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Roquan Smith (3) and Tyrique McGee team up to stop Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson during their game last Saturday at Sanford Stadium.

Georgia football: 5 Auburn Tigers to watch vs. UGA

Cy Brown

Welcome to Good Day, UGA, your one-stop shop for Georgia football news and takes. Check us out every weekday morning for everything you need to know about Georgia football, recruiting, basketball and more.

5 Auburn Tigers to watch

There is no doubt that Auburn presents Georgia its greatest challenge since the Dawgs traveled north to face Notre Dame in Week 2. The Tigers are 7-2 with only single-score losses to Clemson and LSU blemishing their record. Auburn is a long shot to make the College Football Playoff. It would need to beat top-ranked Georgia (twice) and Alabama, but Auburn is one of the few teams in college football with enough talent to pull off that improbable feat.

Here are five Auburn players to watch when the Tigers try to upend Georgia’s season and put some steam behind their own this weekend on the Plains.

Kerryon Johnson, RB — With a fractured scapula taking Kamryn Pettway out of the mix against Georgia for a second straight season, the load will once again fall on the shoulders of Johnson, who ran for 99 yards and a TD against the Dawgs last season. Johnson should be better equipped to face Georgia this season. With Pettway missing multiple games, Johnson has solidified himself as the Tigers’ top rusher, with 868 yards and an SEC-leading 15 TDs.

Carlton Davis, CB – Davis is the cornerstone of a solid Auburn pass defense, and he’ll be the primary challenger to most of Jake Fromm’s attempts to air it out. Davis is tied for the SEC lead in passes broken up (10) and is third in passes defended (11). He also has an interception. But his greatest strength against Georgia may be his open-field tackling. Seventeen of his 20 total tackles this season were solo. That could pay off big-time for Auburn if he’s the last man standing between Nick Chubb or Sony Michel and the end zone.

Ryan Davis, WR — Davis is Auburn’s leading receiver in catches (49), yards (461) and TDs (4). If it’s a passing situation, numbers tell us Auburn will look to Davis  He’s being targeted on more than 25 percent of all Auburn passes, by far the highest target rate on the team, and he’s catching 86 percent of those targets.

Jarrett Stidham, QB — There’s no telling what state this Auburn offense would be in without Stidham, who is playing in his first season for the Tigers after transferring from Baylor. He’s third in the SEC in passing yards per game (221.8), leads the conference in completion percentage (66.8) and has a 11-3 TD-INT ratio. He’s also coming off his best game of the season, 268 yards, 3 TDs and a 74.1 completion percentage in a win over Texas A&M. If that forms holds this weekend, Georgia’s secondary is in for its most difficult game of the season.

Jeff Holland, DE — Last season, Holland was hidden on the depth chart behind All-SEC defensive end Carl Lawson, but this season Holland is proving to be every bit as a good as his predecessor. Holland is the Tigers’ breakout performer and the greatest pass-rushing threat Georgia will have faced this season. He’s tied for the SEC lead in forced fumbles (4), tackles for loss (11), sacks (8). His sack total is one less than Lawson’s last season and 3 1/2 off the single-season Auburn record set by Nick Fairley in 2010. Holland is a one-man wrecking crew who can single-handedly make disrupt UGA’s game plan and make life hell for its offensive line.

Georgia remains atop CFP rankings

The Georgia Bulldogs are ranked first in the College Football Playoff rankings for the second consecutive week. The top four of the CFP rankings also remained the same from last week — No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Notre Dame, No. 4 Clemson — but there were significant shakeups after that following losses by Ohio State, Penn State, and Oklahoma State. Auburn is ranked 10th.

According to CFP selection committee chairman Kirby Hocutt, Georgia’s win over Notre Dame continues to give it the advantage needed to remain ahead of Alabama.

“We spent more time on Georgia and Alabama. Probably a little better test for Alabama this past week than Georgia,” Hocutt said. “The margin of what separates them continues to be close, but the difference continues to be Notre Dame.”

Auburn pass blocks better than the numbers indicate

A lot of Georgia fans are imagining a slew Bulldogs camped out in the Auburn backfield this weekend, a dream that stems from Clemson’s monstrous, 11-sack performance against Auburn earlier in the season. But that dreadful performance by Auburn’s line was more of an aberration created by one of the best defensive lines in the country than a true reflection of its pass blocking chops.

The Tigers have allowed 24 sacks this season, 11th in the SEC. But when you take the Clemson game out of consideration, Auburn’s stats look more reasonable. Auburn is allowing 1.6 sacks per game against teams other than Clemson, which would be good enough for fourth-best in the SEC.

“I think there is a little misnomer there with that because when you watch that game they are not the same team now that they were then,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said of Auburn’s pass blocking against Clemson, according to Jason Butt of The Telegraph. “They are not the same offensive line now that they were then. Clemson certainly has some really elite rushers, and they got after them. It was also their quarterback’s first time playing at Auburn in a big game in a situation like that, so I don’t really go much off that.”

Rodrigo Blankenship gunning for the Groza

When asked about the possibility of individual accolades and awards pouring in at the end of the season, most Georgia players have demurred. Not Rodrigo Blankenship. Although he stopped short of campaigning for the Lou Groza Award, for which Blankenship was named a semifinalist, he did sound pumped about the prospect of winning the honor.

“I think it’s awesome. Some of the kickers that I look up to who are in the NFL now or were in the NFL at one point were Groza winners. So it’s a great honor to be recognized,” Blankenship said, according to Seth Emerson of DawgNation. “But it’s not something that I’m harping on or honing in on at the moment. I’m just trying to be the best kicker I can be for this team, and if that leads to a Groza (award) then so be it, I’ll take it.”

This may not be the year for Blankenship, but if he improves as much next offseason as he did last offseason, I would favor him to add a Groza to his trophy cabinet before he leaves Athens.

Gus Malzahn Book of the Fallen

Jim McElwain was fired after his Florida Gators were embarrassed by Georgia. Butch Jones may not be long for the college football head coaching ranks thanks in large part to the shutout pitched by the Bulldogs at Neyland. Could Gus Malzahn be the next opposing coach Georgia helps out to pasture? From Jerry Hinnen of SEC Country:

Yes, it’s the hated Bulldogs. Yes, Auburn’s dreams of an SEC West title — and perhaps even bigger prizes beyond — are on the line. Yes, defeating the College Football Playoff’s top-ranked team in Jordan-Hare Stadium would be a victory for the ages regardless of the coach’s status. But the stakes for this game start with nothing less than whether Malzahn can still produce performances worthy of remaining on Auburn’s sideline. …

But after his team’s collapse at LSU — a collapse in which Malzahn’s own conservatism played a pivotal role — whaling the unholy tar out of Mississippi State isn’t enough. Those victories can no longer raise the Tigers’ ceiling when every pratfall against more meaningful competition makes it both lower and permanent. Forget glass. Another embarrassment against the Bulldogs, and the ceiling may as well be set in concrete.

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