@BR Boxtext bold lede colon:Auburn (7-3, 3-3 SEC) at Georgia (5-4, 3-3 SEC)
Where: Athens, Ga.
When: 7 p.m., ESPN2
Last meeting: Georgia 17, Auburn 13, Nov. 15, 2008, in Auburn
PASSING GAME: Chris Todd has five touchdown passes and 468 passing yards in the past two games. His 17 touchdown passes are tied for third in the league. Darvin Adams’ emergence as a reliable receiving option has helped. A.J. Green is the conference’s leading receiver and may get some help as Georgia’s tight ends are coming off a week in which they totaled seven catches. Edge: Tie
RUNNING GAME: Nobody has shut down Ben Tate in conference play. The running back has five of his six 100-yard games against SEC opponents, His 1,142 rushing yards are second in the conference to Alabama’s Mark Ingram. Despite 304 yards on the ground last week, the Bulldogs still rank 83rd nationally in rushing offense. Edge: Auburn
FRONT SEVEN: Antoine Carter has returned from a knee injury for Auburn. Coleman is living up to his All-SEC status, with a league-best 12 1/2 tackles for a loss and 6 1/2 sacks. Despite Eltoro Freeman shoring up the weak-side linebacker spot, the Tigers still have only three linebackers in the rotation. Georgia is fourth in the SEC against the run and has not allowed a 100-yard rusher all season. The Bulldogs tallied six sacks a week ago, and Justin Houston, the team’s best pass rusher, returns from an elbow injury. Edge: Georgia
SECONDARY: Auburn cornerback Walt McFadden is tied for the SEC lead in interceptions with four. The Tigers allow 191 yards per game in the air, ninth-best in the SEC. The Bulldogs have allowed three quarterbacks to throw for more than 300 yards against them this season and rank 11th in the SEC in pass defense. Georgia has just five interceptions as a team this season, two of which came from reserve safety Baccari Rambo. Edge: Auburn
SPECIAL TEAMS: Auburn punt returners have had six muffs/fumbles this year, leading to three turnovers. But it’s ugly across the board, with the Tigers ranking 114th nationally on punt returns, 101st on kickoff return defense and a 63rd on kick returns. Only place-kicker Wes Byrum, who is 13-for-14 this year, has been a bright spot. The Bulldogs have been kept alive by big plays by their special-teamers. Drew Butler leads the nation in punting, Blair Walsh is 13-of-14 on field goals, and Brandon Boykin already has two kick returns of 100 yards for touchdowns. Edge: Georgia
COACHING: With seven victories, Gene Chizik already has met or exceeded most peoples’ expectations in his first year, at least temporarily erasing doubts about his qualifications for the job after a two-year 5-19 record at Iowa State. But he never has been a head coach through Amen Corner, the last stretch of the season against top rivals Georgia and Alabama by which all Auburn coaches are judged. In his ninth year at Georgia, Mark Richt is the dean of SEC coaches, but he never has been through a season like this. Fans have decried Richt’s unwillingness to make dramatic changes, and his coaching staff has come under increased scrutiny with each loss. Auburn represents another chance to calm the critics, however, and Richt has enjoyed three straight wins in the rivalry. He has pointed to the 2006 season when his team was also 5-4 but pulled a stunning upset of the Tigers in Auburn, the first of three straight wins over ranked opponents. Edge: Georgia
KEY MATCHUPS: Ben Tate vs. Georgia’s linebackers. The Tigers’ offensive line has done a tremendous job of occupying opposing defensive fronts, freeing up Tate to make moves on linebackers after he has gotten to the line of scrimmage. Three of the Bulldogs’ top five tacklers are linebackers, led by weak-side starter Rennie Curran, who has 82 stops. A.J. Green vs. Auburn’s secondary. Green missed Georgia’s last game against Tennessee Tech with a bruised lung, but said he’s healthy this week and aiming to make up for lost time. Auburn ranks ninth in pass defense in the SEC, but Green admits a great deal of respect for senior cornerback Walter McFadden. While McFadden will be tasked with the primary job of slowing the SEC’s top receiver, the standard plan against Green is to roll a safety over in coverage. That job will fall to 5-foot-9 Demond Washington, a converted corner who may have some trouble going up against Green for the occasional jump ball.
PREDICTIONS: David Hale—Auburn 33, Georgia 30; Andy Bitter—Auburn 31, Georgia 28.