SEC Championship Game Preview and Prediction
November 29, 2017
#7 Georgia Bulldogs (11-1) vs. #2 Auburn Tigers (10-2)
Place: Mercedes Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA
Previous Meeting: Auburn Won 40-17
Georgia Head Coach: Kirby Smart | 2nd season | Overall Record: (19-6)
Auburn Head Coach: Gus Malzahn | 5th season | Overall Record: (54-23)
Season Stat Leaders:
Jake Fromm (Freshmen, QB): 1,990 passing yards, 19 TDs, 5 INTs
Nick Chubb (Senior, RB): 1,098 rushing yards, 13 TDs
Javon Wims (Senior, WR): 631 receiving yards, 6 TDs
Jarrett Stidham (Sophomore, QB): 2,682 passing yards, 16 TDs, 4 INTs
Kerryon Johnson (Junior, RB): 1,276 rushing yards, 17 TDs
Ryan Davis (Junior, WR): 703 receiving yards, 5 TDs
Defensive Ranks (Out of 130 Possible Teams):
Total Defense: 5th
Passing Defense: 4th
Rushing Defense: 12th
Total Defense: 12th
Passing Defense: 14th
Rushing Defense: 25th
Biggest Keys To The Game
1. Kerryon Johnson’s health and the amount of time he is able to spend on the field.
2. Which QB can make enough big throws to keep the opposing defense from keying in on the running game too much?
3. Can Georgia win the battle at the line of scrimmage after being owned by the Tigers in their first matchup?
This game is already one of the biggest rivalries in all of college football between two passionate fan bases, but now on top of that there is a College Football Playoff spot at stake. The winner will secure a spot in the 4-team playoff that will be announced on Sunday, and that only adds to the massive implications that come with the SEC Championship game. Both of these teams have had surprisingly successful seasons up to this point behind some new faces at the QB spot.
Jarrett Stidham was a transfer from Baylor and was expected to give the Tigers some much needed stability at QB that they have not had since their 2013 National Championship season. After a rough start to the season that featured a 14-6 loss at the hands of Clemson, Stidham really has picked up his play in recent weeks. He’s now proven that he can throw the ball effectively against elite defense twice in the Tigers’ wins over #1 Georgia and #1 Alabama.
Though Stidham is the one that is analyzed and scrutinized the most, running back Kerryon Johnson is far and away the best player on the Auburn team. His mix of speed and power and vision at the line of scrimmage has often been compared to that of Steelers’ RB Le’Veon Bell. On top of that he is a great pass catcher out of the backfield that Stidham uses frequently. Ryan Davis is Auburn’s leading wide receiver and makes a living off of taking 2-3 yard screen passes for big gains, while Darius Slayton is a nice deep threat to compliment him.
The members of the Auburn defense have been the unsung heroes of the Tigers’ recent hot stretch. Jeff Holland, Marlon Davidson and Deshaun Davis form one of the best front sevens in the country and have wreaked havoc on opposing QBs all season. The secondary is solid as well, though, has been exposed on deep balls at times this season.
Georgia is almost a mirror image of the Tigers. Jake Fromm came in halfway through the first game of the season after starter Jacob Eason was injured, and he’s kept the job since. Fromm has displayed remarkable poise and control over the offense for a true freshmen. He hasn’t been asked to do too much throwing the ball for most of the season, but he has shown flashes of his arm talent.
Much like Auburn, the real stars of the offense lie in the backfield. UGA has a stable of five running backs that they feel confident in using at any time of the game. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are two seniors that have had extremely successful careers in Athens and have broken multiple records. The dynamic duo are complete backs that can run, block, and be receivers whenever needed. Despite this, the Bulldogs still have an embarrassment of riches behind those two. D’Andre Swift and Brian Herrien are two younger guys that have come in and combined for over 700 yards on the season, while Elijah Holyfield is a veteran that comes in when needed. All of these backs have the potential to take any run to the end zone every play, which is what makes them so dangerous.
A big concern for UGA entering this season was who would be the go-to wide receiver, but junior Javon Wims has become that target with his size and ball skills while in the air. Fellow junior Terry Godwin is a nice compliment to Wims as well.
Even with all of the talent they have on offense, the majority of Georgia’s best players lie on the defensive side of the ball. There may not be one stand out star, but it is a veteran group that is incredibly athletic and fast. Roquan Smith is the leader of the defense with his team leading 100 total tackles, and it seems like he is around the ball on every single play. They rank top in the top 15 in all major defensive categories for a reason; they are one of the most complete units in the country from the D-line to the secondary.
The second round of this matchup should be far closer than the first. Auburn no longer has home field advantage and Georgia will be far better prepared to take on the Tigers. Don’t be surprised to see Georgia jump out to an early lead and hold it for a while. An injured Kerryon Johnson injured will likely not have his usual impact on the game, so some other players will have to step up and make some plays. With all of that being said, Auburn is a veteran team that has been through a lot big games this season, and they won’t be fazed when they face a deficit in this one. I expect their defense to come up with some key plays late in this one while Jarrett Stidham manufactures just enough offense to edge out Georgia in a tight one.
Score Prediction: Auburn 24 | Georgia 17
Game MVP: Jarrett Stidham