ATHENS, Ga. -- No. 5 Georgia (8-1, 6-1) can clinch its second consecutive berth in the SEC championship game with a win Saturday against its oldest rival, Auburn (2-7, 0-6).
Let’s take a look at some of the biggest UGA-related storylines as we move closer to kickoff:
1. Championship implications
There is nothing new about at least one of the participants carrying conference or division championship hopes into the annual Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry matchup. This is the 21st time the game will determine whether Auburn or Georgia clinches the SEC or division title with a win -- and the series’ long history is littered with examples of underdogs playing spoiler. An Auburn win this year, however, would rank as one of the biggest upsets in recent series history, as the Tigers enter as 15 1/2-point underdogs.
2. Pressuring the passer
Auburn will trot out a true freshman quarterback, Jonathan Wallace, for his second career start Saturday. The Tigers coaches have slowly eased in the dual-threat quarterback on offense, but they won’t have that luxury against a suddenly turnover-happy Georgia defense. The Bulldogs have forced 9 of their 19 takeaways in the last two games and will surely try to harass Wallace into errors that will create additional turnovers.
3. Is blocking Jones “not that hard?”
Georgia blogs and message boards have been abuzz this week over Auburn right guard Chad Slade's comment that “you can stop [Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones]. It’s not that hard,” which came within a conversation where Slade was largely complimentary of Jones’ abilities. Nonetheless, this matchup on paper appears to favor Jones and Georgia’s pass-rushers. The Bulldogs have 9 sacks in the last two games, while Auburn has allowed an SEC-high 29 sacks.
4. Establishing the run
Auburn has struggled to defend the run all season -- the Tigers are 96th nationally and last in the SEC in run defense, allowing 199.22 yards per game -- which sets up a possible big game for Georgia freshmen Todd Gurley (second in the SEC with 95.2 rushing yards per game) and Keith Marshall (57.8). Texas A&M rushed for 352 yards and 6 touchdowns against the Tigers two weeks ago.
5. Making them quit
This season has been nothing short of a nightmare for Auburn, and the coaching staff is trying to hang onto jobs for another season. The Tigers are just two weeks removed from a humiliating home loss against Texas A&M, when the Aggies nearly posted 700 yards of offense in the 63-21 win. It’s late in the season and the Tigers’ will is already weak. If the Bulldogs take a commanding lead early in this one, they will probably win easily.