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Opposing view: Auburn scribe likes ‘desperate home team,’ says game will be ‘instant classic’
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Opposing view: Auburn scribe likes ‘desperate home team,’ says game will be ‘instant classic’

Opposing view: Auburn scribe likes ‘desperate home team,’ says game will be ‘instant classic’

Opposing view: Auburn scribe likes ‘desperate home team,’ says game will be ‘instant classic’

Georgia-Auburn-Jarrett Stidham

ATHENS ― Justin Ferguson is still a young man, yet he’s already logged nearly five years on the Auburn football beat.

An Auburn graduate, Ferguson has handled the Tigers’ beat the last two years for SEC Country. Before that, he was doing it as a student at Auburn, while also providing coverage as a correspondent for Bleacher Report, the Associated Press, Sporting News, the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, the Opelika-Auburn News and the Auburn Plainsman. Interestingly enough, he tells me the first Auburn game he ever covered as a reporter was the 38-0 “beatdown” Georgia put on the Tigers on The Plains in 2012.

So Ferguson has done a lot of writing and reporting the last several years. And, of course, he has been with the Tigers every step of the way this season. You can see all his coverage on SECcountry.com.

We reached out to Justin this week to answer our questions about the No. 1o Auburn Tigers, who enter the Saturday home game against No. 1 Georgia as the highest-ranked, two-loss team in America. Let’s see what he thinks about this top 10 matchup on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

1. I just can’t get past those 11 sacks by Clemson in Week 2. What exactly happened that game, and what have the Tigers done to fix that?

Ferguson: Those 11 sacks came down to a combination of factors, namely Auburn calling too many deep pass plays with an offensive line that just wasn’t ready to handle Clemson’s pass rush. After that game, Auburn’s play-calling improved — a lot of that had to do with first-year offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey moving up to the press box — and the Tigers pulled young left tackle Prince Tega Wanogho from the starting lineup.

Auburn has done a better job of giving Jarrett Stidham shorter options and quicker passes since that game, and the new-look offensive line has done a good job protecting him. Since then, the Tigers have allowed just 1.43 sacks per game. Even with a growing number of injury issues up front — an improved Wanogho will most likely start Saturday — Auburn has done a much better job of keeping Stidham upright with the personnel and strategy decisions.

2. I think Auburn probably has the best defense Georgia has faced this season. What do you believe to be the Tigers’ biggest advantage as far as their defense versus the Bulldogs offense?

Ferguson: I think Auburn’s pass rush is its biggest advantage over Georgia this weekend. Jeff Holland has been one of the nation’s best pass rushers, and the Tigers can go as many as three-deep along the defensive line with quality players. The Tigers have been able to get after almost every quarterback they’ve faced without blitzing. Georgia’s offensive line has done quite well this season, but Auburn’s pass rush against a freshman quarterback making his first start in a large, truly hostile road environment ― UGA’s takeover of South Bend doesn’t really count to me ― should be huge.

Both Auburn and Georgia have strong run games and strong run defenses. Auburn has a clear statistical edge in getting after the quarterback, and that should serve them well in front of their home fans.

3. Conversely, I expect the Bulldogs defense to be the best Auburn has faced this season. How do you see Auburn attacking it?

Ferguson: I see Auburn making a concerted effort to stay as balanced as it can against Georgia. That means Stidham needs to get into an early rhythm, and Auburn needs to be effective enough in running the ball that it can create one-and-one matchups with the Georgia defensive backs. That’s when Auburn has been its most effective this season, when the yards are split evenly in passing and running and they have room to hit bigger plays downfield.

Since Georgia doesn’t have a real weakness on defense, I don’t see Auburn leaning too hard in one direction or the other. It helps that Auburn is one of the few teams in college football averaging at least 220 passing yards and 220 rushing yards this season. This should be a fantastic matchup between two talented offenses, but the defenses should steal the show Saturday. Both have been playing lights-out football.

4. Georgia has won nine of the last 11 in this series. How is that viewed on the Tigers’ side of this rivalry?

Ferguson: There are plenty of Auburn fans who consider Georgia as just as big of a rival — if not bigger — than Alabama. That close proximity to Georgia and metro Atlanta and the fact Auburn recruits so much in the state create such an intense rivalry.

Simply put, the pressure is on Gus Malzahn here. Auburn has lost three straight to both Georgia and Alabama. It’s hard to believe he’ll stay around for much longer if that extends to four in a row. And, as of right now, Georgia looks like the more likely upset. So Auburn needs to end the skid in this one. Not many Tigers fans will be able to stomach 10 losses in 12 to the Bulldogs. Fortunately for Auburn, it’s won all three of the previous meetings in this series when both teams are in the top 10.

5. Can you shed any light on what Atlanta’s Kyle Davis did to get dismissed from the Auburn football team? And how are Darius Slayton and the other wideouts doing?

Ferguson: Kyle Davis was on a short leash this season. He missed the entire spring due to an undisclosed off-the-field issue, and then he got suspended for the season opener. He didn’t have any more chances with the coaching staff, so all it took was one more incident before the LSU game to send him out. The details of what Davis did aren’t completely clear, but he very much became a repeat offender of team rules over the past year.

Darius Slayton is fresh off back-to-back big games in which he knocked on the door of 100 yards with long plays downfield. He is Auburn’s best vertical threat, as he averages a whopping 30 yards per catch this season. Auburn will try to find ways to get him open deep against a Georgia secondary that usually prevents that type of play. Also, keep an eye on Ryan Davis — the SEC’s co-leader in catches — as he’s been a dynamic weapon on screen passes and short-yardage routes all season long. Eli Stove is a dual threat as a receiver and a runner, and Will Hastings is good for a couple of deep-ball opportunities every game, thanks to his elite agility.

Ferguson’s prediction

I like how Auburn matches up against Georgia, even with Malzahn’s struggles in big games over the last few seasons. He finally has a dynamic, healthy quarterback for the first time since Nick Marshall, and he’s armed with his best defense yet. I trust Stidham more at home than the younger Fromm on the road, especially with Auburn’s pass rush performing so well this season. This should be a close, physical game between two evenly talented teams. Auburn won’t hold anything back, as Malzahn desperately needs this win and can’t afford to fall into the same traps he did against Clemson and LSU. Give me the desperate home team by a few points in an instant classic. AUBURN 27, GEORGIA 24.

 

 

The post Opposing view: Auburn scribe likes ‘desperate home team,’ says game will be ‘instant classic’ appeared first on DawgNation.

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  • Chipper Jones always looked up to the Mick. Now, they're members of the same exclusive club. Jones was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday , getting in on his first try with one of the highest voting percentages ever. The longtime Atlanta Braves third baseman was picked on 97.2 percent of the ballots - yep, even more than his idol, Mickey Mantle. 'There are only a few days that change your life forever,' Jones said during an evening news conference at SunTrust Park, arranged before the voting totals were even announced since his selection was a foregone conclusion. 'Today was another one of those instances where my life will never be same.' He headed the latest list of inductees, joined by Vladimir Guerrero (92.9 percent), Jim Thome (89.9) and Trevor Hoffman (79.9) . Edgar Martinez (70.4) just missed out on the 75 percent threshold in his next-to-last year on the ballot. Growing up, Jones heard early and often about the player he should try to emulate. His father worshipped Mantle, who retired four years before Chipper was born but became a huge influence on his career. For instance, Mantle was a switch-hitter, so it was only natural that Jones hit from both sides. In 1992, still three years away from claiming a spot in the Braves lineup that he would hold for 18 seasons, Jones got a chance to meet Mantle at an autograph session in suburban Atlanta. Another of those life-changing days, it turned out. 'It was one of the only times where I found myself, the night before, practicing how I was going to meet somebody in the mirror,' Jones recalled. When the moment came, he couldn't get any of the words he had practiced to come out of his mouth. 'That's how high a pedestal this guy was on,' Jones said, chuckling at the memory. Composing himself, Jones finally began a conversation. He wondered how Mantle dealt with the adulation, always carrying himself with a mythical aura that would still drive some fans to tears long after he was done playing. 'Mickey, does this ever get old?' Jones asked. 'How do you keep this in perspective?' Mantle told the young ballplayer of a recurring dream. 'I'm standing at the pearly gates. God walks up, and apparently I've got this worried look on my face. He says, 'Mickey, I'm gonna let you in. But can you sign these dozen baseballs?' Jones roared with laughter. So did everyone else in the room. 'That was his life,' Jones said. It was a life he learned to embrace, even though he didn't play in the bright lights of New York City. 'I don't mind signing an autograph or taking a picture,' Jones said. 'To be honest with you, if they weren't asking, I'd be more worried.' The first two things he signed after his election to the Hall: a pair of baseballs for his mother and father . He personalized each with their nicknames - 'Blondie' for his mom, 'Hawk' for his dad - but the message was the same. 'We did it,' he wrote. 'HOF '18.' Jones said he was especially proud to be part of an induction class that includes Thome, a friend since their Triple-A days who shares a passion for hunting, not to mention Guerrero and Hoffman. 'He wasn't nicknamed 'Vlad the Impaler' for nothing,' Jones said. 'He was one of those scary hitters when he walked to the plate. Me, as a third baseman, I couldn't play deep enough when Vlad was hitting.' Hoffman was a shut-down closer who 'had the second-coolest walk-up song in baseball,' Jones quipped, undoubtedly thinking his song, 'Crazy Train,' tops the list. But he had to concede, 'When 'Hell's Bells' came on, it was pretty darn intimidating to you as an opposing player.' Along with Martinez, two other players who didn't make the Hall: Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. They continued to tick up in their vote totals - 57.3 percent for Clemens, 56.4 percent for Bonds - but were still far short of induction. Both had the credentials to be first-ballot Hall of Gamers, but allegations that they used performance-enhancing drugs continue to thwart their selection. This was their sixth year on the ballot, leaving four more tries to get in. While some Hall of Famers have come out strongly against Bonds and Clemens - most notably, Joe Morgan - Jones was more diplomatic. In fact, he flatly stated that he wasn't best player on this year's ballot. 'I will say 'til the day they lay me in the ground that Barry Bonds is the best baseball player I've ever seen,' Jones said. 'It's unfortunate that some of the best players of our era have a cloud over them, following them, whatever. It doesn't change anything for me.' He wouldn't object to Bonds joining him in that exclusive club at Cooperstown. 'We were all fighting to be All-Stars,' Jones said. 'Barry was a charter member of the galactic All-Stars. That's how good he was. I wouldn't have a problem voting for Barry. But anybody who does, I completely understand. 'I guess I'll leave it at that.
  • ATLANTA — The narrative heading into the 2018 season is it’s the year of the quarterback in the SEC. After a couple of years of unspectacular overall play at the position, the league is stocked with exceptional signal-callers this season. And Georgia’s Jake Fromm is expected to be at the top of the class. That’s according to the SEC Network’s Greg McElroy. A former quarterback himself — he led Alabama to a 14-0 season and national championship in 2009 — McElroy makes it his personal business to evaluate the position in the league to an extensive degree. He dives deep into statistical analytics provided by ESPN and studies game and practice video until he’s left cross-eyed. McElroy loves what he sees and has seen in the Bulldogs’ sophomore quarterback. “From an efficiency standpoint, you’d be hard-pressed to find a guy better than Jake Fromm,” said McElroy, asked to handicap the best quarterbacks said during SEC Football Media Days on Thursday. “I think Fromm’s a surgeon. He just kills you with execution. I don’t think there’s anything more demoralizing than a quarterback that can defeat a defense with his brain.” Aside from the pass efficiency numbers that McElroy alluded to — Fromm was ninth in the nation (160.1) in that category — there’s not a lot about Fromm’s game beyond that attracts national attention. Fromm’s 174.3 yards passing a game didn’t crack the Top 10 even in the SEC and he attempted 15 or fewer passes in seven. Therefore, Fromm’s is 24 TD passes (versus 7 interceptions) pale in comparison to the 44 of league-leader Drew Lock of Missouri, who got them in two fewer games. But while Fromm’s primary task was to get the play call in from the sideline and to distribute the ball to the Bulldogs’ bevy of backs, he was given an increasing level of autonomy to audible at the line of scrimmage. He had pass-run options, could switch a play from left to right based on defensive alignment, could switch protections and check to a hot read. McElroy says Fromm scores particularly high in this department. He compared the Georgia quarterback to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. “Marcus Spears said playing against Aaron Rodgers was the worst experience he’s ever had in his life,” McElroy said. “It’s because he just kills you with completions and positive plays. There’s never any negative plays, so you can never steal momentum. Even if it’s a 3-yard completion, you’re moving in the right direction. Right? “That’s what I see in Fromm. He has very few negative plays. He’s great on third down, so he keeps drives alive. He’s efficient in the passing game. And he doesn’t have a big ego. He’s not trying to do too much. He stays within the system. He’s an extension of what Jim Chaney wants him to be and that’s a great place for Georgia to be in. If you’re trying to win a championship, knowing the great personnel that Georgia has, he’s the perfect fit.” McElroy had similar traits when he led Alabama to the SEC championship in 2009. He credits Fromm for helping Georgia land the title last year. He argues that Georgia doesn’t make it to the playoffs and the national championship game if Jacob Eason had remained. Fromm replaced the sophomore quarterback when he suffered a knee injury in the first quarter of the first game last season. “The biggest difference from 2016 to ’17 was quarterback,” McElroy said. “I said it going into last year — and Georgia fans killed me for it — there were things about Eason that bothered me. I didn’t feel like he approached the game with a level of professionalism that you have to win a championship or contend for a championship. He was a little statuesque in the pocket. Fromm is the antithesis of all that. Ultimate leader, consummate pro, great weekly preparation, and he could move around when things broke down around him a little bit. So I love Fromm.” That said, McElroy wasn’t ready to tab Fromm as the best quarterback in a league with a lot of good ones. Lock was named preseason All-SEC Thursday and is generally seen as the best pro prospect in the SEC this season. The Eastern Division also features South Carolina’s Jake Bentley and Vanderbilt’s Kyle Shurmur. Whomever Alabama chooses between Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts should be good. Felipe Franks could make a major jump at Florida under the direction of Dan Mullen, who of six offensive-minded head coaches hired in the league this year. “If I had to start a team based on what we know, I like (Auburn’s) Jarrett Stidham,” McElroy said. “I love Tua, too. But Fromm definitely has a chance to be one of the best ones out there.” The Bulldogs plan to throw the ball more in 2018, so Fromm’s passing numbers should improve just due to more opportunities. As for the competition with highly-touted freshman Justin Fields, McElroy said he expects it will be a factor this season. But he also believes it will ultimately make Fromm that much better. “With Fields behind him, I’m really fascinated to see how much he’s elevates his play,” McElroy said. “He’s obviously had to do that. I’m just fascinated to see how big that bump is.”   The post SEC QB expert: Georgia’s Jake Fromm ‘a surgeon that kills you with execution’ appeared first on DawgNation.
  • Former Georgia golfer Kevin Kisner is making his presence known at the 147th Open Championship in Carnoustie, Scotland. The former Dawg is the leader after the first round, shooting a 5-under 66 Thursday. Kisner began the day slow, hitting a bogey on the fifth hole after four opening pars. But he rebounded quick, with a long eagle putt on the par-5 sixth hole to negate the bogey. The rest of the day was smooth sailing for Kisner, who hit four more birdies, including three-in-a-row from the 13th to 15th hole. Kisner, who needed just 22 putts in his opening round, took an early lead into the clubhouse and held it. Hitting the green is overrated. @K_Kisner rolls in an eagle at the par-5 sixth. #TheOpen pic.twitter.com/zt6Vyr8MTi — Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) July 19, 2018 “If I can keep it in the fairway, I feel like I can control my golf ball around the green,” Kisner said, according to the Associated Press. “The greens are calm, and around the greens are flat. I feel like any time I’m around the green I’m going to make 4 or par at the worst. So that’s been my game plan.” It was a good day for Kisner in Carnoustie, and it seems his good times extend beyond the course. Kisner, who has a reputation for partying, admitted to having a “frat” atmosphere in the house he’s sharing with Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler, where the group has been playing nightly soccer games. You can take the Georgia out of the boy … “Jordan scored when Duf tripped, it was hilarious,” Kisner said, according to Rex Hoggard of the Golf Channel. “[Spieth] is good until he sends it over the goal four houses over, and we’ve got to go knock on a neighbor’s door for the soccer ball.” Kisner will tee off for the second round alongside Thomas Pieters and Marcus Kinhult at 7:53 a.m. ET Friday. You can catch the action on the Golf Channel. The post Former Georgia golfer Kevin Kisner shoots 5-under 66 to lead British Open appeared first on DawgNation.
  • Julio Jones won’t get a new contract as the Falcons are days before reporting to training camp. Will the All-Pro wide receiver show up after he elected to stay away from all team activities this offseason? We’ll know on Wednesday. The Falcons informed Jones they will not give him a desired raised, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution confirmed. The Falcons have not budgeted for a renegotiation this offseason and are focused on contract extensions for Grady Jarrett, Jake Matthews and Ricardo Allen. The news was first reported by The Athletic. Jones was informed of the team’s decision several weeks ago, following the mandatory minicamp in June, the AJC has learned. Jones was also told the team may be willing to rework his contract next year, one year before they typically work on extensions. Talks between the Falcons and Jones’ agent, Jimmy Sexton, are described as ongoing. The Falcons are hopeful Jones will report to training camp. The team must report to training camp by 4 p.m. on Wednesday. The first practice is Thursday. Jones did not participate in voluntary Organized Team Activities and a mandatory three-day minicamp this summer after the market for wide receivers changed drastically in the offseason. Jones signed a five-year, $71.2 million contract extension Aug. 31, 2015. The deal included $47 million in guaranteed money, with base salaries of $10.5 million (2018), $12.5 million (2019) and $11.4 million (2020). He’s set to be the seventh-highest paid wide receiver in the league, but has three years remaining on the deal.  Jones is not happy with his contract as the market shifted over the offseason with deals signed by Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans (five year, $82.5 million), Cleveland’s Jarvis Landry (five year, $75-million) and Kansas City’s Sammy Watkins (three-year, $48 million). Now add the deal the Rams gave Brandin Cooks (five year, $80 million) this week. The Falcons publicly stated they were optimistic a resolution would be made before training camp. “We have been in contact with Julio and his representation,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said in a statement released in June following Jones’ decision not to attend the mandatory camp. “We will not discuss those conversations publicly except to say we feel they have been productive and constructive. We understand the concerns and thoughts from their perspective. Although not ideal, Julio informed us today he would not be attending minicamp. “We have much respect for him and what he means to our team, our city and our fans.” Sexton, who did not immediately return messages, responded at the time. “I’m not going to comment publicly about the situation,” Sexton told the AJC. “I’m going to let them say whatever they want to say.”  Jones has joined quarterback Matt Ryan and other receivers in California for a passing camp this week. Ryan said at the end of minicamp he believed Jones would take part in the camp, abbreviated and later in the year this summer due to the birth of Ryan’s twins. Jones was pictured with 10 others, including Ryan, in a post on first-round draft pick Calvin Ridley’s social media account. The Falcons gave former wide receiver Roddy White a six-year, $50 million contract extension, with $18 million guaranteed, in 2009 after a six-day holdout. White had one year remaining on his contract before the new deal was reached. 
  • ATLANTA — Georgia didn’t get Auburn’s best shot in the SEC Championship Game last season, and the Tigers know it. Auburn linebacker Deshaun Davis said he gives the Bulldogs’ credit for making plays, but the Tigers’ team they beat by a 28-7 count in Mercedes Benz Stadium “simply wasn’t us.” “I don’t think we played our best the second game, and I don’t know if it was because they made us not play our best, or if we weren’t locked in or focused,” Davis said at SEC Media Days on Thursday at the College Football Hall of Fame. “If you watch the tape from the first game to the second game, it was two different teams, and not just because we won’t the first time,” Davis said, referencing the Tigers’ convincing 40-17 win at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Nov. 11. “You pop in any other time we actually played Auburn football, and you match it with the SEC Championship Game, it simply wasn’t us … “ Tigers coach Gus Malzahn pointed to Auburn’s difficult November schedule when asked about the difference between the teams’ two meetings. “T he regular season, we played extremely well at home,” Malzahn said Thursday. “You know, then the next, I guess, two weeks later we had to play Alabama, another No. 1 team at home, and then a week later we had to turn around and play Georgia again. “So I believe we played champions and defending champions three out of four weeks. That’s a tough challenge, there’s no doubt.” Auburn defensive lineman Dontavius Russell was more vague, though he did reference the rib injury that some felt slowed Tigers’ running back Kerryon Johnson in the second meeting. “I feel like the way we can improve as a defense and as a team is handling adverse situations,” said Russell, a one-time 2013 Georgia commit from Carrollton who flipped to Auburn in the 2014 signing class. “Toward the end of the Georgia game, we faced adverse situations, being that Kerryon was out, it was something we didn’t respond as well to.” Johnson rushed for 167 yards and caught a 55-yard touchdown pass in Auburn’s win over the Bulldogs in the regular-season, a victory that knocked Georgia out of the No. 1 spot. But in the second meeting, Johnson couldn’t get on track (13 carries, 44 yards), and the Georgia defense forced two turnovers and blocked a field goal attempt. Malzahn said Georgia’s defense adjusted by bringing an extra player into the box and playing more with one deep safety, as well as getting more aggressive with run fits. “ We felt like that would happen — we started out, tried to get the ball on the perimeter, throw some short passes to get us on pace to throw the football,” Malzahn said after the defeat. “We also tried big set runs because of the odd front.” Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham, recently named to the Davey O’Brien Award Watch List, said the Bulldogs also mixed up their coverage and blitz packages effectively. Smart, while proud of how Georgia controlled the line of scrimmage, said after the SEC title game that he recognized it wasn’t the same Auburn as the first meeting. “Just be honest, Kerryon was not 100 percent; he wasn’t the same guy he was last game, so that probably helped some as well,” Smart said. “We felt getting after the quarterback was the way to beat them, and we did that much better this game than we did the last game. “The big difference was, number one, the back wasn’t running as hard and as much, but I thought we kept our edges, and there weren’t those 15, 20 yard runs. There were the three, four kind. And we kept them behind the sticks.” Auburn and Georgia meet this season on Nov. 10 at Sanford Stadium in a game most expect will carry SEC Championship Game implications. Auburn DT Dontavius Russell Auburn LB Deshaun Davis The post Auburn: Georgia football didn’t get Tigers’ best shot in SEC title game appeared first on DawgNation.