Experience, health and revenge are expected to be factors in Auburn’s matchup with top-ranked Georgia, head coach Gus Malzahn discussed Tuesday morning.
The entirety of the offensive line is expected to practice this week, Malzahn said, and running back Kerryon Johnson is expected to maintain his current workload despite injury concerns.
Malzahn noted that this game is one that many players had been looking forward to since the start of the season.
“Last year was an extremely tough loss -- the fact they won the game and didn’t score an offensive touchdown,” Malzahn said. “This is one we have been waiting on.”
In addition to discussing injury, Malzahn said that the team was impressed by the way the team responded to adversity in its win over Texas A&M. The response, Malzahn said, was in large part due to the effort made by freshmen.
“The freshmen are no longer freshmen,” he said. “They got extra work last week, so we have to take the next step.”
With Auburn returning several players from injury, the Tiger defense will be focused on stopping what defensive back Tray Matthews called the “two-headed monster.”
Georgia running backs Nick Chubb, who is third in the SEC behind Johnson in rushing yards, and Sony Michel, who is eighth, drive Georgia’s dominant rushing attack. Their ability to play one running back at a time and maintain the health of the other, Malzahn said, is a definitive factor in the Bulldog’s undefeated season.
“They can keep a fresh guy in there,” Malzahn said. “When you’re facing just one guy that’s special, there’s a chance of him wearing down, but they’ve got two guys and they’re very talented.”
Another cog in the Georgia backfield is quarterback Jake Fromm, a freshman who leads the SEC with a quarterback rating of 172.7. He is tied for eighth in passing yards, with 1,459, and fourth in touchdowns with 15.
“Their young quarterback has done a good job managing the offense and throwing the football,” Malzahn said. “They are number one in the country in red-zone offense. They are one of the best in third-down conversions.”
While the Auburn defense, which ranks 14th in the nation, will look to stop the Bulldog offense, the Georgia defense, which ranks fourth in the nation, will look to stop an arguably inconsistent yet efficient Auburn offense.
Malzahn credited the success of Darius Slayton and the ability of running backs Johnson and Kam Martin to determine the outcome of Saturday’s game.
“[Johnson] is one of our best players,” Malzahn said. “You can see it in the way he plays. He’s been protecting the ball, and, in that fourth quarter, he just willed his way on the last drive.
“The special ones have that and he’s definitely in that category of the special running backs we have had here.”
Johnson is tied for third in the country in rushing touchdowns with 15 while leading Auburn in rushing, with 868 yards.
Apart from the performance of his players, Malzahn has been impressed with his team’s ability to adapt in preparation for Auburn’s three-game home stretch.
“Our team, we took the next step,” he said. “I’m proud of where we’re at.”