SEC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
#6 Georgia Bulldogs (11-1) vs. #2 Auburn Tigers (10-2)
Mercedes-Benz Stadium – Atlanta, GA
4:00 PM Eastern Standard Time
1. Plenty of prospects in the trenches for both teams
For Auburn, the strength of their offense lies in their line, where four seniors anchor one of the best groups in the country. Braden Smith is the team’s right guard and one of the bigger names in the upcoming interior offensive line class, showing the strength and technique to be a people-mover up front. Left tackle Austin Golson has been a stud for the Tigers this season, and will face up against a pair of talented edge players for Georgia in Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter. Those two, along with Trenton Thompson, John Atkins and Jonathan Ledbetter, have combined to form one of the best defensive fronts in the country, a group ranked 12th in the nation in rushing defense while allowing just 112 yards per game on the ground. As juniors, Ledbetter and Thompson will have tough decisions to make about their future following the season, but the other three are NFL bound and Carter could turn into a coveted prospect.
Georgia’s offensive line is younger and doesn’t have as many recognizable names for the draft, but left tackle Isaiah Wynn recently accepted his invitation to his year’s Reese’s Senior Bowl. At 6-2, 280, most think Wynn will be a guard at the next level. The Bulldogs offensive line decidedly lost their matchup against Alabama’s defensive front, and they know they need to elevate their performance for this one. Auburn’s defensive line is incredibly tough and talented however, playing with a physical edge and nastiness all season long.
Jeff Holland is a junior defensive end for Auburn whose name you’ll hear a lot more of if he decides to declare for the 2018 draft. The pass rusher has eight sacks on the season and works his hands extremely well at the top of the arc. True sophomore Derrick Brown and redshirt junior Dontavius Russell have been so impressive this season, not just against the run but also as pass rushers. Brown isn’t eligible yet, but he can move for a 6-5, 330-pound body on the interior, as he’s currently third on the team in tackles and second in tackles for loss. Auburn’s young depth pieces are good as well, allowing them to keep their studs fresh throughout the game.
2. Georgia’s backfield advantage
If Auburn were fully healthy, this would be an incredible matchup between two of the more loaded backfields in the country. The Bulldogs have an incredible 1-2 combination of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, who both came back for their senior years despite the certain NFL future in store for the duo. Chubb is a downhill, physical runner who is rounding back into form from a disastrous knee injury two years ago, while Michel has a wonderful combination of power and shiftiness to make tacklers miss or run them over.
Auburn’s workhorse was Kamyrn Pettway, but a fractured scapula ended his season while opening the door for Kerryon Johnson to star. The 5-11, 215-pound back runs a little high and doesn’t have elite burst, but his vision has improved and he’s become a more nuanced runner this season. Even Johnson’s status is in doubt however, after the junior continues to fight through a shoulder injury that has plagued him for a while now. Auburn might have the advantage along the offensive line, but Georgia will have the better backfield on Saturday.
3. Plenty of unheralded secondary talent
Auburn’s Carlton Davis has received the most love of any defensive back on these two rosters, but he’s far from the only NFL player. Davis has the length and physicality desired in an outside corner, but he needs to improve at playing with his back to the ball. Stephen Roberts and Tray Matthews are a talented senior-safety duo on the back-end, and the latter is a welcome presence near the box as well.
For Georgia, former walk-on Aaron Davis is a long, hard-nosed corner who will play the run and shows good awareness in zone as well. He’s been a solid starter for a long time there, and could definitely have an NFL future if he tests well. Dominick Sanders was a player I thought was very intriguing based on his 2016 tape, but I haven’t scouted much of him in 2017. He’s capable of a variety of roles in the Georgia secondary.
4. Roquan Smith the game’s brightest star
Based on what I’ve seen on tape, Smith will be the best player on the field Saturday evening, capable of running sideline-to-sideline and making physical stops as a tone-setting tackler. He looks every bit of the ideal modern linebacker, capable of covering and playing in space as well as thumping between the tackles. If Georgia is going to shut down Auburn’s run game, Smith needs to be all over the field on Saturday, as he has been all season long for the Bulldogs.
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