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Advanced Stat/Scheme Preview - Georgia vs Auburn

Graham Coffey

And we are back! After last week’s game at Missouri there is much to consider when evaluating how UGA-Auburn may play out this weekend. Many saw a close game between UGA and Mizzou and didn’t look much further. Well, at DawgsCentral we always look further.

From a Success Rate standpoint, UGA dominated Missouri. Random big plays, the best night by a college FG kicker we will see all year, and excellent starting field position kept Missouri in the game despite being out gained by 200 total yards. Is that recipe repeatable? No. Does Auburn have the personnel to cook up a formula that can beat the Dawgs? Let’s find out. 

As always, I dug into multiple games worth of tape and all of the advanced metrics I could find to put together this preview. Let’s jump into the notes…

Auburn Offense

- Much like Missouri, Auburn uses a Zone Scheme rushing attack. They run Zone plays 3 to 1 over Gap Scheme. Remember the Stretch Zone concepts that Mizzou ran last week? You know, the play that Missouri hit for a 67-yard run to UGA’s 1? Well, Auburn runs it a lot. Like Mizzou, they will try to get UGA leaning one way and then get the ball on the opposite edge with misdirection and pre/post snap motion. Georgia has to be careful with this. Its linebackers can’t bite too hard on play-action. It is worth remembering that Mondon is very likely out for this game. I expect Rian Davis and Xavian Sorey to have to play a good chunk of snaps on Saturday. Both are plenty athletic. They will have to be disciplined with their eyes and not come downhill too fast. 

- Auburn QB Robby Ashford isn’t an accurate QB but he will make open throws to the sidelines if you leave a man clearly open. On the season 43.5% of his attempts are between 0-9 yards. He has completed just 56.7% of those passes (21/37, 170 YDS, 1 TD/1 INT ADOT 4.6 YPA)

- If your defense bites on Ashford as a runner before he crosses the line of scrimmage then you’re going to pay. He’s only made a couple of big plays this season with his arm. They happened against LSU last Saturday night and they happened because DB’s pursued upfield when Ashford rolled right. The good news for Georgia is that they made this exact same mistake against Mizzou. One might think that means they are prone to making it again, but Kirby Smart defenses almost never make the same mistake two weeks in a row. UGA’s screen pursuit issues against Kent State were fixed for Missouri. I think Georgia’s secondary will be well schooled on not biting up too soon when Ashford breaks the pocket.  

- Ashford is athletic but that doesn’t mean he’s not sackable. RT #68 Austin Troxell is the biggest liability in pass blocking. He has given up 11 total pressures and 3 sacks. The nice thing for a defense is that he is slow off the snap. If a defender jumps off the line and gets around him they can flush Ashford left, which is tough for Ashford as a right-handed QB. Georgia should hit the speed rush on Troxell as much as they can. 

- For AU to have a hope in this game they have to be able to run the ball with Tank Bigsby. Against LSU he had 12 carries for just 45 yards. That said, we know Bigsby is a great talent who can break a big play anytime. He averages 4.26 Yards After Contact per Attempt. For reference, Georgia’s top three RB’s average in the range of ~2-2.5 Yards After Contact Per Attempt.

- AU tries to use Ashford’s legs like he’s a Wildcat QB at times. There will be times that he runs a basic QB Power play like Florida ran with Tebow. A couple blockers will pull to the left or right edge of the offensive line and try to make a path for him. From what I’ve seen, Auburn isn’t very successful with those plays. I would think they would be better off trying to run some Speed Option plays but they have not so far. I expect them to have a wrinkle or two for UGA on Saturday. Maybe a throwback pass to Ashford or an end-around reverse play that is designed to get the ball back in his hands after he hands it off.

- The more Auburn tape you watch the more inaccurate intermediate throws from Ashford you see. A lot of times you see throws that could easily be an interception going the other way. Unless he has a full out of body experience I do not see any way that Robby Ashford is throwing Auburn down the field on a 12-play drive. He isn’t accurate enough to just take 6-8 yard passes all the way down the field. He will miss as many as he makes.

- Auburn doesn’t have great WR’s so they try to get their RB’s involved in the pass game as much as possible. The biggest pass play that Auburn has against LSU came when #27 Jarquez Hunter gets lost by the coverage on a route out of the backfield. It is a straight bust. Credit to AU for taking advantage of it but it wasn’t AU out executing good defense. Hunter is good in the open field. You have to keep him from breaking into your secondary without hitting contact. If he gets a full head of steam he’s hard to tackle.

- Does Ashford’s 327 passing yards last week scare you? It shouldn’t. On the surface it is impressive. Turn on the tape and you see it came on coverage busts all over the field

- Ashford does have nice touch on his deep balls. He is more accurate on 20+ yard throws (9/14, 64.3%, 342 YDS, 24.4 YPA, 2 TD/0 INT) than he is on 0-9 or 10-19 yard throws. That is why I put such emphasis on coverage busts and Auburn trying trick plays to get a WR running free in the secondary. The good news for UGA is that Auburn does not have a 50/50 ball guy who can just go up and grab passes in contested situations. 

- #25 John Samuel Shenker is AU’s #1 TE. He’s the best chance they have at running quick game stuff. Expect them to do some of the same motion/play-action misdirection that Missouri did at the snap before dumping it off to him on the edge. Shenker is a very good run blocker. When Shenker is blocking as an inline TE is when AU’s run game is at its best. (5.4 YPA on 48 carries off Shenker’s edge as an inline blocker)

- #6 Ja’Varrius Johnson is AU’s best WR. He is agile and twitchy. At 5’10” 160 lbs he mostly plays in the slot. His 305 YDS receiving is almost double the next highest amount on the team. He’s averaging 19.1 YPC with 16 REC’s on 20 TGT’s. 

- AU’s OL is playing better now than they were in Week 3, but they did give up 25 total pressures and 3 sacks against Penn State. They can be confused easily by exotic blitzes. With the lack of explosive pass catchers, Georgia should be able to play a lot of man coverage in the secondary. That would allow them to rush 5 and 6 men at times and overwhelm Auburn’s pass protection at the snap. Dumas-Johnson has flashed lately on A-Gap blitzes. I expect to see some of those on Saturday as Auburn struggles with those same blitzes. 

- Ashford will stare down WR’s long enough on deep routes to allow a defender playing in a shorter zone to jump the route. Don’t be surprised if Georgia gets an interception or two out of Zone Coverage looks. Ashford won’t look off defenders as well as he should and opportunities should arise for players to leave their underneath assignments in zone and pick off the ball. 

Auburn Defense

- The strength of this Auburn team is its defensive line. They are strong up front but they can be run on. LSU has a shaky OL but here they hit a lot of nice Gap Scheme plays up the middle where they ran Power or variations of a HB Counter. (The easiest way to identify Gap Scheme plays at home is to watch for players to pull on the offensive line) 

- AU’s linebackers are not great. There are some plays where you see #32 Wesley Steiner get trucked in the hole. LSU was able to get physical with Steiner and Auburn’s other LB #0 Owen Pappoe in the hole. Neither of those guys are great at fighting off blocks. Pappoe has a 58.2 PFF run grade and Steiner has a 55.4. Pappoe struggles with quicker backs on outside runs if the RB hits the second level clean. He doesn’t have great lateral quickness and will lose the angle quickly. He is usually the Left Inside Linebacker for Auburn. Watch for UGA to maybe hit a long TD run off of the right side of its offensive line. 

- #50 is Defensive Tackle Marcus Harris. He makes some nice plays in the hole against the run and is AU’s highest graded run defender. I think Ratledge could struggle with him in Zone run plays if he continues to make some of the errors he has in recent weeks. The Tigers have another nice Defensive Tackle in #25 Colby Wooden. He manhandles the LSU Guard here. The recipe for Auburn in this game is taking advantage of the shaky Guard play that Georgia has had this year. 

- #55 is Eku Leota. He and #29 Derick Hall are Auburn’s best pass rushers. Leota leads the team with 18 total pressures and 4 sacks on the season. (EDIT: Reports this week have said Leota is OUT for Saturday) Speed is the main tool that Hall & Leota have used to get to quarterbacks. The good news for UGA is that Broderick Jones and Warren McClendon have been historically dominant against speed rushing Defensive Ends. 

- Georgia should look to take advantage of HB passes out of the backfield in this game. AU’s linebackers are slow and as you can see they tend to lose running backs on leak out plays and checkdowns

- The best offensive line that AU has faced is Penn State. They dominated Auburn in the run game. GAP SCHEME WORKS ON THIS DEFENSE! Penn St ran it on Auburn all day long. PSU had 33 carries vs AU for 230 YDS and 5 TD’s (6.9 YPA). They ran 22 Gap Scheme runs and 12 Zone Scheme plays on the day. 

- You’ll recall that Gap Scheme runs are what turned things around for Georgia in the 2nd half versus Missouri. If Georgia can keep the momentum from that 4th quarter and execute on those Inside Power plays this thing could get ugly very fast. 

- Go down Auburn’s schedule… Who is the best passing game they’ve faced? Penn State? I think so. On tape you see Penn St pick on #6 Kionte Scott. A lot of teams have had success throwing on him (14 REC’s/16 TGT’s, 216 YDS allowed, 15.4 YDS/rec) This Auburn secondary can be had, but nobody has really exposed them because they’ve played a lot of struggling passing games.

- Here’s a stat for you… The Nittany Lions were 16/17 passing for 207 yards when targeting every Auburn CB except for #4 DJ James. James is the #2 boundary cornerback for the Tigers and he has been solid all year. Everyone else is average. The #1 CB for this team now is Nehemiah Pritchett. You’ll recall that Ladd McConkey burned Pritchett on double moves twice last year. I think Saturday could be the day Georgia has some TD’s where they score from far away.

Auburn has a ton of coverage liabilities across its back seven. The numbers for the players below stood out to me. Georgia will like the matchup in the passing game if they can get guys matched up in man coverage on the following players…

LB #32 Wesley Steiner - 6 TGT/6 REC, 72 YDS, 62 Yards After Catch allowed, 40% Missed Tackle Rate on pass play tackles, 1.7 Avg Depth of Target in coverage

LB #00 Owen Pappoe - 8 TGT/7 REC, 78 YDS, 65 Yards After Catch allowed, 20% Missed Tackle Rate on pass play tackles, 1.9 Avg Depth of Target in coverage 

LB #13 Cam Riley - 11 TGT/10 REC, 75 YDS, 79 Yards After Catch allowed, -.3 Avg Depth of Target in coverage

CB #6 Keionte Scott - 16 TGT/14 REC, 219 YDS, 10.3 Avg Depth of Target in coverage 

CB #18 Nehemiah Pritchett - This was AU’s #2 CB last year and played the boundary opposite Roger McCreary. Pritchett was burned by Ladd McConkey on double moves twice last season. His 12 REC’s allowed for 106 YDS on 22 TGT’s this year has been solid, but we’ve seen UGA hit him for explosive plays before. It is hard to tell how much he has really improved because Auburn has played a lot of teams who have shaky passing games. 

Final Analysis/Prediction

When Vegas posted UGA -29 last Sunday I was surprised. I knew Auburn had just played LSU tight in a game where Ashford had thrown for 337 yards. Then I watched the tape. What does it say about this Auburn team that it out-gained LSU by 170 yards, held them to 85 passing yards, and lost? Everything you need to know. 

This Auburn team is reliant on busted coverages for explosive plays. Ashford is not a consistent enough passer to take them on the type of long drives you have to have to score TD’s on Georgia. The Dawgs secondary missed two assignments last week and it cost them. By all accounts, they have had the best week of practice so far this year from an execution and intensity standpoint. I don’t see them losing anyone deep this week. Maybe Auburn can get behind them once, but unless it is a long TD they will have to go score in the red zone. That’s hard against Georgia. 

We know the Tigers can’t pass consistently. So what about the run?

Auburn has two talented RB’s and an average to below average offensive line. Can they pop a long run? I think it’s an advantage for UGA that they just faced a very similar rushing attack last week against Mizzou. Those Stretch concepts won’t be unfamiliar and I can guarantee you Georgia has spent all week working on how to fit their gaps when they do see it again. 

I would feel better about Georgia’s chances of totally shutting down the running game if the Dawgs had Jalen Carter in the middle. They will likely be missing Smael Mondon and Trezmen Marshall is also banged up. Lucky for UGA, the backups are all former blue-chip recruits too.  I expect the Dawgs to give up some small chunks on the ground here and there, but I’ll be buying oceanfront property in Arizona before I sit here and predict that anyone is going to drive down the field on a Kirby Smart defense by running the ball play after play. 

Auburn might penetrate decently far into UGA’s territory at times, but I suspect they will have poor starting field position a lot. Don’t forget the Tigers had 2 INT’s and 2 fumbles last week also. 

On offense, Georgia played very poorly for large stretches against Mizzou and still put up nearly 500 yards. I think this unit gets back to humming this week for two big reasons:

1) Georgia’s OL found something in that 4th quarter in Columbia. They executed in unison like we haven’t seen them do at any point this season. Lucky for them, the scheme they were running when everything clicked for them also happens to be the scheme that Auburn struggles most to defend.

2) Remember before the Oregon and South Carolina games when I told you I saw slow linebackers and UGA could have a ton of success throwing to it running backs? Well, I see it again. I think the Dawgs can run swing passes and screens all day on the Tigers and get easy yards on the edges. I don’t think back seven has anything like UGA’s downfield blocking. When it’s working right there is nothing else like it in college football. 

We may see AD Mitchell for some plays, but I would be surprised if he has a big impact just yet. I do expect Dominick Blaylock to see more reps after his excellent performance last week. I also think UGA will use Bowers and Washington on the boundaries more. They’re both matchup nightmares and UGA can flip a screen or a swing pass out to their side anytime and they will lead the way. Don’t be surprised if Arian Smith has a big play on Saturday. I think he is ready to fully go.

Georgia didn’t need any extra motivation for this game. They have been doubted a good bit in the media this week and they know they did not play to their internal standard last weekend. That game pulled this team together in a way that nothing else but true adversity can. This is a statement game for this team. 

They didn’t need any extra motivation but Auburn Center Brandon Council went and gave it to them. Councils quote from Wednesday…

“The guys that do come out, I don’t think they trust them,” Council said. “If we keep them out of third down where they can’t bring packages and have to keep their main guys on the field, we’re just going to run the ball on them all day because they’re going to get tired.” - Brandon Council, Auburn Center

Whoops. The Tigers best matchup in this game was their rushing game versus a banged up UGA front seven, but Mama always said that hell hath no fury like a disrespected Dawg.

Auburn hasn’t scored a second half touchdown in Sanford Stadium since 2007. They won’t on Saturday either. 

Georgia 45 - Auburn 9

To watch the film version of this preview click here:


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