Georgia vs. Auburn
When: 7 p.m. tonight
Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens
On TV, radio: ESPN2; 550-AM, 106.1-FM, 103.7-FM
ATHENS — The Auburn Tigers still remember how Georgia, clad in those strange black jerseys, yukked it up on the sideline and a turned a game that had been close most of the night into a rout.
“That’s always in the back of your minds,” linebacker Craig Stevens said.
Auburn has been pumping up the Soulja Boy in its locker room this week, making sure no one forgets how bad they felt on their last trip to Athens two years ago, watching the Bulldogs pull away for a 45-20 victory.
“We’ve still got that bad taste in our mouth and we really want our revenge,” defensive back Walt McFadden said, looking ahead to today night’s game against the Bulldogs.
The Deep South’s oldest rivalry has been filled with all sorts of quirky games, and that 2007 contest between the hedges was no exception. Georgia warmed up in its normal red jerseys, they changed into black just before the opening kickoff.
Early on, Auburn withstood whatever emotional edge the Bulldogs gained from their wardrobe change, but the home team pulled away in the second half.
Rubbing salt in the wound, Georgia’s players began dancing on the sideline between the third and fourth quarters when “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” blared over the speakers.
Even if they Tigers wanted to get that song out of their heads, they can’t this week.
“They’ve been playing a lot of Soulja Boy in our locker room,” McFadden said. “This is a whole different team. We want to win. We’re not pointing fingers. We’re not giving up. We’re just going to keep it all on the field.”
Indeed, the Tigers (7-3, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) have turned things around in their first season under coach Gene Chizik, already locking up a bowl trip while assembling one of the SEC’s most potent offenses.
The Tigers are averaging 35 points and 450 yards per game, numbers that must be a little troubling for a Georgia team that’s struggled to stop top opponents.
The Bulldogs (5-4, 3-3) rank 10th in the SEC and 71st nationally in points allowed, and that number is skewed by last week’s shutout against lower-division Tennessee Tech. The more telling stat: Georgia has surrendered at least 37 points in four games, really turning up the heat on embattled defensive coordinator Willie Martinez.
Auburn, led by quarterback Chris Todd (17 touchdowns, three interceptions) and running back Ben Tate (1,142 yards, eight TDs), certainly has the potential to hang another big number on the Dogs.
“It is a unique system,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “It’s not one that you could just flip on the film and say we are going to do exactly what we did last week. You have to get a good, strong plan and get the guys as many reps as you can because they are into creating chaos for you. That’s what they want to do — they want to create confusion and bloody your nose in the meantime.”
Auburn’s defense? Not so good. The Tigers are last in the SEC in points allowed and next-to-last in total defense, suggesting it will be another high-scoring shootout, like the game two years ago.
While this has traditionally been one of the SEC’s pivotal late-season contests, the stakes are considerably lower this time around.
The division races are over. Auburn is trying to extend a modest two-game winning streak and build some momentum heading into the game it really wants: the regular-season finale against its undefeated rival Alabama.
Georgia’s most pressing concern is making sure it’s bowl eligible, needing at least one win in the last three games to lock up a 13th straight holiday trip.
“The rivalry is still there,” Bulldogs linebacker Rennie Curran said. “When we hit that field, there’s going to be a lot of emotion, and it is going to be a huge game for both of us. If we win this game we become bowl eligible, and if they win that’s another win in their column to where they can go to an even better bowl game. A lot is riding on this game.”
Georgia has won three straight against the Tigers, including last year’s ugly 17-13 victory over an Auburn team playing out a disappointing season under ex-coach-to-be Tommy Tuberville.
The Bulldogs are going for their first four-game winning streak in the series since the 1940s.
“I haven’t beaten Georgia since I got here,” Stevens said. “I haven’t experienced that and I feel like a lot of players don’t want to leave here without having experienced that.”
The Bulldogs don’t want to feel the sting of another loss. They are trying to avoid their first five-loss season since 1996.
“There is so much riding on this game,” Curran said. “It is a game that usually results in a lot of good and bad memories for both teams. I remember playing them my freshman year when we had the blackout game, and that was my 19th birthday, so there are a lot of great memories to be made in this game.”
Of course, that depends on which side of the field you’re on.