The Auburn Tigers were not expected to beat the LSU Tigers. They hadn’t won in Baton Rouge since the late 20th century.
By Matt Zemek
Winning in Tiger Stadium is a terrific achievement for Auburn, if only because that losing streak was extremely annoying and burdensome to the Auburn fan base. LSU is not a particularly good team, but Auburn fans will tell you they had the better team in 2017 and a number of other occasions over the past 22 years. They failed to get the job done against LSU… until Saturday night. This can mark a significant forward step for first-year head coach Bryan Harsin, who is in the midst of a transition year and needs some high-profile achievements to sell to recruits this coming cycle.
As good as the LSU win was, and as great as that victory felt, the buzz from that experience won’t last very long if Georgia slaps a beatdown on the Plainsmen this Saturday in Jordan-Hare Stadium. It would be notable and modestly encouraging if Auburn can at least keep this game close. What do the Tigers need to do, however, if they actually want to win this game outright and send a jolt through the college football world?
1 – Quick-hitting offense
If Georgia will hang its hat on one positional matchup in this game, it will be its defensive line against Auburn’s offensive line. That is Georgia’s strength against Auburn’s weakness. Georgia is allowing under five points per game. The Bulldogs might not have played a good offensive team yet this season – Clemson has a genuinely bad offense until proven otherwise – but they certainly know how to strangle bad offenses and put them on lockdown. Auburn does not have an especially strong offense. It is weak up front, and Bo Nix – despite his magical playmaking against LSU – is not an upper-tier SEC quarterback. Harsin and his staff have to neutralize Georgia’s defensive line by using quick-hitting plays which don’t require Auburn linemen to hold their blocks for especially long periods of time. This isn’t just about the passing game; it’s also the case with the ground game. Designing plays which reduce Auburn’s burden in a strictly physical realm will give the Tigers more of a chance to pry open some first downs and modest gains against Kirby Smart’s defense.
Handoffs to wide receivers, quick tosses which go outside the tackle box, maybe an occasional wishbone look just to give Georgia a different personnel alignment – these are all things Harsin should consider. It’s not one size fits all. This should be a varied collection of plays and formations which won’t give Kirby Smart a predictable sequence or style. Mix it up.
2 – Quick offense
Quick-hitting means plays which don’t require extended blocking. In addition to being quick-hitting, Auburn should just try being quick, as in using a hurry-up offense. Seriously: Why give Georgia’s elite defensive line the chance to catch its breath? Run a genuine no-huddle, which takes a lot of guesswork out of the quarterback’s mind and can force the defense into a different mental space. Why not? It’s not a normal thing for Harsin or Auburn to do, but this is not a normal game situation, either. Go for it!
3 – Load the box
Georgia has been able to win games without having to throw the ball downfield. It did this against Arkansas. Auburn has to load the tackle box and make Stetson Bennett (or whoever is quarterback) win the game with his arm. Kirby loves playing manball. Force Georgia to resort to “throw-ball.”