After a dominating victory over Alabama, Auburn will look to take down Georgia for the second time in four weeks in the SEC championship.
Auburn offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey’s group was able to move up and down the field against an intimidating Alabama defense, and did the same against Georgia two weeks before.
“It was definitely an uphill battle at times, but when you play good football teams like that, it’s going to be like that,” Lindsey said. “I was really pleased after watching the film that our guys really competed and stepped up to the challenge.
“We went in the game knowing we had to do some really good things on third down to have a chance. I thought that was a really key part of the game.”
Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham went for an efficient 22-29 passing against the Tide, while also finding some running room to lead the Tigers' offense.
Lindsey attributed much of Auburn’s offensive success to how Stidham has developed over the course of the season, specifically with his decision making.
“Jarrett didn’t put the ball in jeopardy which is always important,” Lindsey said. “The decision making is what’s been most impressive.
“(Stidham) made really good decisions on when to pull and run. It’s a testament to his growth at the position as he’s played throughout the year. He’s continued to improve in decision making.”
Running back Kerryon Johnson had another strong performance, gaining 104 yards on 30 carries with one touchdown, along with a passing touchdown to Nate Craig-Myers in the first quarter.
“Obviously Kerryon was Kerryon,” Lindsey said of his star running back’s performance.
Johnson left the game in the fourth quarter after an apparent shoulder injury, but Lindsey is hopeful that Johnson will be able to suit up for the SEC championship game.
“It’s a day to day thing,” Lindsey said. “I think he’ll do everything he can do to be ready to go.”
With Kamryn Pettway still out, the absence of Johnson would mean that the Tigers would turn to Kam Martin, Devan Barrett and Malik Miller. Lindsey said he was comfortable with Auburn's depth at the running back position, and that Martin could carry the ball 20-30 times, if needed.
Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele’s unit was able to keep the Tide’s passing game in check throughout Saturday, while also holding Alabama 3-11 on third down and 1-4 on fourth down.
“We had asked them to simplify the approach to the game,” Steele said about what he told his players before the game. “We said we’re going to play with relentless effort, we’re going to be extremely focused in what we do, but the biggest thing is to get off the field on third down.
“We affected the quarterback with a four-man rush pretty much the whole game. We only called two pressures on passing downs.”
Looking toward the rematch with Georgia, Steele recognized the difficulty of beating the same team twice in one season.
“Having been in the National Football League, one thing I learned really quick is it’s hard to beat somebody twice in the same year,” Steele said. “Particularly if they’re a good football team, and if they’re a really good football team, it’s really hard.
"As for this game, I’m excited for these guys to have the opportunity to play in the SEC Championship game."
With the two games against Georgia being separated by only three weeks, Steele said he doesn’t expect Georgia’s game plan to change much.
“There’s not a lot changed in two weeks, so then everything’s on the table and it’s an open book test,” Steele said. “It’s a little bit of a guessing game and it will go on quite frankly probably throughout the game.”
Auburn was able to hold the Bulldogs to only 46 rushing yards in the first matchup, but Steele said he doesn’t expect them to change the offensive game plan much at all.
“I don’t expect them to change a lot,” Steele said. “They’ll have wrinkles but that’s a stable of really talented running backs. We could play that game 12 times in a row and I don’t think you’d see 46 rushing yards again.”
Steele stressed the importance that his players don’t expect this game to be the same as the first matchup with Georgia.
“We’ve got to prepare like the first game against Georgia didn’t happen,” Steele said.
Auburn has been in an all-or-nothing situation since the
loss to LSU, where any more losses would spell the end of any championship
hopes. Steele said it is important that, in those situations, his leaders on
the defense step up.
“We’re very fortunate with Tre Williams and Tray Matthews,” Steele said. “They set the tone and they kind of lead the guys where they need to go.”
With the Tigers likely going to the College Football Playoff with a win in Atlanta, Steele said he doesn’t want his players looking far ahead at all.
“One play at a time,” Steele said. “Dominate your opponent on your real estate for that one play, then line up and do it again.”Auburn and Georgia will kickoff at 3 p.m. CT in Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday.