SEC Championship Preview
December 1, 2017
By Brian Edwards
Editor's Note: Brian Edwards owns a 56-45 record (55.4%, +6.81 units) in college football this season. Don't miss out on any of his pay-if-they-win-only selections for Week 14, or just go ahead and get signed up for his bowl package!
Just three weeks after Auburn absolutely destroyed Georgia by a 40-17 count at Jordan-Hare Stadium on The Plains, UGA will get a rematch Saturday in the Mercedes Benz Dome at the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta.
As of early Friday, most books had Auburn (10-2 straight up, 6-4-2 against the spread) listed as a 1.5-point favorite with a total of 48. The number has been at 2.5 or two for most of the week, but the line dropped late Thursday night and early Friday morning. Most shops had UGA available to win outright for a +110 return (risk $100 to win $110).
Auburn has defeated the College Football Playoff’s top-ranked team by double digits in two of its last three outings. Gus Malzahn’s club has won five in a row while posting a 3-1-1 spread record since it blew a double-digit lead in the second half of a 27-23 loss at LSU on Oct. 14.
This week’s CFP rankings had AU at No. 2, Alabama at No. 5 and UGA at No. 6. Look for the Bulldogs to jump both teams if they exact revenge on Auburn in Atlanta. The Crimson Tide is hoping to make the semifinals by rooting for TCU to upset No. 3 Oklahoma at the Big 12 Championship Game and/or eighth-ranked Ohio State to knock off Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Auburn handed Alabama its first loss of the season this past Saturday by winning a 26-14 decision as a six-point home underdog. The 40 combined points dipped ‘under’ the 47.5-point total. AU cashed money-line tickets in the +185 neighborhood.
Auburn led 10-7 at halftime, but Alabama took a 14-10 lead by promptly marching down the field on the opening drive of the second half. Bo Scarbrough’s 21-yard touchdown run capped the Tide’s best drive of the game.
AU answered with a 44-yard field goal from Daniel Carlson to cut the deficit to one. Then the Tigers went in front for good on Kerryon Johnson’s one-yard TD plunge with 3:02 remaining in the third quarter. With 13:30 remaining, Jarrett Stidham gave his team some separation with a 16-yard TD dash.
From there, AU’s defense put the finishing touches on the victory. Johnson would finish with 104 rushing yards and one TD on 30 carries. He also had a three-yard TD pass to Nate Craig-Myers on a trick play in the first half.
Stidham ran for 51 yards and one score on 12 attempts. The QB completed 21-of-28 passes for 237 yards. Ryan Davis hauled in 11 receptions for 139 yards.
Johnson injured his shoulder against Alabama, and Malzahn has said he’s “day-to-day” all week long. He is listed as ‘probable’ on the injury report and gamblers probably aren’t going to know how healthy he is until he takes a few hits in the first quarter.
This makes this game a difficult handicap. Kam Pettway, a first-team All-SEC RB for AU in 2016, has been injured for more than a month and remains ‘out.’ Kam Martin, Johnson’s back-up, has a slight frame and although he isn’t even on the injury report this week, he did leave last week’s game against Alabama with an injury. Martin isn’t the type of RB (size-wise) who can handle more than 10-15 touches, especially inside runs between the tackles. Therefore, if Johnson’s shoulder gives on him Saturday, a much greater burden will be placed on Stidham and AU’s aerial attack.
Stidham has played lights out down the stretch. He has 14 TD passes compared to only two interceptions in his team’s last nine games. The transfer from Baylor threw eight TD passes and merely one interception in the month of November. For the season, Stidham has completed 68.5 percent of his throws for 2,682 yards with a 16/4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He also has 153 rushing yards and four TDs.
Johnson missed two games in September. Nevertheless, he has produced Heisman-worthy numbers. The junior RB has rushed for 1,276 yards and 17 TDs with a 5.1 yards-per-carry average. He also has the aforementioned TD pass and 21 catches for 187 yards and two TDs.
Davis is Stidham’s favorite target, bringing down 69 receptions for 703 yards and five TDs. Darius Slayton has 22 grabs for 560 yards and five TDs, while Will Hastings has caught 20 balls for 408 yards and three TDs.
Auburn is ranked ninth in the nation in scoring defense, allowing merely 16.4 points per game. The Tigers are ranked 13th in the country in total defense, 18th at defending the pass and 21st versus the run.
The AU stop unit has become a force under DC Kevin Steele in the last two seasons. However, we’ll nonetheless note that his name has popped up a number of times in the Tennessee coaching search this week. Whether this has been a distraction to his preparation for Georgia remains to be seen. Knoxville sports radio legend Tony Basilio reported Thursday afternoon that Steele, a 59-year-old former player for the Volunteers in 1978-79, had secured Southern Cal’s OC and UT legendary QB Tee Martin to be his OC if he lands the job up on Rocky Top.
Auburn’s defense is led by junior DE Jeff Holland, a big-time playmaker who has recorded 41 tackles, nine sacks, three TFL’s, four forced fumbles, 22 QB hurries and one PBU. Junior LB Deshaun Davis has a team-best 65 tackles to go with 3.5 sacks, two tackles for loss and one pass broken up.
Auburn has been a single-digit favorite only twice this year, going 1-1 both SU and ATS. The Tigers trashed Mississippi State by a 49-10 count as 7.5-point home ‘chalk,’ but they lost in Baton Rouge as 6.5-point road favorites.
Georgia (11-1 SU, 8-4 ATS) has taken care of its business since the loss at AU. Kirby Smart’s squad responded with a 42-13 bounce-back win over Kentucky as an 23.5-point home favorite. The 55 combined points went ‘over’ the 51-point tally. Nick Chubb led the way with 151 rushing yards and two TDs on 15 carries, while Sony Michel ran for 87 yards and three scores on 12 attempts.
In its regular-season finale last week on The Flats in midtown Atlanta, UGA pounded arch-rival Ga. Tech 38-7 as an 11.5-point road ‘chalk.’ The 45 combined points fell ‘under’ the 51-point total. UGA enjoyed a 471-226 advantage in total offense.
Jake Fromm completed 12-of-16 passes for 224 yards and two TDs without an interception. Michel rushed 13 times for 85 yards and one TD, while Chubb ran for 53 yards and one score on 12 carries. Ahkil Crumpton, a Philadelphia product who landed in Athens via the juco route, had a 78-yard TD catch from Fromm to put the game completely out of reach early in the fourth quarter. Javon Wims added five receptions for 77 yards and one TD.
Fromm, a true freshman, was pressed into duty in the season opener when returning starter and true sophomore QB Jacob Eason suffered a sprained knee early in the first quarter vs. Appalachian St. Showing the poise of a seasoned veteran, Fromm led UGA to a 31-10 win that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. He’s remained the starter since then.
For the season, Fromm has connected on 62.0 percent of his passes for 1,990 yards with a 19/5 TD-INT ratio. He also has three rushing scores to his credit. His favorite target is Wims, who has 38 receptions for 631 yards and six TDs. Terry Godwin has 24 catches for 492 yards and five TDs.
UGA is four-deep at the RB position. Chubb has rushed for 1,098 yards and 13 TDs with a 6.2 YPC average. Michel has 903 rushing yards, 13 TDs and a 7.3 YPC average. True freshman D’Andre Swift has run for 509 yards and two TDs while averaging 7.7 YPC, and Elijah Holyfield (yes, Evander’s son) has 284 rushing yards for two TDs with a 6.3 YPC average.
Georgia is ranked fourth in the nation in total defense, third at defending the pass and 12th in rushing defense. This unit is fifth in the country in scoring ‘D,’ limiting foes to 13.8 PPG.
Junior LB Roquan Smith is a first-team All-American candidate. He has registered a team-high 100 tackles to go with 4.5 sacks, four TFL’s, one forced fumble and two PBU. He had 12 tackles and 1.5 TFL’s in the loss at Auburn.
Smart’s team has been an underdog only once this year, winning outright by a 20-19 score at Notre Dame as a six-point puppy. In five total underdog situations during Smart’s two-year tenure, the Bulldogs have compiled a 4-1 spread record with three outright victories.
Georgia took the opening drive down for a TD to take an early 7-0 lead at Auburn on Nov. 11. But it was all Tigers the rest of the way. They scored 30 unanswered points before UGA’s Rodrigo Blankenship hit a 47-yard field goal with 5:23 left in the third. AU went on to a 40-17 win as a 2.5-point home ‘chalk,’ with the 57 combined points going ‘over’ the 48-point total when Stidham found Johnson for a 55-yard scoring strike with 6:13 remaining.
AU had a dominant 488-230 advantage over UGA in total offense. Stidham completed 16-of-23 passes for 214 yards and three TDs without an interception. Johnson ran for 167 yards on 32 totes and also produced 66 receiving yards on two receptions. Davis had four catches for 55 yards and one TD, while Slayton had a pair of grabs for 43 yards and one TD.
Fromm connected on just 13-of-28 throws for 184 yards and one TD without a pick. UGA’s vaunted ground attack was stuffed, smothered and covered. AU limited the Bulldogs to a pedestrian 1.4 YPC (46 yards on 32 attempts). Chubb (11-27) and Michel (9-21) were both held to season-low rushing outputs. Wims had three catches for 96 yards.
The ‘over’ is 7-5 overall for the Tigers after they saw the ‘under’ cash in their last two games. The ‘over’ was a winner in seven straight AU games before these back-to-back appearances by the ‘under.’ Auburn’s games have averaged combined scores of 53.1 PPG. The ‘over’ is 2-1 in the Tigers’ three games with totals closing in the 40s. The 47-point number in last week’s win over ‘Bama was the lowest total AU had seen all season.
The ‘under’ is 7-5 overall for UGA, but the ‘over’ is on a 5-2 run in its past seven outings. The Bulldogs have watched their games average combined scores of 49.2 PPG. When UGA has had totals in the 40s this year, the results have been a wash (3-3).
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
-- Former player and long-time FSU assistant Odell Haggins will serve as interim head coach in Saturday’s home game vs. ULM. The Warhawks, who were 26.5-point road underdogs as of early Friday afternoon, have lost by more than 11 points just once this season. The Seminoles are fortunate that Tennessee’s coaching search has been such an unmitigated disaster all week, distracting most of the national headlines away from Jimbo Fisher and the mess in Tallahassee.
-- Speaking of the UT search, how many more layers of this story are going to be added before a new coach is named? According to multiple reports, the Volunteers were going to name former head coach Phillip Fulmer as the interim AD at a 4:00 p.m. Eastern presser on Friday. AD John Currie was fired Friday morning after conducting what has been – without question! -- the most incompetent coaching search in the history of college sports. I challenge anyone to name a search that even comes remotely close to the cataclysmic disaster that this dog and pony show has become. First, UT gets teased (again) and massages Jon Gruden’s ego (again), only to leave its passionate fan base immensely disappointed (again).
Secondly, it not only strikes out on Dan Mullen, but it loses out on him to its most bitter SEC East rival. Next, the unfathomably moronic idea to hire Greg Schiano is completely nixed by a fan base in unprecedented fashion. Basilio, the aforementioned Knoxville sports radio personality who has twice appeared on my Games Galore podcast this season, spends 13 hours on the air on Saturday and Sunday allowing callers to vent about Currie. His show and work on Twitter, along with that of UT alum and Outkick the Coverage owner Clay Travis, serve as the catalysts to get a student body protesting. Even more important, it prompts key Tennessee political figures to jump into the social-media fray, and these individuals make the phone calls that completely blow up this hire.
On Monday, Currie releases a statement clearly written by the school’s lawyers that basically implies there was no reason for this hire to get vetoed. At this point, how Currie was still allowed to be the point man on the search is perplexing. Nevertheless, the UT brass spends Tuesday recruiting Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy at a meeting in Dallas. A phone call from Peyton Manning to Gundy apparently causes him to give major consideration to leaving his alma mater. But on Tuesday night, Gundy deals the Vols Heisman treatment (again, like in 2012) by tweeting, “Cowboy for life!”
Then on Wednesday, a Jimmy Hyams (long-time reporter on the UT beat) tweet indicates that a deal to bring Jeff Brohm from Purdue is done. There are conflicting reports on how Currie fumbled the ball on this one, but UT was turned down by the coach at PURDUE at some point Wednesday afternoon. At UT’s basketball game on Wednesday night, the student section constantly chanted, “Fire Currie!” Then Wednesday night and into Thursday morning, Currie offered the job to N.C. State’s Dave Doeren, a coach that was on a serious hot seat in Raleigh last year. This understandably had the passionate fan base furious yet again, but the Vols caught a break when Doeren simply parlayed the UT offer into getting a raise.
Then on Thursday night, Currie finally made a wise move and went after Washington State’s Mike Leach. There are varying reports on what happened here, but most indications are that Leach was very interested and Currie was ready to offer him the job, only to have that option stripped from him. He was ordered back to Knoxville for a 9:00 a.m. meeting with the UT Chancellor on Friday morning. Currie was fired after that meeting, setting up Fulmer to now conduct the search. Currie, who has a buyout of $5.5 million, appears to have been fired “with cause,” although a court will probably end up determining that in a lawsuit.
Speaking of lawsuits, Basilio reported Thursday that Schiano’s legal team is poised to file one in Chicago either today or early next week. Another coach we haven’t mentioned yet that turned down UT’s request for an interview this week is Duke’s David Cutcliffe, the former Ole Miss head coach who was Fulmer’s long-time OC at UT. Now with Fulmer in charge, Cutcliffe could be back in play. Leach is presumably off the table now. As noted earlier, Auburn DC Kevin Steele is another possibility. Currie spent Friday morning pushing the narrative to national writers that Fulmer had been behind the scenes attempting to sabotage the search all week in order to unseat him as AD.
Whatever the case, Currie clearly showed how out of touch he is with the UT fanbase, making this fiasco a complete circus in the national headlines all week long. Remember, we’re talking about a man who ran Frank Martin out at Kansas State and constantly feuded with the best thing to ever happen to Kansas State sports (Bill Snyder). We’ll see if Fulmer can right the ship and land a coach to get Tennessee football back to where he had it perennially (as a Top-10 program) during his illustrious tenure.
Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards.
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