Bryan Harsin accomplished something in his first season that no Auburn coach did in 22 years when his team defeated LSU down in Baton Rouge, La., last week. Now, for an encore, Harsin and his team will be tasked with trying to do something no team has been able to do yet this season solve Georgias defense.
Its a tall order for No. 18 Auburn (4-1, 1-0 SEC) in this years edition of the Deep Souths Oldest Rivalry, as No. 2 Georgia (5-0, 3-0) rolls into Jordan-Hare Stadium this weekend with the nations most intimidating defense. The Bulldogs lead the country in allowing just 4.6 points per game, and their defense has made a mockery of the teams first five opponents this season holding Clemson to a field goal in Week 1 and then posting back-to-back SEC shutouts the last two weeks.
Theyre playing at a high level, Harsin said. So, thats going to be a great challenge for our offense, as we put together a plan to go out there put together and try to score points.
Through five games, Georgias defense has scored more touchdowns (two) than it has surrendered. The lone touchdown the unit has allowed was a 36-yard pass in the fourth quarter against South Carolina in Week 3 (the only other touchdown scored against Georgia this season came in Week 2, when UAB had a pick-six). The unit has suffocated opposing offenses, allowing just 3.38 yards per play (tops in the nation) while racking up 18 sacks and, according to The Athletic, getting a stop on 93 percent of all drives this season.
The defense has been so dominant that South Carolina coach Shane Beamer guffawed that Georgia has like 100 five-star football players on defense. While clearly an exaggeration, the Bulldogs defense is still loaded, and its spearheaded by a front seven that includes six former five-star prospects in its two-deep, including a trio of them starting at linebacker with Nakobe Dean, Adam Anderson and Nolan Smith. The defensive line is anchored by a 340-pound behemoth nose tackle in Jordan Davis, with a pair of blue-chip prospects on either side of him in Travon Walker and Devonte Wyatt.
Yeah, their front seven is really good, Harsin said. Jordan Davis, Nakobe Dean those guys are really good players. Theyre physical up front.
Cracking that puzzle will be the most difficult task to date for Auburns offense, as Harsin and his offensive staff will try to scheme against a daunting Georgia defense that hasnt allowed a point in its las 26 drives. Of course, scheming against such a talented and dominating defense is no walk in the park; Harsin knows its going to take more than just Xs and Osits going to require some noteworthy individual efforts from Auburns offensive line, tight ends and running backs when it comes to blocking assignments, as well as sound execution from the rest of the offense.
Youre going to have to win some of those one-on-one matchups, Harsin said. They do have very good depth, theyre very good up front. You still have to scheme for that, so you just cant give up on that because they have good players, and they have depth. Youre going to scheme, youre going to have a plan and then youre going to work on the things that you have to do that week in order to make that play or that plan you have with your offense successful.
Part of that plan for Auburn, of course, will be trying to establish the run game against a Georgia defense limiting opponents to 70 yards per game on the ground and just 2.35 yards per carry. Auburn ranks 13th nationally in rushing offense at 238.2 yards per game and second nationally in yards per carry with 6.81, but its coming off a game in which it struggled to get things going between the tackles against LSU. Still, Auburn found its ground game when it mattered most in the fourth quarter, and as Harsin said afterward, at some point, the run game is going to be there.
Everybody wants to try to run the football, and so you still want to be able to run it, Harsin said. Youve got to be able to handle those guys up front. Weve got to do a great job at O-line, tight ends being able to get up to those linebackers as well so you can run it. So that just in itself is a challenge.
But its one Auburn feels it is prepared to take on, as daunting as it may seem, after early-season tests against Penn State and LSU, and even a quality Georgia State defensive front. The Tigers understand that it wont be possible without winning some of those one-on-one matchups up front, though.
Thats why you do individual (drills), Harsin said. Thats why you spend time in the weight room. Thats why you do all those things, so at some point when you get a one-on-one, thats your chance to use some of the techniques and things you learn, but its also -- you just as a football player. Thats your chance to try to win that one-on-one, and thats a great challenge and I think why a lot of guys play the game, is we get in those moments. Hey, its me and you, and you get to go out there and challenge yourself to try to win those battles.
Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.
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Can Auburn solve the puzzle that is Georgias daunting defense? - AL.com
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