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NFL Draft

Auburn’s Struggles To Develop Reloaded Roster Show Against Georgia

  • The Draft Network
  • October 4, 2020
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Many recorded the novelties of this year’s Auburn-Georgia bout. It’s earlier, it’s certainly weirder, and it’s definitely got high stakes; we’re just a lot less sure of what those stakes are than we typically are. 

The identities of these teams were complete question marks entering the game: Auburn surged late in a physical slopfest against the ever-grueling Kentucky Wildcats in Week 1 while Georgia carried a deficit into the halftime locker room against Arkansas before longtime bench quarterback Stetson Bennett IV took the reins and got the offense on the rails. Nobody knew who Georgia’s quarterback would be coming into the game; nobody knew if Auburn was for real. 

Well, the Georgia quarterback remained Bennett. And Auburn? Auburn wasn’t for real.

There have been a fair number of posers this year, as the effect of COVID-19 has affected college teams top to bottom. Oklahoma is 0-2 in Big 12 play without any defense to speak of. LSU took one on the chin against Mississippi State in its season-opener and became the first national champion to lose its opener in over 20 years. Throw Auburn into that bucket. Without a full offseason, sophomore QB Bo Nix looks lost in new offensive coordinator Chad Morris’ offense, which looks as cute and ineffective as Auburn offenses of the past. The Tigers’ lines on both sides of the ball—after NFLers Marlon Davidson, Derrick Brown, Jack Driscoll, and Prince Tega Wanogho all left gaping holes in their wake—have been dominated in back-to-back weeks. Their playmakers at wide receiver, in Seth Williams and Anthony Schwartz, are only discovered late in games, when they should be the focal point of the offense. 

This was the real story of the game for Auburn, as the Tigers measured their recruiting and development against the factory that Kirby Smart has installed in Georgia. They couldn’t reload fast enough. They carousel their starter at left tackle, starting with Alec Jackson in favor of Week 1 starter Austin Troxell, only to reinstall Troxell; they switched their guards after the first quarter as well. Brandon Council, Keiondre Jones, and Tashawn Manning all saw snaps. That’s two four-stars, two three-stars, and a two-star that Auburn splash across three positions in a hope to get pass protection and movement in the running game—neither ever arrived, with four-star freshman running back Tank Bigsby doing little to improve the already disadvantageous circumstances.

Dealing with young trenches is not an unfamiliar problem around the country; that’s what makes Auburn’s difficulty so damning. Of course, not every team in the nation faced Georgia this week, where the Bulldogs saw junior Jordan Davis continue to dominate the point of attack as redshirt sophomore EDGE Azeez Ojulari stunned with his power and aggressiveness for a 240-pound stand-up run rush linebacker. Ojulari ended the day with two sacks and a tackle for loss and looks the part of the next Georgia EDGE to get the NFL’s attention. Those two dominated the Auburn offensive line all night.

Flip the possession arrow and the story is the same. Georgia returned Trey Hill as last year’s starter and welcomed a healthy Ben Cleveland back onto the offensive line, but installed new starters at left tackle, left guard, and right tackle after losing Cade Mays, Isaiah Wilson, and Andrew Thomas across this offseason. Unlike Auburn, Georgia’s reloaded on the offensive line has gone off without a hitch, as Bennett had days in the pocket to facilitate downfield—and keep in mind, while Auburn lost their offensive line coach this offseason, Georgia also lost theirs to Arkansas’ head coaching spot.

Georgia didn’t have the reloading to do on the defensive line that Auburn had to endure, Auburn did return Big Kat Bryant, who has yet to make a big impact this year. Beyond him, the Tigers are starting a senior nose tackle in Tyrone Truesdell, a four-star under tackle in Colby Wooden, and a four-star sophomore on the edge in Derick Hall. Another four-star senior, T.D. Moultry, has never reached the heights he was expected to hit when added to the program. Daquan Newkirk, another four-star, has never stayed healthy and is still a rotational player this year. The bodies are in the program to successfully reload, but Auburn wasn’t able to.

This is the long and the short of the story for the Tigers and the Dawgs, as Auburn loses its fourth-straight to Georgia, still looking for a second-half touchdown on the road and between the hedges. Auburn got the record-setting track star Anthony Schwartz in the building and can’t get him the football on the field; Georgia got their speedy slot, Kearis Johnson, nine receptions for 147 yards. Auburn put 2019’s Freshman of the Year at quarterback, and Georgia’s fourth-stringer in 2017 outplayed him. Even where Auburn lands the top recruit, the coaching staff has been unable to deliver against Georgia and in the long haul; that falls both on in-game coaching and on long-term development. 

It’s Even Year Auburn, as the Tigers slough through another extended reload and reset for a coaching staff that is, as always, running low on excuses. 

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