Although spring football practice is on hold due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19 and the current global pandemic, the Georgia football rosters are still set for the fall. Coming off a 12-2 season, the Bulldogs head into the 2020 season with high expectations. Bulldawg Illustrated is analyzing each opponent in a twelve part series that will continue for the next several weeks.
For the first time since 1936, the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry will be played in the month of October. Georgia will coming off a matchup against Vanderbilt, and Auburn coming off a home game against Kentucky. The Tigers have an easier schedule in their first five games and should be coming into the contest undefeated. On the other hand, Georgia will be entering the game with an early road test against Alabama. The outcome of this game will provide us more on each team’s destiny in terms of reaching the College Football Playoff.
2019 Record: 9-4, 5-3 SEC; Lost to Minnesota in the Outback Bowl
Key Returnees: quarterback Bo Nix, running back D.J. Williams, wide receivers Seth Williams, Anthony Schwartz and Eli Stove, offensive lineman Nick Brahms, defensive linemen Tyrone Truesdell, Big Kat Bryant, Derick Hall and T.D. Moultry, inside linebackers K.J. Britt and Chandler Wooten, outside linebackers Owen Pappoe and Zakoby McClain, defensive back Smoke Monday, Jamien Sherwood and Christian Tutt
Key Losses: running backs JaTarvious Whitlow and Kam Martin, wide receiver Will Hastings, offensive linemen Prince Tega Wanogho, Jack Driscoll, Marquel Harrell and Mike Horton, defensive linemen Derrick Brown, Marlon Davidson and Nick Coe, defensive backs Noah Igbinoghene, Jeremiah Dinson, Javaris Davis and Daniel Thomas
1) Return of Box Nix
Arguably the biggest storyline going into the 2020 season for Auburn is the return of starting quarterback Bo Nix. In his freshman year, Nix started and played in all 13 games last season leading Auburn to a 9-4 record. He also won SEC Freshman of the Year and defeated Alabama, as well.
Now entering his second season, Nix will likely take on a bigger role. He completed 217 of 377 passes (57.6 percent) for 2,542 yards in 16 touchdowns last season, which was ranked sixth among SEC quarterbacks in both categories last season. Nix set a program record for freshman in completion, yard, and touchdown totals last season – passing the previous marks set by Stan White in 1990. He also set a program record for 191 straight attempts without an interception.
And with new offensive coordinator Chad Morris taking over play calling from Gus Malzahn, we might see Nix airing the ball out more.
“That’s exciting, because you know you have a quarterback that wants to be elite and is going to do what it takes to be elite,” Morris said earlier this year. “I’ve said this in my coaching background at all levels — if you have one of those guys, you have a chance. It doesn’t matter what level of football you’re at … it’s an absolute must.”
Nix is also a threat on the ground as well, and he actually scored one of the only two rushing touchdowns that Georgia’s defense gave up last season. He finished the year rushing the ball 97 times for 313 yards and seven scores. He has the ability to get out the pocket and make plays downfield, but if not his legs can get the job done. Nix can get Auburn fans hope heading into the 2020 season because of his versatility and reliance.
2) Loss of Experience on the Defensive Line
A big downfall for the Tigers is the loss of Derrick Brown and Marlon Davis on the defensive line. Last year, both elected to not enter the NFL Draft and return for the senior seasons, in which they wreaked a lot of havoc. The pair combined for 102 tackles, 23 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. Brown was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year and an All-American.
Last season, Brown was the focal point of most opposing offensive lines. Following Auburn’s loss to Minnesota in the Outback Bowl, Malzahn had nothing but positive things to say about Brown.
“Yeah, I mean, Derrick [Brown] got double-teamed all year and tripled. He’s a dynamic player,” Malzahn said. “He’s one of the best players in all of college football. That’s what smart coaches do. I’m sure that happened again today.”
Another big loss for the Auburn defensive line is the departure of Nick Coe, who has decided to announce that he will be entering the NFL Draft. Coe finished his career at Auburn with 71 tackles and 20.0 for loss.
Now, the pressure is on for returning starters Tyrone Truesdale and Big Kat Bryant. The duo has logged 11 and 14 career starts, respectively. Derick Hall and T.D. Moultry are also two guys who will get some playing time. As a freshman, Hall had 13 tackles and two quarterback hurries. Moultry didn’t have impressive numbers last year, but come with experience playing in 38 career games.
Even though the defensive line is losing quite a few key components, the Tigers have a stout linebacking core returning. K.J. Britt will be the biggest name coming back as he had an impressive 2019 campaign; where finished with 69 total tackles, 10.0 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, with one quarterback hurry and forced fumble each. Auburn also returns Chandler Wooten, Owen Pappoe, and Zakoby McClain who all have experience in the system.
3) Replacement of Starters In the Secondary
Despite having an experienced linebacker group return, Auburn will now have to replace four starters in the secondary, and two of them were the team’s leading tacklers. Jeremiah Dinson and Daniel Thomas finished 2019 with a combined 162 tackles, 10.0 tackles for loss, two interceptions, and two forced fumbles. The secondary also loses Noah Igbinoghene and Javaris Davis, who both finished the season with 40-plus tackles.
Auburn coaches do have confidence though that guys like Smoke Monday, Jamien Sherwood, and Christian Tutt can step up when called upon. The trio all have valuable experience in the Tigers’ NICKEL and DIME defense. Last season, Tutt had two interceptions from the NICKEL position, and both Monday and Sherwood rotated at safety. Jordyn Peters and Roger McCreary are also capable of moving up the depth chart to take on the challenge.
4) Weapons Galore
Auburn has a ton of offensive weapons returning, and we’ll start with the receiving core. The Tigers top three receivers in terms of receptions and total yards return, and are led by Seth Williams. The Cottondale (AL) native caught 59 passes for 830 yards and eight touchdowns last season. Anthony Schwartz is another guy who had a productive 2019, totaling 41 catches for 440 yards and a touchdown. Alongside those two, Eli Stove hauled in 37 passes for 321 yards and three scores as well.
Despite those three coming back, Auburn does lose Will Hastings, Sal Cannella, and Jay Jay Wilson. This leaves a hole to be filled in Auburn’s four, five, and six spots on the depth chart, but the Tigers do have a few younger guys to fill those roles. Harold Joiner and Matthew Hill are a few names to watch in 2020.
Next season, Auburn will be without last season’s leading rusher JaTarvious Whitlow, who decided to enter the transfer portal earlier this year. They will also be without Kam Martin, and that leaves the responsibility on rising sophomore D.J. Williams.
Williams be looking to take over the primary role after he carried the rock 84 times for 406 yards and a touchdown last season. Most of those carries came against LSU and Ole Miss, where combined for 223 yards and a touchdown. Tank Bigsby, the No. 4 ranked running back in the class of 2020, is also a name to watch as well. The duo should will be dangerous to watch ins Morris’ new system.
5. New Faces on the Offensive Line
Even though Auburn will have a quarterback and plethora of weapons returning, the offensive line will have a complete overhaul up front. The Tigers lose six senior offensive lineman who all played a valuable role over the past two years. Prince Tega Wanogho is the most recognizable name of the group, but the Tigers also lose Kaleb Kim, Marqel Harrell, Mike Horton, Jack Driscoll and Bailey Sharp. Offensive line coach J.B. Grimes stepped down, and will be replaced by former Ole Miss staffer Jack Bicknell Jr.
Nick Brahms is really the only player coming back with experience. In 2018, he filled in for an injured starter and took over a spot in 2019. Over the past two years, that group of six seniors combined for 119 of the 130 starts, and Brahms made 10 of 11 remaining. The offensive line will definitely have some question marks going into fall camp, and the current global pandemic doesn’t help their situation.
Early Prediction: Georgia wins 27-14