ATHENS, Ga. – The scores jump off the page, resembling more an actual video game than physical, hard-nosed Southeastern Conference football.
Aaron Murray is averaging 248.4 passing yards per game. Auburn's defense allows 241.3 passing yards per game.
Sorting through Auburn’s games this season, there are scores like 52-26, 65-43, 51-31 and 62-24. The Tigers, though, haven’t lost a single time, rolling to 10-0, a No. 2 ranking and the cusp of an SEC West title behind a suspect defense and one of the nation’s best offenses and players in quarterback Cam Newton.
So what looms as the ultimate test for an inconsistent Georgia defense may actually create more pressure Saturday for the Bulldogs’ offense.
“We’re going to have to score a lot of points, man,” UGA receiver A.J. Green said.
Really, that’s not a stretch.
For all its offensive achievements, Auburn is eighth in the SEC and 52nd nationally in total defense. That includes a whopping 241.3 passing yards allowed per game, which rates 11th in the conference and 95th nationally.
And despite the team’s underwhelming 5-5 record, Georgia’s offense has quietly made strides in the past month. The Bulldogs head to Auburn having scored at least 30 points in five consecutive games for the first time in school history.
While Auburn is the SEC’s runaway leader with 42.2 points per game, Georgia is fourth with a respectable 33.8 points per game.
“I’m proud of how we responded after starting the season 1-4 and not folding the tent when everybody really expected us to,” UGA offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said, “and guys fighting and playing hard and still believing in what we could do offensively.
A.J. Green on Saturday's game: "I think we're going to be up for it, but it's going to be a real big challenge."
“Like I said at the beginning of the year, I believe we have the talent. It’s just a matter of going out there and doing it. We’ve been a little bit inconsistent, but lately we’ve found our stride.”
Much of the credit for Georgia's offensive success goes to redshirt freshman quarterback Aaron Murray. In a rookie campaign, he has thrown for 2,307 yards, more than any other SEC signal-caller except Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett (2,752) and Kentucky’s Mike Hartline (2,674).
Young Murray is not infallible, though, as a troubling trend for Georgia has popped up the past three weeks. Against Kentucky, Florida and Idaho State, Murray started slowly. He was a combined 7-of-20 with one interception and a total of only 48 yards during the first quarter of the past three games.
“I was just not as accurate as I’d like to be to start games off with,” Murray said, “and then kind of corrected myself through the game mentally. I’ve just got to, I guess, make those mental notes before I get out there. I’m pretty sure I’ll be fine. I’ve learned. I’m pretty sure I’ve got the jitters out of my system.”
Nevertheless, Murray’s slow starts hit on a recurring theme for Georgia’s entire team. In their five victories, the Bulldogs have outscored opponents 56-3 in the first quarter. In five losses, they have been outscored 28-13.
“It’s been well-documented,” UGA coach Mark Richt said. “Everybody seems to remind me once a week that when we start slow, we don’t win. You don’t want to start slow in this one. Last year we started out down 14-0 (to Auburn) and came back and won it. This offense here is more prolific than a year ago. It would be tough to get in that situation.”
Georgia’s stated goal on Saturday isn’t to heave the football all over the place and try to score as much as possible. Instead, the Bulldogs want to be plodding and methodical in their offensive success, building long drives and possession time to keep Newton and company off the field.
In Murray’s words, the plan is to “not try to think that we have to score 100 points and just keep doing our thing.”
Bobo’s offense, by the way, ranks first in the SEC with an average time of possession of 31:35 this season, which is 39 seconds more than second-place Ole Miss.
“The most important thing is to take advantage of our possessions and our opportunities when they come,” Bobo said. “We can’t get impatient and think that we’ve got to beat Auburn. We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to move the ball and execute, and if we have an opportunity to make a play, we’ve got to make it.”
Richt explained Auburn’s sub-par pass defense numbers by noting that many teams trailed the Tigers and had no choice but to throw every down to come back. Yet Auburn has trailed in six of its 10 wins this season.
“I have confidence that they’re not going to go out and put 50-60 points (up) like they do other teams,” Murray said. “I don’t think it’s going to be as high-scoring a game as everyone thinks it will, just because of our talent on defense. … Our goal is to really eat up the clock, keep their offense on the sideline and keep our defense resting.
“If we do that and limit their opportunities to score, that would be huge for us.”