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Three keys: Auburn at Georgia

11/13/2014

Saturday marks the 118th meeting between Auburn and Georgia in what is known as the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. The two schools have played 117 games, and Auburn holds a one-game edge (55-54-8) thanks to last year’s memorable win and the “Prayer at Jordan-Hare" to add to the rivalry's already substantial lore.

“It’s one of the better rivalries in college football,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “It’s the oldest rivalry in the South, so it’s going to be a big one.”

“It’s always meant a lot to me,” added Georgia coach Mark Richt. “It hits at a time of year where usually it’s going to decide somebody’s fate when it comes to playing for the SEC championship.”

This year is no different. If Georgia wins and Missouri loses Saturday, the Bulldogs would clinch the SEC East. Auburn’s road to Atlanta is a bit more treacherous, but there’s still a chance of winning the West if the Tigers can win out.

Key player: QB Nick Marshall

The return of Todd Gurley might have been a blessing in disguise for Auburn, or at least for Marshall. The former Georgia defensive back turned Auburn quarterback has flown somewhat under the radar this week with Gurley grabbing most of the headlines. But Marshall is returning to the place where he started his career and the same place where he reportedly stole from his teammates. He’s typically a cool customer, but how will he handle the hostile atmosphere this Saturday? The Tigers need him at his best if they want to return home with a win.

Key question: Can Auburn’s offense keep up without its top wide receiver?

Though Malzahn has yet to officially rule out D'haquille Williams for Saturday’s game, we can go ahead and assume he’s not going to play. That’s a big blow considering how important he was to this offense, but don’t forget that Auburn beat Georgia last year without him. In that game, fellow wide receiver Ricardo Louis had maybe his best game as a Tiger. He rushed for 66 yards and caught four passes for 131 yards, including the game-winning touchdown. He’ll likely play a key role Saturday, and as always, expect a heavy dose of Cameron Artis-Payne.

Key stat: Auburn has allowed 36.2 points per game in its last four games (2-2) after giving up only 14.4 in its first five (5-0), according to ESPN Stats & Info

What happened to this Auburn defense? The competition has been better, no doubt, but it still feels like the unit has regressed since the beginning of the season. It doesn’t get any easier this week against a Georgia team which is averaging an SEC-best 43 points per game, even with Gurley missing the last four games. Now he’s back to pair with freshman phenom Nick Chubb in the backfield, and quarterback Hutson Mason is playing as well as he has all season. The Tigers better hope they can either force turnovers or get stops in the red zone.