Georgia vs. Auburn
When: 12:30 p.m. today
Where: Jordan-Haire Stadium, Auburn, Ala.
TV, radio: MyATLtv-3; 550-AM, 99.3 FM
Web site: www.georgiadogs.com
That’s how it looked in August, at least.
Instead, today’s game will be about pride and some kind of bowl trip, for the Tigers. The 13th-ranked Bulldogs (8-2, 5-2 SEC) have more to play for, but not a championship. The preseason No. 1 team in the nation is out of that mix.
The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry has suddenly become the battle of the underachievers and disappointed, which might just be enough in this case.
"It’s going to be a slugfest," said Auburn center Jason Bosley, whose team was picked to win the West. "This is a pride game. Georgia, their national championship hopes have changed. Obviously our goals have changed from what we set out on. This game is all about pride and heart and going out there and fighting every play. Whoever wants it more is going to win it."
What’s the bigger motivation: Salvation for a lost season, or a better bowl trip and maybe another 10-win season?
The Tigers (5-5, 2-4) have lost four of their last five games but can still become bowl eligible with a win. The Bulldogs have been blown out by Florida and taken to the wire by
Kentucky in the past two weeks while allowing 87 points.
Both teams’ troubles have been, in part, due to injuries. Georgia was hardest hit on the offensive line and Auburn lately on the defensive front.
"They’ve had injuries and it didn’t quite work out for them or us," Tigers coach Tommy Tuberville said. "I think they were picked to win the East and we were picked to win the West.
"Obviously for the BCS rankings and all those things, it affects that a little bit. But it doesn’t affect the alumni and the fans, everybody that’s directly involved in the game. Everybody wants to play well in this game."
Auburn hasn’t played well in the past two meetings, especially defensively. The Bulldogs have scored 82 points in a pair of blowout wins and drew the ire of some Auburn players during last season’s blackout when Georgia players on the field and the sideline were celebrating en masse by doing the Soulja Boy dance.
"It was hurtful," receiver Rod Smith said. "We have an opportunity to get those guys back. Maybe we can talk to Coach Tubs and maybe we can play some music. It’ll definitely be a great game, a great atmosphere."
If the SEC’s top scoring offense can get the kind of offensive production it has had against Auburn the past two years, the Tigers haven’t shown many signs they can keep up. They have managed just seven offensive touchdowns in league games.
This series has been known to help turn around seasons and even give young quarterbacks a boost. Just ask Matthew Stafford, whose coming-of-age performance two years ago as a struggling freshman helped turn the fortunes around for both him and the Bulldogs in an upset of the fifth-ranked Tigers.
"That was big for Matthew and big for Georgia," Dawgs coach Mark Richt said. "We had lost four out of five, and we were 6-4 at the time and just not a very good year.
"People were doubting us in a big way. We didn’t even know if we were going to be in a bowl game at that point. To win that game in the style that we did, and for Matthew that was the beginning of him not turning the ball over at the rate he was turning it over."
Auburn’s Kodi Burns can draw hope from the Bulldogs’ struggles against another mobile youngster last week. Kentucky freshman Randall Cobbs ran for 82 yards and three touchdowns in the Wildcats’ 42-38 loss.
Burns’ 158 rushing yards against Tennessee Martin last week was the most by an Auburn quarterback in 32 years. He is hardly predicting a repeat against an SEC defense.
"I’m definitely not going to run that much against Georgia or anything like that, because they’re a great defense, fast and big guys," Burns said. "I’m definitely going to limit my runs this week."
The preseason Heisman hopes of Stafford and tailback Knowshon Moreno have been hurt by an offensive line that has had to trot out four starting left tackles and a number of different combinations.
"Even right now going into this game we are so paper thin on the offensive line it’s scary," Richt said.
Auburn’s defensive line appears intact after Sen’Derrick Marks, Antonio Coleman and Tez Doolittle took a game off to heal various injuries.
But the Tigers will have to beat either Georgia or No. 1 Alabama to avoid staying at home in the postseason for the first time since the 1999 season. That’s one reason the Bulldogs insist they can’t take this game lightly.
"It’s very dangerous," Georgia receiver Mohamed Massaquoi said. "It’s not going be a game they’re going to lay down by any means. I think that we’re going to get nothing short of their best shot."