While I don’t want to take away from the fact that college basketball season starts tonight, there is kind of an important football game taking place tomorrow night, as the Georgia Bulldogs will be meeting the Auburn Tigers on the Plains to renew the
Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry in the game that will determine whether the ‘Dawgs capture consecutive Eastern Division championships for the first time since 2003. Accordingly, I would be remiss if I failed to bring you Too Much Information:
Let’s start with Auburn’s quarterback situation, which is not good. After Kiehl Frazier and Clint Moseley were given their turns as the Tigers’ signal caller, freshman Jonathan Wallace was named the starter for last weekend’s outing against New Mexico State. Wallace was credited with three carries for nine yards against the Aggies, and he completed nine of 16 passes for 164 yards, a touchdown, and an interception . . . to repeat, against New Mexico State, in a game the Plainsmen led by seven at halftime after Auburn punched in a touchdown inside the five-minute mark in the second quarter. Wallace had better be ready to learn what “GATA” means this Saturday.
While we’re on the subject of last weekend’s War Eagle win over New Mexico State, the Tigers’ triumph over the Aggies represented the only outing of this autumn in which Auburn succeeded in scoring more than 14 second-half points. The only other time this season that the Plainsmen managed to score as many as two touchdowns after intermission was against the other Aggies on their slate, and Texas A&M led that game by a 42-7 margin at the break. In the Tigers’ other seven games, they never scored more than the ten points they managed after halftime against Louisiana-Monroe, but it took overtime for them even to do that; in Auburn’s first seven contests this fall, the Orange and Blue’s point totals for the final 30 minutes of regulation play were nine, seven, seven, zero, seven, three, and three, respectively. Of the three Georgia defensive coordinators who will be on the Jordan-Hare Stadium sidelines tomorrow night, Todd Grantham should be the one who derives the greatest pleasure from the second half.
Among the oddities of this ancient rivalry is “away field advantage”: Auburn is 18-12 in the Classic City and Georgia is 14-10-2 in the so-called Loveliest Village. The Tigers lead the all-time series with a 54-53-8 record, so the Bulldogs have a chance on Saturday to snarl the series record for the first time since 1987. Mark Richt is 7-4 against the Plainsmen, having guided his team to victory in seven of the last ten, and five of the last six, series showdowns. That’s pretty impressive, in light of the fact that Georgia has not had a coach with a winning record against the Tigers since Wally Butts. Coach Richt’s four losses to Auburn came in campaigns in which the Tigers were ranked 24th, third, 15th, and second, respectively, on the day of the game. The Plainsmen currently are unranked.
When facing an Auburn head coach in the final year of his tenure in the so-called Loveliest Village, the Bulldogs have gone 7-0 against the Tigers since falling to Jack Meagher’s last Orange and Blue club in 1942. Why, you may be wondering, would I take the trouble to figure out how Georgia fares against head coaches of the Plainsmen in the campaigns in which they concluded their careers? Oh, no reason, really.
Auburn has been allowing an average of almost 31 points per game in conference play this season. Georgia has scored at least 31 points against the Tigers in five of the last six installments of the
Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.
The Plainsmen are tied for 112th in the country in scoring offense, as they are averaging 19.2 points per game. The only SEC team to rank lower than Auburn in that category is Kentucky. The Wildcats rank 121st in point production, generating just 16.4 ticks on the scoreboard per game, but they managed 24 against the Bulldogs when hosting Georgia at night.
Along similar lines, Auburn fields the nation’s 114th most prolific aerial assault, torching the Yellowhammer State skies for a blistering 161.8 passing yards per outing. Among conference clubs, only the Gators are worse through the air, as Florida ranks 118th in the land with 140.1 yards per game via the forward pass. In this year’s Cocktail Party, though, the Sunshine State Saurians put up 191 passing yards against Georgia. This is a disturbing trend.
Auburn’s run defense is the worst in the conference, and it ranks 98th in the country, behind Idaho’s. The Tigers surrender a league-high 199.2 rushing yards per game, see the other team keep the ball on the ground more times per contest (41.1) than any SEC squad except Kentucky, and have conceded the conference’s third-highest total of rushing touchdowns (17). Todd Gurley should have ample opportunity to continue his assault on the Georgia record book.
This game always worries me, even when Doug Gillett isn’t reminding me that I have good reason to be concerned. We cannot afford to look past an upset-minded rival that took Clemson and LSU to the wire. Nevertheless, it ought not to be ignored that Gene Chizik has so completely lost control of this program that Auburn has had to hire a private security firm to enforce player curfews and fans are staying away from Jordan-Hare Stadium in droves. (How bad has it gotten on the Plains? MaconDawg and I picked up tickets to tomorrow’s game for less than face value!) The Tigers, at best, are a team on the brink, and, while desperate men are dangerous men, a good solid push by the Red and Black likely will send the Orange and Blue sailing over the edge.
Ere the ‘Dawgs land the haymaker that sends the Plainsmen plummeting to their doom, however, I will remember some of the many upsets in a series chock full of them, and I will be reminded to be cautious when presuming anything in a rivalry as heated, hard-fought, and topsy-turvy as this one. While I’m hoping for a beatdown, I’m not expecting one. Georgia will win, perhaps even comfortably, but, as with last week’s homecoming game against Ole Miss, the two teams will trade punches for a while, as befits such longstanding foes.
My Prediction: Georgia Bulldogs 42, Auburn Tigers 24.
Go ‘Dawgs! Auburna delenda est!