Hells yeah, J.R. Get down to business today.
I’m not sure I can put my finger on why, but I feel much calmer about tonight’s game than I have about the previous two. Perhaps it’s because despite watching his team pull one out of its collective ass against Texas A&M last week, Gus sounds like an offensive-minded coach who really doesn’t know what his offense is doing.
“You look at the rhythm that we ended the game with. That was pretty good,” Malzahn said. “We weren’t substituting. There’s a fine line there. Sometimes you need to substitute for certain things, sometimes you don’t. If you’re not being successful on offense the worst thing you can go is a fast three-and-out and your defense is back out there. There’s strategy that goes with both and every game unfolds a little bit differently.”
Fast or slow, Auburn’s offense has not helped its defensive counterparts this season. Auburn’s goal was once to run 80 plays per game. The Tigers are averaging 68, including 51 last week against Texas A&M, while ranking 11th in total offense in the SEC.
The Tigers’ pace has not been up to the speed of previous seasons, and yet the slower pace has led to tremendously low possession times for the Tigers. Auburn holds on to the ball for a little more than 26 minutes per game, ranking 125th nationally, the sixth-worst mark in the country.
So why not implement a hurry-up plan with less substitutions if the previous substitution-heavy pattern has not worked?
“You look at everything that goes with it,” Malzahn said. “Third downs has been a focus. Like I said, we didn’t do a very good job on third downs. Staying on the field, that’s really the down that we need to be more effective. In the games that we haven’t done that, it’s been extremely tough to win.”
Actually, he sounds like a guy worried that his offense can’t keep his defense off the field. And therein lies the rub for my biggest worry, that the Auburn defensive front has its way with Georgia’s banged up offensive line. It’s hard to have your way for four quarters while your offense is racking up six three-and-outs and eight punts in eleven possessions and keeping your ass on the field way more than you’d like.
It’s gonna be pound and ground for Georgia’s offense today. (If it ain’t broke, Jim, don’t fix it.) On the other side of the ball, it’s a pretty good matchup for Georgia’s defense. Auburn’s offensive line doesn’t scare anyone and that’s had a limiting effect on the Tigers’ running game. Stidham’s got a great deep arm (that one pass he threw in last year’s SECCG still blows me away), but, as Pro Football Focus explains, that’s not the primary focus of Auburn’s passing attack.
Overall, the Tigers’ average depth of target is 8.1 yards or the 11th-lowest in the FBS. Thus, Auburn’s passing offense greatly depends on yards after the catch (64.4% – third-highest in the FBS) or hitting those deep shots. The Bulldogs have rarely been tested down the field as their aDOT against them is 7.8 yards – second-shortest in the FBS.
That would suggest that the short passing game plays right into Tucker’s bend but not break approach in pass coverage. So, then, what about the deep ball?
Can Georgia pressure Jarrett Stidham to the point where those deep shots are not possible? The Bulldogs would sure hope so after getting a career-best performance from senior Jonathan Ledbetter (87.8 game grade) to go along with increasing contributions from their talented young players to the tune of 19 total QB pressures against Kentucky. Pressure affects Stidham more than the average quarterback as well, as his 36.9 grade under pressure is in the bottom quarter of FBS quarterbacks. In addition, he was only 3-of-14 for 48 yards against pressure in the two games against the Bulldogs in 2017.
It would help Stidham if Auburn had a good offensive line, but it doesn’t. Georgia managed four sacks last week and that would seem attainable tonight.
I respect that Auburn defensive front, but overall, I like the way these two match up against each other. Vegas likes Georgia at home by about two touchdowns tonight. I think Georgia covers.
It’s your game day thread invite, folks. Have at it in the comments. We’ll be at it a while.