For what seems like the fourth or fifth time this season, Georgia is preparing for the game that will make or break its season. Why anyone would schedule THAT many make-or-break games in a single season is beyond us, but whatever the case, our Manic-Depressive Previewers are ready to take on the task of analyzing it from top to bottom. They're spectacularly well-rested, after all, considering that they got to nap through basically the entire second half of the New Mexico State game. So now, with an ancient rival coming to town and an SEC East title on the line, it's time to get down to the task of sizing up the Auburn Tigers. Fellas?
Depressive Doug: Whatcha up to? You've been hard at work for like the past hour. You researching stats on Auburn?
Manic Doug: Nah. Lookin' for a cheap hotel.
DD: What, you're planning a vacation or something?
DD: That's . . . weird, considering that we go to Atlanta all the time. You're not just going for the day?
MD: Nahhh -- I figure I'm goin' up there to party for the SEC Championship, I'm gonna need some kind of home base where I can get rowdy, you know what I mean? Don't want to have to drive home late at night when I've got an assload of drinks in me.
DD: I'm . . . just . . . are you fricking kidding me with this?
MD: What, dude? I'm being responsible. Drunk driving is nothing to joke around about.
DD: It's not that, it's the fact that you've apparently already assumed a division title for the Dawgs. Why don't you just walk around carrying a neon sign saying "Hey Karma, I'm Right Here, Do Your Worst"?
MD: Well, first of all that's ridiculous because I couldn't walk around with a neon sign, I'd need someplace to plug it in. Second, why would I be worried about karma? Like we're in that much danger of losing to Auburn?
DD: Yes, as a matter of fact, we could lose to Auburn. They're 6-3 and ranked. How can you be so convinced this one's already in the bag?
MD: Well, in the midst of my searching for a cheap hotel room within a reasonable distance of the Georgia Dome, I actually did do some research, and you want to know what I found? Auburn has the nation's 84th best run defense -- that's third worst in the SEC -- allowing a hair over 185 yards a game, at a time when Georgia is getting three of its top four running backs back from suspension. And even without them we went over 250 total rushing yards last week against New Mexico State. Meanwhile, their pass defense has tightened up a little from earlier in the season, when they were getting caught up in shootouts with the likes of Utah State and Mississippi State, but it's still next-to-last in the SEC -- and that's after facing the juggernaut passing attacks of South Carolina, Florida and Ole Miss in the month of October.
DD: So what are you saying, we're just going to carve them up, it's that easy?
MD: We put 31 points on them in their own stadium last year, and that was the Auburn team that ended up winning the national championship. Sorry, "winning" the "national championship." Gotta make sure that ends up in quotes because I'm still not convinced they didn't do something shady to get everything they got last season.
DD: Yeah, nice, that's not gonna attract any angry e-mails. All right, so you've actually made a fairly decent case that our offense is gonna look good this weekend, assuming nobody else off our roster manages to get suspended for something. How can you be so sure our D is gonna stand up along with them?
MD: Because our defense is awesome? Ranked seventh in the nation? Allowing fewer than 300 yards per game?
DD: That may all be true, but let's just say "Our defense is awesome" doesn't quite have me convinced. You got any more detail to back that up?
MD: Would it put your mind at ease to know that Auburn's offense also sucks? They've been spinning the Wheel O' Quarterbacks as fast as it'll go ever since the South Carolina game, and they appear to have settled on sophomore Clint Moseley, but that kid's best performance this year was throwing for 160 yards in a home game against Ole Miss.
DD: Completed 12 of 15 with four TDs and no picks, though. Clearly the kid's not a total waste of a scholarship.
MD: Maybe not, but he's arguably the least mobile of Auburn's four QBs. He's the only one with negative rushing yardage on the season, and he accounts for a third of the 21 sacks Auburn's given up this year -- all seven in the two starts he's made just in the last two weeks. Jarvis Jones is gonna be chasing him around the backfield all day long.
DD: I don't know that that's really an accurate sample, given that six of those sacks were by LSU in a single afternoon in Death Valley. And I wouldn't go comparing our defense to LSU's just yet, either.
MD: Why not? We've got only one fewer sack than they do on the season. We're right behind them in rush defense, too -- think we've only allowed 12 or 13 more rushing yards per game than they have.
DD: OK, I'm glad you brought up run defense, because that's what's really been nagging at me about this game. Yeah, we've looked great at times this season -- I mean, anytime you can hold Tennessee and Florida to negative rushing yards, you've accomplished something major, regardless of how much those programs might be struggling. But OK, if we could do that, how come we gave up nearly 200 rushing yards to Vanderbilt a few weeks back? How come we still couldn't contain Marcus Lattimore early in the season?
MD: We hadn't gelled yet against South Carolina, and Vandy was just a momentary lapse in focus with the Florida game coming up. C'mon, man.
DD: Maybe. But the common thread running through both of those games is that they murdered us on the outside. Once Lattimore or Zac Stacy got to the corner, it was off to the races, and we were giving up first down after first down. And I'm going to go out on a limb here and say Auburn is the strongest running game we'll have faced since South Carolina, only they've got two very talented backs, Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb, rather than just one guy to shoulder the entire load. Which means they're going to have fresh legs to keep moving the chains well into the second half, and I'm not sure we're a lock to stop them.
MD: It'll be a lot easier, though, if the passing game doesn't give us anything to respect. Which I don't think it will.
DD: You sure about that? Their receiving corps is getting Emory Blake back for this game. And if he can run a wheel route, he stands a pretty good chance of burning us, from what I saw of New Mexico State's passing game last week. Or was that a "momentary lapse of focus" too?
MD: Only you could find stuff to moan about in a game we won by 47 points. It's like you're looking for reasons we're gonna lose this game.
DD: If I'm looking for reasons, it's only because Georgia seems to look for them too. I'm sure you've heard Doug go on at length about how Georgia seems to do real well when the chips are down but seems to have no idea how to maintain momentum when things are going well. So here we are with the SEC East title basically dropped in our laps, we win this game and for all practical purposes we punch our tickets to the Georgia Dome . . . I just don't feel good about it. We've looked good the last couple weeks, we're riding high, we've got all the momentum in the world -- this is usually the point at which something terrible happens.
MD: Like what? Or do I even want to know?
DD: Dyer and McCalebb go over 100 yards apiece, I don't know. The pass defense has a major brain misfire and we let Clint Moseley come out of it looking like a hero. We give up another touchdown on special teams like we've been doing all season. Or maybe it's something as simple as missing four field goals on a day when just one of them would've put us ahead. Who knows, but like I said, this is the part where something goes terribly wrong.
MD: Good lord, you're depressing. I mean, here I was, stoked about a great game and an opportunity to make our play for the SEC East, and after 10 minutes of talking with you I want to go stick my head in the oven.
DD: Sorry 'bout that. I didn't mean to harsh your buzz.
MD: Well, you kinda totally did, but whatever. How about this: Why don't you pick one of those doomsday scenarios and make your game prediction already, because we've been at this long enough and I got hotel reservations to nail down.
DD: I'm gonna go with a combination of two of them. Auburn wins the field-position battle all day, since we've been terrible defending punt and kickoff returns -- even if they don't get a special-teams score, which I still think they clearly could, they get favorable enough field position that McCalebb and Dyer can move the chains pretty consistently on their own without a huge contribution from Moseley. I mean, it's not like Gus Malzahn hasn't made miracles with less-than-ideal QB talent before. It'll be a close game for three quarters, but they pull ahead with a score late in the fourth and we fall just short on our last-gasp drive. Auburn wins, 28-24.
MD: Breathtaking. It's simply breathtaking, the lengths you'll go to in order to make yourself miserable over Georgia football.
DD: Hey, I watched us go 6-7 last season. I sat there in Jordan-Hare and saw Georgia fritter away a 21-7 lead on the eventual national champions. I'm a product of my environment. I come by my misery honestly.
MD: And you're honestly dead wrong. Georgia's offense is gonna shell the Tigers tomorrow, with Isaiah Crowell having a career day to get back in the coaching staff's good graces. Once he gets into a rhythm, that's when we unleash Aaron Murray and let him fire off some long bombs to Malcolm Mitchell, who will also be back in the lineup Saturday. Late in the game, we've got a big enough lead that Auburn has to go to the air, and, well, we all know what a bad idea that is for them. Georgia brings the pressure, neither Moseley nor that young offensive line can stand up to it, Jarvis Jones gets at least two sacks -- and the Dawgs win 37-17.
DD: Wow. I'm not gonna lie. That sounds really great.
MD: Doesn't it, though? Why won't you come live in this wonderful world of positive thinking with me, where the girls want to be with you and the rivers nearly overflow their banks with crystal-clear, 100-percent pure awesome?
DD: Just not the way I'm wired, man. Sorry.
MD: Well, your loss. Thankfully, our predictions average out to a score of Georgia 31, Auburn 23, so while that'd mean we wouldn't cover the spread -- which was up to 13 points the last time I checked -- even your doom-and-gloom predictions can't derail our inevitable run to the SEC Championship Game.
DD: OK, dude, I'm all for positive thinking and all that stuff, but seriously, you've got to stop saying stuff like that.
MD: Why? Believing in it makes it happen. That's what that Oprah book said, or something.
DD: Oh, good, Oprah and pop psychology as a basis for predicting a Georgia win this weekend. That makes me feel tons better. Is there still time to revise my score prediction downward, or should I just go hide in a hole until the end of the regular season?
MD: Tell you what, you go find that hole to crawl into -- when you come out, you can find me at the Westin Peachtree, getting ready to cheer on the Dawgs in the Georgia Dome.
DD: Oh, God. Stop. Just stop. I'm already gone. In fact, I was never even here.