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November 12, 2010

Auburn DBs brace for Georgia, Green

AUBURN, Ala. -- Receivers Alshon Jeffery and Greg Childs have pounced on No. 2 Auburn's weakest link: the secondary.

Now, it's Georgia and A.J. Green's turn to take aim. And the man responsible for coaching Auburn's cornerbacks said they haven't faced anybody as good as Green in 2010.

"I've said all year, this guy is different," Phillip Lolley said. "He's the best. He's the best we've played against. No bones about it."

That certainly could spell trouble for Auburn (10-0, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) in Saturday's game against the Bulldogs. But for all the huge numbers South Carolina's Jeffery and Arkansas' Childs racked up against the Tigers - they combined for 17 catches, 356 yards and four touchdowns - it hasn't been enough to win.

The injury-depleted secondary hasn't exclusively been victims either. Both times they've come up with key turnovers to help pull out victories. Green isn't counting his catches before he gets them.

"We're definitely not underestimating them," he said. "I don't care about the injuries. I'm sure the next guy will step up."

The next guys have included freshmen Ryan White - who was targeted for a redshirt year before injury problems - and Chris Davis and sophomore walk-on Ikeem Means.

Auburn safety Aairon Savage is likely out for at least the remainder of the regular season with a leg injury. Cornerback Neiko Thorpe has played the last two games with a cast on his left hand to protect a broken wrist. Cornerback T'Sharvan Bell has missed the last three games with a hamstring injury but Lolley said he'll play against the Bulldogs (5-5, 3-4).

Still, the Tigers must present a tempting target for quarterback Aaron Murray and Green. Auburn is 11th in the SEC and 95th nationally in pass defense, giving up 16 touchdown passes and 241 yards a game.

Auburn coach Gene Chizik is particularly worried about giving up downfield passes to Green & Co., something the Tigers have struggled to defend.

"Boy, they throw a great deep ball to him and always have," Chizik said. "That's always been Georgia's deal. They love to challenge you six or seven times deep in the game. He's one of the guys that they'll obviously do that with several times. He just commands a lot of attention from the defenses. Since he's been back, it's opened their offense up all the way around."

Green has been his old self since missing the first four games under an NCAA suspension, with two 100-yard games. He hasn't had a game yet quite like Auburn gave up to Jeffery and Childs, who join Alabama's Julio Jones and others among the league's elite receivers.

Murray expects the 6-foot-4, 212-pound Green to draw plenty of extra attention from the Tigers' defense, which opens potential opportunities for fellow receivers Kris Durham and Tavarres King and tailback Washaun Ealey. Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and the Bulldogs won't ignore their No. 1 threat, though.

"We always want to get A.J. the ball, no matter what," Murray said. "We want to get the ball in his hands as much as possible. He's probably the best player in the nation. Our goal is to get the ball in his hands, because you never know what he's going to do with it."

"I'm sure Coach Bobo will have something up his sleeve to get him involved as much as possible."

Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof emphasizes that the onus isn't just on the defensive backs to contain Georgia's passing game. The Tigers have a solid pass rush behind defensive tackle Nick Fairley, a Lombardi Award finalist who is second in the SEC with 7 1/2 sacks.

"It's hard to hold the ball a little while when that guy is coming, because he's relentless," Georgia coach Mark Richt said.

Auburn is relying on that to help keep Green from having the same success as Jeffery and Childs.

"All the great receivers in this league, it seems like everybody's got at least one of those 6-4 guys who run like gazelles and can jump and take the ball away from you and things of that nature," Roof said. "Pass rush is always critical. One of their big things is that they throw the football down the field. They take vertical shots in the passing game. The best way to combat that is pass rush."


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