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Georgia photo by Mackenzie Miles / Georgia inside linebacker Nakobe Dean (17) made life miserable for Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson and the rest of the Razorbacks during last Saturday's 37-0 shellacking in Sanford Stadium.

Minutes after guiding Auburn to a 24-19 comeback victory at LSU by scrambling to eternity and back late Saturday night, quarterback Bo Nix smiled and said, "I'm exhausted. I haven't run around like that in a while."

Eternity and back may not be enough this week.

The biggest test of the young Bryan Harsin era looms this Saturday afternoon, when the No. 18 Tigers face No. 2 Georgia inside Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Bulldogs possess the nation's most imposing defense in every regard, allowing 4.6 points and 178.6 yards per game through their 5-0 start.

"They've got a lot of great players, too many to mention," Harsin said Monday during his weekly Zoom call. "They're playing at a high level, so it's going to be a challenge for our offense as we put together a plan to go out there and try to score points."

Arkansas and Vanderbilt tried to produce points the past two weekends before falling by a combined 99-0. The Bulldogs had not shut out consecutive Southeastern Conference foes since blanking Vanderbilt and Kentucky in 1980, the year of Georgia's lone Associated Press national championship.

Whether a scrambling Nix can be effective against a Georgia defense that has racked up 18 sacks and seven interceptions was addressed by Harsin and Georgia counterpart Kirby Smart on Monday.

"His ability to extend plays is elite," Smart said. "The play he had last week is basically all you need to show for the scouting report. To do what he did against a really good SEC defense with a lot of tremendous athletes on it — it puts a lot of pressure on a defense to be able to cover people that long. I've got a lot of respect for him as a competitor and leader, and I think he's gotten a lot better.

"He's doing a much better job of keeping his eyes downfield and making decisions."

When asked about Nix's frenetic performance in Baton Rouge with Georgia looming, Harsin said, "That's not how you draw everything up, but there is that ability."

The five starting quarterbacks to face Georgia this season — DJ Uiagalelei (Clemson), Tyler Johnston (UAB), Luke Doty (South Carolina), Ken Seals (Vanderbilt) and KJ Jefferson (Arkansas) — have combined on 33 carries for minus-6 yards. That is just one of many factors that has allowed Georgia's defense to yield just one touchdown so far, with that being a fourth quarter score in the 40-13 win over South Carolina on Sept. 18.

Auburn's task of putting up points this week not only falls on Nix but offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, the former Bulldogs quarterback who called plays at Georgia under Mark Richt for eight seasons (2007-14).

"Mike has done a tremendous job in our conference and in his career of taking his best players and finding ways to highlight their positives," Smart said. "I think he's done that with this unit. He's got a couple of really good backs, and he's got a quarterback who has a lot of experience.

"You see the traits of physicality that Mike likes. They can run the ball. They've got good backs, and they do a good job of getting the ball to their playmakers."

 

Falling behind

In Auburn's last three games against Penn State, Georgia State and LSU, the Tigers have fallen behind by 11, 12 and 13 points, respectively.

"That's not ideal," Harsin said. "We're not challenging ourselves like that and saying, 'Let's get behind and try to dig ourselves out.' That's not the mentality we want to go in with.

"Like any team in America, we want to start fast, and it's something we've got to do a better job of."

 

Avoiding poison

Georgia leads the nation in scoring defense and total defense by substantial margins, and Smart is hoping that unit will continue to progress and not let up.

"There is no stopping what they see on their phones, so they are going to read that," he said. "Is it going to affect them? Is it going to poison them? I hope not. I certainly hope not. I think that the standard of being elite is what keeps them from becoming poisoned. When you compare yourself against greatness, there is a certain standard you have to reach and it supersedes the opponent.

"I don't think you could name one superstar really on this whole team. When you have that, you have a lot of guys who buy in."

 

Dawg bites

Georgia has won 13 of the last 16 meetings with Auburn to turn a 48-53-8 series deficit into a 61-56-8 lead. ... Quarterback JT Daniels did not throw Monday, but Smart was optimistic that he would Tuesday. ... Smart is hopeful that Tykee Smith, the cornerback transfer from West Virginia, will be able to make his season debut. ... Georgia's home game Oct. 16 against Kentucky will be televised by CBS at 3:30.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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