Tigers Get Back to Work Preparing for UGA

The Auburn football team returned to the practice field as the Tigers look for their 10th win of the season this week in addition to trying to end a two-game losing streak to their oldest rival, the Georgia Bulldogs.

Auburn, Ala.--The history of the Auburn-Georgia series is filled with intense, physical football from players on both sides of the SEC's oldest rivalry. On Tuesday night the Tigers began installing the game plan for the 117th edition of the Tigers vs. Bulldogs showdown with a two-hour, full pads workout.

Georgia native C.J. Uzomah, one of Auburn's key offensive players, noted that his team is expecting nothing different from the Bulldogs. "We know they're going to be physical, they're going to play hard and they're going to get after it," the junior tight end from North Gwinnett High School said on Tuesday.

"We are going to have to do what we have been doing the past few weeks and know that this is the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry," Uzomah said. "Coach (Gus Malzahn) has been saying this is going to be a physical game and we're going to have to be able to run the ball and throw the ball when necessary.

"Their front seven is going to be one of the best that we've played," Uzomah added. "We're going to have to work on our assignments, focus on the little things this week and do what we have been doing."

What the Tigers have been doing is playing a physical brand of football that has helped them win nine of their 10 games this year, including a 55-23 beating of Tennessee last Saturday in Knoxville.

Tre Mason and the Auburn offense are on a hot streak. The Tigers have scored 30, 62, 45, 45, 35 and 55 points in consecutive games. Mason has scored a rushing touchdown in seven consecutive games.

Auburn is going into this week's contest riding the momentum of a six-game winning streak. Georgia, which is 6-3 overall and 4-2 in SEC play, has a two-game winning streak after knocking off Florida 23-20 and Appalachian State 45-6.

The Bulldogs also have a two-game winning streak vs. the Tigers, who were pummeled last year 38-0 by UGA at Jordan-Hare Stadium in a game that was even more lopsided than the score. Auburn defeated the Bulldogs 49-31 in 2010 to end a four-game Georgia winning streak in the series, but since then it has been a struggle for the Tigers in this rivalry that started in 1892.

The only points the Tigers have scored on the Bulldogs in the previous two games came in 2011 on a trick play with Uzomah throwing a four-yard touchdown pass to fellow tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen to tie the score at 7-7 in the first quarter, but the Bulldogs scored 38 unanswered points to win in a blowout that day in Athens.

With 10 starters back on offense, four on defense and two on special teams from a squad that posted a 12-2 record and had a good chance of beating eventual national champ Alabama in the 2012 SEC Championship Game, few in preseason would have predicted that Georgia would enter this game as the underdog and that Auburn would be a Top 10 team instead of UGA.

"I think it is kind of eye-opening or shocking, I guess, to some," Uzomah said of the situation with his Tigers. If Auburn defeats Georgia and then wins the regular season finale vs. Alabama, the Tigers will represent the SEC West in the league championship game.

"We knew that we were going to have a successful season, maybe not as successful as this, but we knew we were going to have a great season," Uzomah said. "Coming into this game we knew that there were going to be a lot of implications, but I guess the tables have somewhat turned. We're just going to have to bring our ‘A' game and get after it."

Uzomah made one catch on Saturday vs. Tennessee and it was Auburn's only touchdown pass of the game.

Even though Malzahn has continued his focus of one practice at a time, one game at a time, Uzomah said the players know what they can accomplish with two more wins to close the regular season.

"We know the implications," he said. "We know what's at stake and how important this game is. That is another part of the reason we are focusing on this game as hard as we are.

"This isn't going to be a cake walk by any means," the junior tight end said. "They're an unbelievable team. They have great talent on both sides of the ball. We will have to execute and have a great week of practice."

Another Auburn player from the state of Georgia, quarterback Nick Marshall, played defensive back for the Bulldogs in the 2011 game in which Uzomah threw a touchdown pass.

Marshall, the current SEC Player of the Week after rushing for two touchdowns and passing for a 25-yard TD pass to Uzomah vs. Tennessee, said he is taking the attitude that Saturday's contest is just another game with the Bulldogs being a hurdle the Tigers must navigate on their goal of winning an SEC title.

Asked what it is going to be like going against former teammates, Marshall said his focus is on getting better each week and the Georgia game week is no different. "I am not too much worried about them, I'll just worry about my team and then we just keep capitalizing on how we are and keep moving forward."

Malzahn said he is seeing no signs that the quarterback will be too emotional about playing against his former teammates. "There is no doubt in my mind he will be ready to play," the coach noted. "He doesn't get too high or too low. He is an even-keeled guy, he's motivated and I know that he will be ready."

Commenting on this week's opponent, Malzahn heaped major praise on the Bulldogs, calling Saturday's assignment a "huge challenge" because of UGA's overall talent that includes Aaron Murray, the top passer in SEC history.

Commenting on his team's turnaround after winning just three games last season, the coach said, "It's all about our players coming together, putting the past behind them and becoming close, and I think developing relationships with each other and developing relationships with coaches. I think that is the start of it."

In other news and notes:

*Kickoff for Saturday's game is set for 2:30 p.m. CST at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

*TV coverage for the game is on CBS with Verne Lundquist doing the play by play, Gary Danielson doing analysis and Tracy Wolfson working as the sideline reporter.

*The game will be available on satellite radio on channel 91 on both Sirius and XM. There will be additional national coverage on the Touchdown Radio network.

*The series, which began in 1892, is tied at 54-54-8. The Bulldogs have won seven of the last 10 matchups and hold a 15-10-2 record in games at Auburn while Auburn is 18-12 in games at UGA's Sanford Stadium. Only six other rivalry games have been played more than the Tigers vs. Bulldogs matchup. If the Bulldogs win on Saturday it will be their first lead in the series since 1986.

*Despite the Bulldogs not performing as well as many forecast this season, Georgia already has knocked off two Top 10 teams. On Sept. 7th Coach Mark Richt's team defeated No. 6 ranked South Carolina 41-30 and on Sept. 28th held off No. 6 LSU. Auburn is ranked seventh in this week's BCS standings, No. 7 in the AP and Fox Sports polls and No. 9 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.

*With Tre Mason up to 1,038 rushing yards this season in his eight seasons as a college coach Malzahn's teams have produced backs who topped the 1,000-mark for rushing yards on 10 occasions. Marshall, who rushed for 214 vs. Tennessee, has a chance to be the 11th. The junior quarterback has 734 yards in nine games, an average of 81.6 yards per contest. He would need to average 89 yards per contest to break 1,000 if the Tigers play three more times or 66.5 yards if the Tigers qualify for the SEC Championship Game and play four more times.

*Mason comes into Saturday's game fourth in SEC rushing yards at 103.8 yards per contest, just behind Georgia's Todd Gurley, who has averaged 104.2 yards in six games. Gurley, who missed four games with an ankle injury, rushed for 75 yards on 13 carries last Saturday vs. Appalachian State. "He is a big guy that can run," Malzahn said of Gurley, a 6-1, 232 sophomore. "He is tough to tackle. He is one of the best in college football."

Todd Gurley is shown in action for the Bulldogs early in the 2013 season.

*Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson is also impressed with Gurley. "He probably may be the most physical back in the league," the coach said. "There are so many good ones. We've played some really good ones, and there's still some left down the road, but I don't know if there's any more physical back than him."

Johnson's defense struggled to slow down Tennessee runners in the first half last week. "We cannot give up the kind of rushing yards we did Saturday and expect that to hold up with the quarterback we're playing," Johnson said. "We've got to find some way to slow Gurley down and not give up those kind of rushing yards."

*Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray has been outstanding in his team's victories over the Tigers the past two seasons. The senior goes into this week's game with SEC career records of 12,568 passing yards and 115 touchdown passes. In addition to being a very accurate thrower, Johnson notes that Murray has learned how to avoid pass rush pressure with his nearly four years of starting experience as a collegian. "He is doing a really fine job of extending plays and causing some problems with defenses in that aspect," the coordinator said.

*In last year's 38-0 victory over the Tigers, Murray completed 18-24 passes for 203 yards and three touchdowns. It was the first time the Bulldogs shut out the Auburn since a 28-0 win in 1976.

*Scoring points has not been a big issue for the 2013 Tigers. Last year Auburn finished 13th among the 14 SEC teams in points per game at 18.7. Currently averaging 38.6 points per contest, Auburn is fourth in the league while Georgia is sixth at 35.6.

*Auburn is also fourth in SEC scoring defense at 20.4 points allowed per game. That is also a major improvement over 2012 when the Tigers were 10th in the league at 28.4 points per contest.

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