I take the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry very seriously. As you may know, I hate Auburn (although some Orange and Blue fans are making it harder and harder to feel that way). Due to the intensity of the rivalry, I annually consider the Georgia Bulldogs’ battle with the Tigers one of the toughest tussles on the slate, even when the War Eagle is expected to be low-flying prey . . . and, this year, Auburn is expected to be a high-flying predator. Accordingly, it is with great trepidation that I return now to our regularly-scheduled programming.
You see, I’ve given you three reasons to be worried about the Tennessee Volunteers, and I’ve given you three reasons to be worried about the South Carolina Gamecocks, but, now that Team Speed Kills has told us three things we know and three things we don’t know about the Plainsmen, it is time for me to tell you . . .
Sadly, Southeastern Conference football games are not settled by spelling bee, or else we’d win in a walk . . . and we spell "dog" phonetically!
1. Defense wins championships. With the possible exception of Georgia’s rivalry with Clemson, there is no long-running series for the Red and Black in which low-scoring slugfests are more the norm than the annual grudge match with the Tigers. This is cause for concern, because the Plainsmen are loaded on defense. Assuming that Georgia’s and Auburn’s offenses are approximate equivalents (about which more anon), an experienced defensive line, a healthier secondary, and a linebacker corps featuring Daren Bates, Josh Bynes, and Craig Stevens is apt to outperform a rebuilt Georgia defense, thereby making the difference in the game.
2. The Tigers are solid on offense. My assumption that these old rivals are offensive equivalents is based upon the obvious similarities between the two teams. Auburn, like Georgia, fields an experienced offensive line, a talented receiver corps with some uncertainty after the first couple of options, a tailback-by-committee approach, a first-year quarterback, and (if it comes down to a field goal try, as it very well might) one of the top two placekickers in the conference. However, the Orange and Blue offense also features the innovative play-calling of Gus Malzahn, whose Plainsmen finished among the top three teams in the league in total and scoring offense last year. Short of Lee Ziemba improbably replicating his false start-riddled performance of a year ago, the Tigers will be able to move the ball on the ‘Dawgs.
3. There’s no way either team is winning five in a row in this rivalry. The reason you don’t hear much "fear the thumb"-style crowing from Bulldog Nation is that we all know we’re living on borrowed time because Auburn is due. The closeness of this series hasn’t just been amazing; it’s been downright eerie, to the point that calling the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry "fairly evenly divided between the two teams" is an understatement. The Plainsmen hold a razor-thin 53-52-8 lead through 113 meetings, and, prior to the current four-game Georgia winning streak, Auburn led the all-time scoring by a safety, as the Orange and Blue tallied 1,650 total points to the Red and Black’s 1,648 in the rivalry’s first 109 clashes.
The game has been settled by a touchdown or less in each of the last two outings, which is consistent with a series that has produced single-score decisions almost 45 per cent of the time (Georgia and Auburn have been separated by margins of seven or fewer points in 50 of 113 meetings), so another nailbiter is to be anticipated. Granted, the Bulldogs have certain advantages---the game will be played at Jordan-Hare Stadium and the Athenians likely will be the lower-ranked contestant, which weirdly appear to be positives in this unique series---but those benefits probably will prove inadequate to overcome tendencies that date back to the days when the two teams perennially squared off at a neutral site in Columbus.
Georgia’s current victory skein is the longest series winning streak by either team in the rivalry since Auburn took four straight from 1987 to 1990. Not since the stretch between 1953 and 1958 has either squad claimed more than four in a row over the other, and the Bulldogs’ last five-game winning streak over Auburn lasted from 1944 through 1948. Those aren’t trends we should expect to see end in 2010.
Those are my reasons for fearing the Tigers this fall. What do you think? Am I off my rocker or right on the money? Are there good reasons to believe I’m wrong or better reasons to believe I’m right? Let me know in the comments below.