On Saturday afternoon in Auburn, Alabama it’ll be (9-1) Auburn hosting (6-3) Georgia. For at least a couple reasons this is a huge game in the landscape of the SEC.
For Georgia, a run at the SEC East title is still a possibility with a win and then two more losses by Missouri. The Bulldogs would also have to win their Senior Night game against Kentucky the next Saturday. For Auburn, a win tomorrow and then an upset win in the Iron Bowl against Alabama, means the Tigers are SEC West Champions.
If you want to know just how close this race is, then just look at the numbers. The all-time series record is 54 wins, 54 losses, and eight tie games. That said, the results in the last 10 games have not been close, with Georgia winning seven of those contests. Plus, the scores on average of those 10 games has come out to a 34-15 final. So moral of the story, the overall history might be close. However when a team wins, they do so in grand fashion.
Like last year for example, the Bulldogs went into Jordan-Hare Stadium needing a win to clinch the SEC East title. They did that and then some, with a 38-0 final and then two weeks later then head coach Gene Chizik lost his job. That was running back Todd Gurley’s first taste of this rivalry and he wasn’t very impressed.
“It was a rival last year, but it kind of wasn’t,” Gurley said. I was just a freshman so I couldn’t tell you that (what makes this rivalry special).”
According to Dictionary.com, a rival is defined as a person who is competing for the same object or goal as another, or who tries to equal or outdo another; competitor. I think it could be agreed that a (2-7) Auburn team entering that game, as opposed to an (8-1) Georgia is not an equal matchup. Georgia would go on to finish the regular season (11-1), while Auburn went (3-9).
This season, things are a little more even with this Auburn team seeing a dramatic turnaround under first year head coach Gus Malzahn. In fact his turnaround has even impressed his opponent and one of the longest tenured head coach’s in the SEC, Mark Richt.
“It’s just super impressive what coach Malzahn has done,” Richt said. “Really everywhere he’s gone he’s won. If you look at his track record it’s amazing, especially as a head coach.”
Malzahn has been a successful head coach everywhere he’s been. From his days as a high school football head coach in Arkansas, through last season at Arkansas State leading them to a (9-3) record. Plus, he’s been a successful offensive coordinator at Arkansas, Tulsa, and then Auburn. He was the mastermind of that Tigers offense in 2010 that produced a Heisman Trophy winning season for Cam Newton and then a National Championship.
Make no mistake about it, Malzahn is still engineering this Auburn offense that is currently 14th in total offense, third in rushing offense, and 17th in scoring offense with about 39 points a game. That being the case, Georgia is 20th in the country defending the run. That’s why freshman safety Tray Matthews believes they could be successful against the Tigers rushing attack.
“(nose tackle) Garrison Smith (is the) heart of our defensive line, (Linebackers) Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson are the leading tacklers in the SEC,” Matthews said. “That will definitely benefit us, because that’s the way out defense is set up.”
Auburn’s offense is a spread option attack and the linebackers will be counted on very heavily to contain quarterback Nick Marshall and running back Tre Mason according to defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. This responsibility falls primarily on Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera on the interior.
“They’ve got to do a good job of understanding the flow of where the ball is going,” Grantham said. “I really think you have to have your outside (line)backers set the edge of the defense and then your front guys got to build a wall inside it.”
This would be aimed at trying to make sure Marshall and Mason couldn’t get outside and create big plays with the run. This is because; both players have combined this season for 1,870 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns by the run. So needless to say, even though Georgia is fourth in the SEC against the run. They will have a full 60 minutes to contend with one of the best running attacks in the country.
This brings us to the closing look at this great rivalry, where quarterback Aaron Murray will play his final SEC road game and for the final time against the Tigers. He remembers when he started to dislike Auburn in 2010 and it involved defensive tackle Nick Fairley.
“I never really disliked them too much I guess until after that game and a couple of those hits,” Murray said. “I was like ok I don’t like Auburn anymore.”
Just like against Florida, Murray has a chance to finish his career at (3-1), with three straight wins against another SEC rival.
So, there it is… My advice is that you get something good to eat and cold to drink on Saturday afternoon, because you won’t stay relaxed for long. This one will be a close one to the end. Prediction? Nope… You’ll just have to watch.