Ryan Mayer

The Auburn Tigers demolished the Georgia Bulldogs, 40-17, in the second week of November to truly announce their intentions to compete for a national title. That win, combined with their victory over the Tide on The Plains last Saturday, vaulted Auburn to number two in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings. The win over Alabama also set up a rematch with the Bulldogs for the SEC Championship this Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

The biggest question on many Bulldogs fans’ minds heading into the rematch is how to get their running game going against the Tigers. Last time out, Georgia was held to just 46 yards on 32 carries, well below their season average of 265 yards per game. Auburn’s defensive line dominated the battle in the trenches the first time out, and Georgia will likely have to make some changes on offense to win the battle this time out.

“All these strategies and formations and shifts and motions are all real nice on the blackboard, but if you can’t handle the offensive or defensive line, most of that game plan has to be changed, tweaked or helped by bringing in different players, maybe tight ends or running backs chipping on offense,” said SEC on CBS analyst Gary Danielson on a conference call Wednesday afternoon. “It can affect the whole game plan. In fact, it affected Alabama’s game plan when they watched the tape of the Georgia-Auburn game. Kirby handled it brilliantly, the way he handled the defeat and challenged his team to get better. If they want to be champions, they were going to have to beat a team like Auburn.”

Despite the five straight wins for the Tigers, things aren’t all rosy heading into Atlanta either, as workhorse running back Kerryon Johnson injured his shoulder in the second half against Alabama. Danielson told reporters that with Johnson banged up, a larger onus could fall on the shoulders of QB Jarrett Stidham, who has played well in recent weeks.

“It’s possible that with the injury to Kerryon, Jarrett might be called on to do more than maybe an ideal game plan would be for Auburn,” said Danielson. “Gus does not change much. The plays he ran in high school are the plays he ran when he was the offensive coordinator… but he’s such a good thrower. And Chip and Gus have seamlessly put him in, and now, with his accuracy with his arm, the offense has taken it to the next level. Jarrett’s got an interesting challenge if Kerryon can’t play.”

Danielson’s broadcast partner, Brad Nessler, expounded on that point and said that it’s hard to know what to expect from this game without knowing the extent of Johnson’s injury.

“There’s just so much riding on Kerryon Johnson,” said Nessler. “It’s hard to do some of these interviews and give what you think, because if it’s Kam Martin or Malik Miller or someone else, it’s a whole different deal. If Kam Pettway were healthy, then it’s still a whole different deal. If he (Johnson) is healthy, and he’s 100 percent, there’s no reason they can’t do whatever they want to do.”

That said, Nessler does think that this Georgia team is raring to get another shot at Auburn, and they might be the only team in the country that really wants to face the Tigers right now.

“The Georgia people aren’t going ‘oh man, we got beat by 23.’ It’s ‘hey, we got another crack at them. We thought we were the better team going in and had it not been at Jordan-Hare, had it been at Athens it might have been a different story,'” said Nessler. “Auburn, they just wanted to keep winning to get to this point, and they did a marvelous job to beat two number-ones in a three-week span to do it. So, nobody wants to play Auburn right now, but Georgia does. Auburn makes the playoffs, no one wants a piece of them, but Georgia does.”

The rematch goes down this Saturday on CBS, with kickoff slated for 4 p.m. Eastern Time and Nessler and Danielson on the call, alongside sideline reporter Allie LaForce.

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