Ahead of the Auburn-Georgia game on Saturday, sports editor Caleb Jones met with Jake Jennings, the assistant sports editor of The Red and Black, to talk about this week's contest. Here's the conversation.
Jennings: I'm a fifth-year student at the University of Georgia. I'm the assistant sports editor at The Red and Black, which is the student newspaper here.
Jones: How do you think this team compares to some Georgia teams we've seen in recent years?
Jennings: It's a little bit different. We've seen some Georgia teams with a lot of talent before, but in the past, Georgia has run the ball quite a bit, which they did do this last week against Arkansas. But this year, Todd Monken has really shown that he isn't afraid to open up the playbook and take some shots downfield and let JT or Stetson, whoever is under center really let loose and just throw the ball, which is different. Georgia has always been known for their really talented defenses, and they've got one of the best they've had in a long time this year. Especially up front, so yeah, it's a different type of team. But I mean, they're undefeated.
Jennings: Do you think this season has lived up to expectations for Auburn?
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Jones: Some games? Yes. Some games? No. I'd say to the first two games, the expectations were set pretty high, you know, scoring 60 points and back to back games to open the season think it was something that had not been done since 1932, or 1936. I can't remember the exact year but I think those set the standards pretty high. Then Auburn went into Happy Valley and, you know, it battled and it didn't walk away with the victory.
But I think people kind of realize that, okay, this team, hopefully would get better. And then the next week against Georgia State, the team fell apart. I think in that game, people's expectations of this team went way down. You know, people maybe thought, 'okay, this team is not as good'. People may have originally thought after the first two games, the offense may not be as powerful.
But then Auburn went into Death Valley and they beat LSU. So it's kind of a toss up really. That's kind of the theme of Auburn football, is you never know what you're gonna get each week if you're a fan. So I would say I would say no, it has not lived up to the hype, because of the way that they performed against Georgia State. But then also, yes, it has because Auburn beat LSU in Death Valley for the first time in 22 years. It's one of those things where honestly, I could not tell you. It's different every week.
Jones: What are the key components of that defense who are some guys that are are key playmakers for Georgia?
Jennings: The front seven is really where it's all at. Jordan Davis, the huge 300 pounder, he looks like two guys combined into one. He's really the heart of the defense. I mean, he takes on two offensive lineman every time the ball is snapped. And then the linebackers, their speed is something that, I mean, I've watched a lot of football in my life and these linebackers, their size makes their speed. Like Nolan Smith could line up at defensive end. And then he could also drop into coverage and cover a team's receiver. So it's just I guess the versatility with that.
And I mean, they're hungry. They swarm the ball, they talk smack the entire game. I'd say the front seven is definitely the strength. Nakobe Dean, Jordan Davis, Nolan Smith, Channing Tindall. Those are some of the main guys that are really, really making a difference. The secondary was a big question mark coming in the year. Derion Kendrick transferred from Clemson, Tykee Smith from West Virginia, but he actually hasn't played yet.
Some of the young guys have really stepped up. There's still some doubters that have said that the secondary success has really come from the fact that quarterbacks have to throw the ball almost immediately against the pass rush. But guys like Keeley Ringo and Derion Kendrick have done really well covering so far. So, um, although they're still kind of a question mark in the secondary, it's look pretty sure but the heart of the defense is definitely the front seven. Jordan Davis is a name that we're probably going to be hearing on Sundays for a long time. So yeah, I would say that's probably their strength on defense.
Jennings: I want to ask about Bo Nix, his value to Auburn. What do you think that is? And I know there's been a little bit of TJ Finley hype. Are the fans still behind Nix? Is there a change that might be coming? What are the thoughts on that?
Jones: I think got to this past week, the way he performed against LSU, I think the fans are behind Nix for the Georgia game. You know, Nix came into the LSU game, he was questionable as to whether he'd be the starter or if TJ Finley would be the starter.
I think Nix really solidified his job against LSU, so heading into this game, I think Nix definitely has the support of the fans. I think it's gonna be one of those, where when they're announcing the starters on the the big video board, when they say, 'Bo Nix, Pinson Valley, Alabama,' I think the stadium will erupt in a good cheer. It's a good ovation for him. You may see a little bit of TJ Finley just because he's, you know, he's putting in the practice.
He's put in the work. And that's something Bryan Harsin has touched on before, is that Finley has worked hard. He's practiced and he's looked good in practice, and he deserves to get playing time. So you may see a little bit of both, but you're gonna see Bo Nix mostly. Unless, you know, Nix struggles again, and then maybe Finley comes in again, but you're gonna see Nix.
Jones: JT Daniels or Stetson Bennett? Who do you think it was getting the start on Saturday?
Jennings: It's interesting. I feel like we've had this question literally every single week after Clemson and Kirby [Smart] also feels like that he's been getting frustrated with the questions about it but I think it's gonna be Stetson Bennett again. JT, he seems to always have an injury lingering. This is a different one than the reason he missed UAB, this one came from maybe the Vanderbilt game. It''s a lat thing, maybe the South Carolina game I don't even remember but it's it's a lat thing.
Kirby was asked about how long it's going to be and in a frustrated fashion told the guy to do research on lat injuries. It's expected it's gonna be a few weeks, but it I know that JT dressed out for practice Monday, that's the only practice we've been granted access to this week. And he didn't take any snaps. He was just standing around walking around, but he was stressed out. So that's usually not the best sign, but Stetsons a fifth-year senior, actually might be a sixth year, he's a leader, he knows the offense.
Some of the fans don't trust Stetson as much, but you can really tell when Kirby talks about him. He does have a trust in him that he can lead this team, so I think you'll probably see Stetson start. The interesting thing to me would be is if it's a close game, going into the second half, I think that's where you might see JT start warming up on the sidelines, see if it's still hurting as bad, especially if it's Stetson, that's making some mistakes, but I think the first snap of the game is gonna have to be Stetson Bennett, based on what we've heard from practice this week.
Jennings: Where do you think Auburn's at its strongest, what's its biggest strength as a team?
Jones: It kind of comes and goes, but I would say Auburn's running back room is arguably one of the one of the better ones in the nation. It wasn't very visible against LSU. LSU did a really good job of slowing them down, but when Auburn's running back room does get going. There was one play where it was able to get going really well and you just have a lot of depth there. You have Tank Bigsby, Shaun Shivers and Jarquez Hunter. It's gonna be really tough, I think for Auburn to use that this weekend against Georgia, who's got a really good run defense.
Jones: Do you think it will affect Georgia very much coming into Jordan-Hare Stadium where you know, Auburn is just coming off of this huge win for the program? How much do you think the home field will affect Georgia?
Jennings: Well, you know, I feel like that's one spot where Georgia really hasn't been tested yet this year. There are two games that weren't in Sanford Stadium were a neutral site against Clemson, where it felt like a good majority of the crowd was Georgia. Then Vanderbilt, which I'm pretty sure Georgia had more fans there too.
I don't think they've been tested in a real SEC environment yet, no shade towards Vanderbilt. But, I mean, I've been to a few games at Jordan-Hare, it can get really loud there. I know that they've actually talked about this week, at practice, they've been using sound makers and audio just pumped up during practice to try to get the players ready for it. Get used to calling plays and audibles in a loud environment when you can't hear your teammates. Um, so they're definitely preparing for it. I know Kirby made some comments about how Jordan-Hare is one of the harder stadiums to play.
I think that's one of the question marks heading into this game is, Georgia has been playing behind their fans every game this year. How are they going to adapt when? I mean, 99% of the stadium is gonna be wearing orange and blue. I think they'll do well with it. But we'll see. I mean, if it's Stetson Bennett, if he throws an interception early starts getting the jitters, something crazy might happen. So I think that could be a factor this weekend.
Jennings: What do you think it's going to take for us to see an upset with Georgia being favored on a Saturday?
Jones: I think you're gonna have to see Auburn definitely find a way around the Georgia defense for sure. And then Auburn's defense is going to have to put pressure on the quarterback, whether it be JT Daniels or Stetson Bennett and force them to make mistake. Auburn's defense has got to force Georgia's offense to make a mistake. And that's probably going to be the big key. Because I don't think Auburn is going to score very many points.
Auburn versus LSU, they scored 24. That was enough to win. But that was against LSU. They scored 27 against Georgia State. That was enough to win against Georgia State. Auburn has been in that 20 to 27 point range over the last three games. I don't see them exceeding that against Georgia. But it's very difficult for me to say that Georgia's gonna score less than that. Less than what Auburn would score. In order to do that, you're gonna have to force a lot of mistakes on Georgia.
And the crowd has got to be into it. That kind of deal. The longer that Auburn stays in the game, the better the chances of that happening. If Georgia jumps out early, it's gonna be real tough. You saw that the last time that that Georgia visited Auburn. Georgia went up 21 to nothing. And Auburn started making a comeback in the fourth quarter, scored two straight touchdowns. And then they just ran out of time, Auburn did, to give them a chance at overtime. So I think that the longer that Auburn stays in striking distance, I think that's going to be the biggest key is stay in the game. Don't let Georgia go up fast. And try and force mistakes.
Jones: Score prediction?
Jennings: I've actually picked against [Georgia] twice already this year. I picked Clemson and I picked Arkansas to win. I really didn't think Arkansas was gonna win. I was just kind of doing it for fun. But I do think Georgia will win this game.
I mean, it probably took me five weeks, I realize how good their defense really is. But it's scary that they've only given up one touchdown to an opposing offense this year. I would say 28-10. The 28 could be lower. I guess it really just depends on how Stetson Bennett plays. I mean, like you were saying with the turnovers. I mean, very, very easily, and Georgia fans have seen this before, so that somebody could come in and throw two interceptions on his first two passes. And if the Georgia defense doesn't hold up there, there'll be in a deficit early. So I do think that he'll end up playing pretty well.
Jennings: Score prediction?
Jones: I'm going Georgia 24, Auburn 16. After the first drive against LSU, LSU came out and scored a touchdown on its first drive and after that, Auburn's defense really stepped up, slowed them down, only allowed field goals. So I think you you kind of see that trend continue. Georgia doesn't quite score as many points as they have in the last couple of games, but they still get on the board. And I I think Auburn has a pretty good, pretty good history of being able to, you know, drive into enemy territory, but then the drives tend to stall. And so I'm gonna say Auburn kicks, you know, two or three field goals, so that's why I'm going Georgia 24, Auburn 16. I don't see Auburn scoring more than one touchdown this weekend. But I do see them being able to, you know, kick a couple field goals. Yeah,
Jennings: Bryan Harsin. Do the fans think he might be the guy? Is there a good positivity around? What he's been doing so far?
Jones: I certainly think you have to this past weekend. There's a lot of positivity about Harsin and I think the fans are certainly excited to have him. Beating LSU [in Baton Rouge], that was a long streak for Auburn fans to endure. That's like 1999, I was not born at that time. So I was I was not even a thought. So the fact that Harsin, in his first year, has defeated LSU on the road. And, you know, had a chance to beat Penn State on the road, that was not a blowout in the whiteout game or anything like that.
There were there are little doubts after the Georgia State game, as well. This is not you know, the greatest, greatest position in the world. But I think after that LSU game, I think he's definitely reinstalled a lot of confidence by the fans and I think Harsin has got a really good chance this weekend. If Auburn does beat Georgia, I think this is gonna solidify him, as you know, Auburn made the best decision in hiring him. But it all depends on, you know, if Auburn does lose it all depends in the way that Auburn loses. If Auburn gets blown out, that confidence in Harsin is gonna go right back down, but if Auburn keeps it close, but still loses, the confidence is going to waver a little bit.
I think Harsin's done a good job this season so far through five games, I think Auburn still has a chance to make the playoffs just based on who they have left on their schedule. Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Texas A&M. Anything can happen, it's definitely interesting having this big of a game this early in the season against Georgia.
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