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Georgia Bulldogs vs. Auburn Tigers: When Georgia Has The Ball, Aaron Murray Needs To Be Sharp (And Upright)

Georgia's offense: Averaging 240.9 yards per game passing (45th nationally), 153.7 yards rushing (61st).
Auburn's defense: Allowing 241.3 yards per game passing (95th), 114.6 yards rushing (18th).

Last year Auburn's defense was holding its own against the pass but helpless against the run; this year it's the pass defense's turn in the barrel. Granted, they've frequently run up the kinds of big leads that have forced their opponents to go pass-heavy, but the Tigers' pass-efficiency defense stats have been mediocre, and they've only picked off eight passes all season (half of those coming against the backup QBs of South Carolina and Arkansas in desperation-comeback mode). Last week against Idaho State, Aaron Murray had the chance to shake off some rust (and some residual disappointment from the Florida loss) and finished with a tidy 19-of-27, three-touchdown, no-interception day; if he's on this weekend, Auburn's secondary may have trouble accounting for a stocked stable of receivers. The Tigers have also had the occasional breakdowns in special-teams coverage, with Chattanooga, of all teams, returning a kickoff for a TD last week. That could mean some vital opportunities for Brandon Boykin and Branden Smith, both of whom will be healthy and available on Saturday.

As much as Auburn's pass defense has fallen off, its run defense has improved, going from third-worst in the SEC last year to third-best in 2010. Explosive runs have been few and far between for Caleb King and Washaun Ealey this season -- even against Idaho State, the ground game mostly hovered around "deliberate" -- so it's vital for Aaron Murray to be sharp enough that Auburn doesn't see fit to just stack the box on every play. To make that happen, though, he'll have to be upright, which will be a big challenge with junior breakout player Nick Fairley snarling at him from the other side of the line. Fairley is second in the SEC behind Georgia's Justin Houston in sacks this season and number one in tackles for loss, meaning that he'll be just as dangerous in the run-stuffing game as he will be in the pass rush.

Georgia C Ben Jones vs. Auburn DT Nick Fairley.
Fairley has been nothing short of phenomenal in QB pressure this year; he's been a whirling, snarling Tasmanian devil against even the better offensive lines in the league, and he doesn't even try to get around them on the outside, either, he just crashes right up the middle like a demented Kool-Aid pitcher and plants the opposing QB in the turf. Jones has never backed down to anyone in his Georgia career, but his job's importance will be ratcheted up even further this weekend, as Georgia likely will be counting heavily on Aaron Murray's arm to make the big plays that will let the Dawgs keep up with the Tigers on the scoreboard.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.