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Georgia Bulldogs v. Auburn Tigers: Too Much Information

This week, no introduction is needed. It’s the Georgia Bulldogs. It’s the Auburn Tigers. It’s Too Much Information:

University of Georgia alumnus Charles Herty and University of Virginia alumnus George Petrie met as graduate students at Johns Hopkins University, where they both became acquainted with the game of football before receiving their Ph.D.s in 1890. Herty took his degree in inorganic chemistry, returned to Athens, and served as an assistant chemist in the State Experiment Station and an instructor at the University before becoming a professor at his alma mater. Petrie earned his doctorate in history, political economy, and jurisprudence before joining the faculty of what was then the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama at Auburn. Both men organized football programs at their respective colleges---Petrie borrowed his undergraduate institution’s team colors for his new school---and, on February 20, 1892, the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry got underway at Atlanta's Piedmont Park.

When Mark Richt was new to the conference and Tommy Tuberville was among the league’s mainstays, the latter chided the former somewhat less than politely that the younger coach needed to run the ball if he wanted to win in the SEC. Perhaps that 2001 lesson still needs to be learned in 2011---Auburn ranks second in the conference in rushing offense; Georgia, second in passing offense---but there is no doubt which squad is more adept at stuffing the run game. The Plainsmen permit more than twice as many yards per game on the ground (185.7) than the ‘Dawgs do (91.2), and, while the Red and Black rank eighth nationally in run defense, the Orange and Blue rank tenth in that category . . . in the SEC.

In 1899, Georgia and Auburn played another hard-fought contest, once again at Piedmont Park. The game ended in a scoreless draw and an ugly scene, as fans flooded out of the stands and onto the field. Afterward, The Atlanta Constitution noted "the inclination on the part of some of Auburn’s men to give utterances to petty, unmanly remarks about their Georgia antagonists."

This season marks only the fourth historically in which the Bulldogs have beaten both the Florida Gators and the Tennessee Volunteers in the same autumn. Georgia went 2-1 against Auburn in the previous three such seasons, and the Red and Black captured the SEC championship in the two campaigns in which they defeated all three now-perennial orange-garbed rivals.

The 1901 meeting between the two teams also produced a tie game in Atlanta featuring no points, but, more significantly, it saw the inauguration of a pair of enduring Classic City traditions. Prior to the game, many fans wore what the Constitution described as "a badge saying 'Eat 'em Georgia' and a picture of a bulldog tearing a piece of cloth," marking the first use of the bulldog as a Georgia mascot. Afterward, the celebration of the deadlock over a rival in a game in which the Red and Black were given little chance produced in Athens bonfires, parades through city streets, the firing of the double-barreled cannon, and, for the first time, collegians lining up underneath the belfry of the Chapel to take turns ringing the overhanging bell.

If defense truly wins championships, it is no wonder that the Tigers are not in contention for any championships this autumn. I mentioned above that Auburn ranks tenth in the SEC against the run; as it turns out, that happens to be the area in which the Plainsmen display their greatest defensive prowess. The Orange and Blue rank eleventh in the league in pass defense (215.0 yards per game allowed), in scoring defense (27.7 points per game allowed), and in total defense (400.7 yards per game allowed).

Between the two ties in 1899 and 1901, there had appeared in the November 6, 1900, edition of The Red and Black an editorial headlined, "About our Football Season." Written by University of Georgia physics professor and athletic council member A.H. Patterson, it answered "some idle talk about college during the past week to the effect that our season has not been a success so far, and that it would therefore be useless to continue it" by declaring:

Now for the future. The schedule has been well arranged. . . . Much experience will be gained in breaking up the trick plays and heavy interference of the Clemson team, and a week later we have a good chance to defeat North Carolina. . . . Back from the North Carolina trip, we settle down to a week's final practice and polishing up, and then---Auburna delenda est.

Despite their aptitude for running the football, the Tigers are not in the top half of the conference in total offense, and they stand next to last in the league in aerial yards per outing. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, are third in the SEC in total defense and third in the SEC in total offense; that, my friends, is balance.

During a Facebook exchange this week with War Eagle Atlanta of Track ‘Em Tigers regarding the recent ESPN documentary "Roll Tide/War Eagle," I came to a realization about why it is that Tiger fans consider ours a "friendly" rivalry, and Georgia fans do not. As the documentary underscored, the Iron Bowl rivalry, fueled by factors from the Yellowhammer State’s longtime dearth of professional sports teams to Paul Finebaum’s radio show, has become heated to the point of becoming disturbingly dysfunctional. This phenomenon has occurred during a period in which the Bulldogs’ dominance over the post-SEC, post-Bobby Dodd Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets has led to a widespread sense of clean old-fashioned indifference, at least among the rising generation in Bulldog Nation. Our frames of reference are dramatically different; when your basis for comparison is the persistent vitriol between the Tigers and the Alabama Crimson Tide, mere contempt appears downright chummy, but, when so much of the heat has been sapped from your own in-state season-ender the way it has from ours, heartfelt disdain feels like what it is. Our definitions of nastiness and neighborliness diverge when our notions of outlying displays of dislike vary between picking sprigs from hedges and poisoning live oak trees.

As I said on this week’s podcast, I believe any betting line that installs either of these teams as a prohibitive favorite over the other is ill-considered, in light of the long history between the Bulldogs and the Tigers. There have been too many close contests in this rivalry to permit me to believe that anything other than a nailbiter is ever in the offing. In this instance, Georgia is higher-ranked, has a better record, is playing at home, and is favored, which, historically, means the Plainsmen have us right where they want us.

There is no denying that this Auburn team is much more dangerous than its record suggests, just as there is little doubt that this will be a four-quarter battle in which the victor prevails by a single-score margin. The Tigers will be the second-best team wearing orange and blue the Bulldogs have faced this season, and arguably the second-best team the Bulldogs have faced this season, irrespective of color scheme. Nevertheless, I have faith that, given the opportunities and incentives before them, the Red and Black will emerge victorious.

My Prediction: Georgia 24, Auburn 20.

Go ‘Dawgs! Auburna delenda est!