Carter in that context.) But Pruitt’s going to have his opportunities to get aggressive and he has to pick his spots appropriately.
The real pressure will be on Mike Bobo to keep pace with Auburn’s offense. It’s great that he’ll have the most weapons on offense at his disposal this season. It may be even better if his offensive line can carry over its excellent play against Kentucky this week. But he has to expect that Ellis Johnson is going to try to work the same kind of run-stopping defensive game plan that he had success with in the first half of the 2013 game. Bobo can’t allow himself to play into that, because, while Mason is coming off the finest game of his career, he’s not the kind of quarterback who’s going to will his team to a win as Murray did several times last year (and should have done at Auburn if… aw, screw it, let’s not go there). There’s nothing wrong with being a game manager, as long as you’ve got a game you can manage. Bobo has to at least keep things close for Mason to be effective.
Another thing that helps Georgia is a return game that actually poses a threat. Last season, we were all happy that Georgia’s coverage was good enough to prevent a dynamic Auburn return game from inflicting any serious damage, but nobody expected much on the other side of punts and kickoffs. This year, the worry is equalized.
This shouldn’t hurt, either.
Auburn isn’t invincible. The Tigers aren’t any better now than they were at this time last year, while Georgia is. The coaches need to coach with that in mind.