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AUBURN — As time ticks away before the next edition of the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry, most of the talk within Auburn will be about how head coach Bryan Harsin and offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau can design a game plan that will be effective against the Bulldog’s defense.
Last year’s national championship team had one of the best defenses ever assembled, and this year, even without eight of their starters from last year, the unit is still dominant through five games.
“Defensively, they’re top five in the SEC in every category,” said Harsin on Monday. “They lost a lot of really good players last year, and they've replaced those players with some really good players. And it starts with their front seven, those guys on the defensive line and the linebacker position, play fast, they’re physical.”
The Auburn offense has its own challenges come Saturday, but the defense will have to deal with one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the SEC with Stetson Bennett IV.
Bennett has been the starter at Georgia for the better part of two years now, though he was in the mix of the offense dating back to the 2020 season. He has won a national championship for the Bulldogs and last year was excellent, finishing the season with 29 touchdowns versus seven interceptions and 2,862 yards through the air. Yet he still flies under the radar.
“I was fortunate to coach a guy that wasn't very athletic, that won more games than any college quarterback ever,” Harsin said when Bennett was called unathletic. “They would say the same thing about him. I mean, the guy is a winner, the guy, he makes plays, he's plenty fast enough to run the ball.”
The player Harsin coached of course was Kellen Moore, one of the best and most efficient quarterbacks in the history of college football, and of course, the winningest quarterback in FBS history.
Bennett has been even better this season and more efficient, with five touchdowns to one interception, 1,536 yards and a completion percentage of 69%, by far a career-high for the senior.
He also has a running ability that has hurt Auburn in the past and certainly will not be ignored by the defense.
“Stetson, he's a sneaky athletic guy, he is very quick, he does have [a] little speed. I will give him that,” defensive lineman Colby Wooden stated. “I know firsthand how fast he can be, which is why we got to contain-rush him.”
Bennett is by no stretch a game-breaking runner, in his best season, which was last year, he had just 259 yards on the ground and one touchdown, averaging 4.6 yards per carry.
However, the best rushing performance of his career did come against Auburn inside Jordan-Hare Stadium last year, and he finished the game with 41 yards on six carries. The Auburn defense is familiar with Bennett, and Wooden has faced him twice, looking for his first win against Georgia and Auburn’s first since 2017.
“They might try to do quarterback sneaks and quarterback runs and do stuff with the quarterbacks,” Wooden said. “So we’ve got to, you know, contain the rush, keep him in the pocket, and we'll be fine.”
Auburn and Georgia kick off inside Sanford Stadium on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. CST.
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