Auburn's Key To Success Against Georgia: The Passing Game
By Dan Harralson
The Auburn offense has been clicking this season, though maybe not on all cylinders.
The Tigers' run game has been a staple for the offensive success Gus Malzahn has reinstated, but Auburn may not be able to beat Georgia and Alabama on the ground alone.
Last season, Auburn rushed for 694 yards through eight conference games. Auburn rushed for 677 yards combined the last two games at Arkansas and Tennessee.
Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall has only attempted 16 passes in the last two games. But really if you think about it, it is not all that mind-boggling. The consecutive road wins showed the Tigers' ability to control and dictate the game.
"We build around the strengths of our quarterback, no matter who our quarterback is," Malzahn said.
Marshall's strengths open up the Auburn run game, which scored five touchdowns last week against Tennessee. Without Malzahn in 2012, Auburn's offense only produced five touchdowns on the ground all season. Now Auburn has won the last two games throwing the ball a combined 16 times. Auburn hasn't thrown fewer passes in a two-game SEC stretch since 1978 (14 attempts against Mississippi State and Georgia).
How Good Is Georgia's Defense?
Georgia has had its ups and downs this season, partly due to injuries and also due to their defensive play.
Auburn will need to throw the ball more than they have the last two weeks. But how much more?
Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is holding on to his 3-4 scheme and still is preaching to get after the offense. That may not be the best solution against Auburn. Georgia is giving up 241 passing yards and 126 rushing yards per game. You can't be one-dimensional and expect to defeat the Bulldogs. In Georgia's three losses to Clemson, Missouri and Vanderbilt, all three teams were balanced on offense. Tennessee lost an overtime heartbreaker to Georgia. The Vols offense was balanced and Mark Richt's team was fortunate to escape Neyland Stadium with a win.
Auburn isn't shy about throwing the ball and appeared poised to do so against Tennessee early before abandoning the pass. Malzahn elected to place an emphasis on the running game, especially the last few weeks. He knows a team cannot be successfully one-dimensional in the SEC.
Malzahn scaled back the passing game the first two weeks against Washington State and Arkansas State, then allowed Marshall, a freshman, to open up the offense. Marshall attempted 34 attempts against Mississippi State and 33 at LSU. Granted, there were more attempts late as Auburn had to come back in both games, but Malzahn has shown he will shift the offensive focus based on the opponent.
Here are Auburn's passing attempts game by game:
Don't be fooled if Malzahn not only calls more passing plays the next two games, but also calls more of his patented trick plays. Why call them before the last two regular-season games when Auburn has put away most of its recent opponents early in the second half?
"(We're) going to have to be able to throw it at times," Malzahn said. "We know that. I think we're able to do it."
More offensive balance would allow Auburn to be victorious Saturday against Georgia and host Alabama in a memorable Iron Bowl and the right to play for the SEC championship.
Auburn has played Georgia 39 more times than they have played Alabama in the Iron Bowl. The first game played in the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry took place in 1892 and the all-time series record sits deadlocked at 54-54-8. The series is so close that even the points scored by both schools are nearly identical.
If Auburn gets at least 30 minutes of time of possession, has fewer turnovers than Georgia, and can be successful in the passing game, expect Auburn to win. I'm going Auburn 34, Georgia 30.