7 Georgia football players to watch vs. Auburn, slugfest pending
ATHENS — Georgia and Auburn would both prefer to run the football on first down, but the reality is neither is likely to establish any sort of consistency in the run game.
It won’t be for lack of effort or opportunity.
The No. 4-ranked Bulldogs (8-1, 5-1 SEC) play the No. 12-ranked Tigers (7-2, 4-2) at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium in a game that has “slugfest” written all over it.
Field position football, they call it, with Georgia using the run game to neutralize a fierce Auburn pass rush and protect QB Jake Fromm from big hits.
Auburn, meanwhile, looks to use its RPO package and tempo to put freshman legacy QB Bo Nix in the best possible situations and keep the Bulldogs’ assignment-sound defense off-balance.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart and Auburn coach Gus Malzahn have matched up several times, and while Smart has gotten the better of the Tigers’ head coach more times than not, there’s always some trepidation.
“Gus has always had a lot of different things,” Smart said. “They’ve got different tempos, formations, they’ve got different groupings. There’s just a lot to prepare for, a lot of offense, at the end of the day.
“You’ve got to be careful that you don’t overload the kids with too much and paralyze them.”
Georgia will be counting on its seniors and most experienced players to lead the way, but two freshmen have the potential to determine the outcome.
Here are 7 Georgia football players to watch at Auburn:
RB D’Andre Swift
Swift’s yards per game have been dropping off as the competition has increased, though it’s worth noting he broke his longest run of the season (47 yards) against Missouri.
Swift broke Auburn’s back in last season’s game, rushing for a career-high 186 yards on 17 carries, but it’s highly unlikely the junior approaches those numbers this season. Swift can, however, prove a difference maker as a receiver out of the backfield provided Jake Fromm has time to find him.
QB Jake Fromm
Remember that bit about how you can’t go broke taking a profit? It was Fromm’s way of saying how effective it is to take what the defense is giving.
Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele ranks among the best in the nation, so Fromm can expect his first and second options to be off the board, so Saturday afternoon will require some heady play and careful decision-making from the Georgia quarterback.
Expect Fromm to use his legs often, to escape pressure and also to scramble for first down yardage.
MLB Monty Rice
Rice, an Alabama high school product, said there will be plenty of familiar faces on the Auburn football team. It’s important he makes this game personal, because there’s a feeling the Tigers’ players — more than 35 from Georgia — are investing more emotion into the rivalry.
Rice is a tone-setter at linebacker, giving the Bulldogs extra bite when he’s playing at his best. Rice needs to contribute to forcing turnovers more often, however, as UGA has been sorely lacking in that area with just 10 takeaways — second fewest in the SEC.
TE Charlie Woerner
The senior tight end is one of just four players on offense to start every game, though he has just 6 catches for 35 yards. This is a game for Woerner, a likable fan-favorite, to make a difference and live up to his celebrated name. Woerner will be charged with pivotal perimeter blocking duties and pass protection responsibilities, but he’ll also be key in the huddle and in the ears of the many teammates who respect him.
PK Rodrigo Blankenship
There aren’t any other collegiate kickers in the nation with Blankenship’s fan following, nor are there many kickers with the senior’s talents. Points will be at a premium at Jordan-Hare Stadium, and Blankenship will need to be at his best under pressure. Another Blankenship overtime miss this season would likely knock UGA out of the College Football Playoff picture.
WR George Pickens
The former Auburn commit and Hoover High School product will be in the spotlight, as much for his ability and need to produce in the pass game, as his back story.
Pickens’ temperament is well-known, and Georgia will need the freshman to show poise and stay in control against a Tigers’ secondary that will have it out for him. Pickens has the talent to lift Georgia to victory, provided he’s assignment sound and lined up properly on each snap.
OLB Azeez Ojulari
Only a redshirt freshman, Ojulari has become a trusted playmaker in the Georgia front seven, equally adept at playing the run and pass. Ojulari leads the Bulldogs with 5 tackles-for-loss and 4.5 sacks.
It was Ojulari who had the first sack on Kyle Trask in Georgia’s impressive 24-17 win over Florida in Jacksonville two weeks ago. It will likely be Ojulari who sets the tone again at Auburn.
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