Dawgs hope to take advantage of week off

ATHENS - Having a Saturday off the week before an important game has become a big topic again in the Southeastern Conference, and Georgia hopes to continue the trend of playing better after time off when the Bulldogs host Auburn Saturday night.

The Bulldogs took a four-day break last week from serious practice as they recovered mentally and physically from the 14-10 loss to Florida that ended an unbeaten season and prevented Georgia from securing the SEC East championship earlier than any school in league history.

And now they get to take on an improving Auburn team with the division title still nearing the Bulldogs' fingertips.

Sound familiar?

"We had a horrible loss in that Georgia-Florida series, and it was the first loss of the year," Georgia coach Mark Richt recalled about the 2002 season during his Sunday teleconference. "It was a loss that didn't knock us of out it, and we had to play a great Auburn team to win it."

Georgia trailed 14-3 at the half in that road game and 21-10 in the third quarter before the Bulldogs defense tightened and held Auburn to two first downs over the last 21 minutes, setting up the legendary 19-yard pass from David Greene to Michael Johnson with 1:25 left in the game for the 24-21 win.

"Of course, we played so miserably in the first half of that game, it didn't look like we had any prayer at all of winning," Richt said. "Then just miraculously, we came back and made some plays."

Pre-game hours Saturday will likely be spent in front of a TV for both Georgia and Auburn, for plenty can happen before they kick it off under the lights at Sanford Stadium.

Florida visits South Carolina at 12:30 p.m. The Gators are a loss behind the Bulldogs, but win any tiebreaker because of last Saturday's win.

If Florida loses and Georgia beats Auburn, the Bulldogs clinch the East outright. If both win Saturday, Georgia must beat Kentucky next week in Athens. South Carolina is Florida's final SEC opponent of the season.

Auburn — a 49-27 winner Saturday against Kentucky — will be watching even more intently the 3:30 p.m. battle between LSU (4-1) and Alabama (6-0). The Tigers are 5-1 in league play, the loss coming at LSU. Auburn hosts Alabama on Nov. 19 while LSU still must play rivals Mississippi and Arkansas. A loss to Georgia all but erases the Tigers' chances, which remain alive as long as they keep winning.

Richt said it's hard to argue with the time off, but that also depends on the scenario.

"I think if the loss had knocked us out of the race, completely out of the Eastern Division, then I think it probably would've been better to play right away," he said. "I think we understand what's at stake."

The Saturday off before this game a year ago helped Auburn, which was already rolling along to its perfect season and No. 3 ranking, a 24-6 dispatching of Georgia part of the equation.

"It was an advantage for us last year," said Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, 6-4 against Georgia in his career. "I thought we had a little more at the end of the game.

"But when it all comes down to it, our guys'll lay it on the line, their's will lay it on the line. We won't hold anything back, nor will they."

No kidding. This is the longest-running rivalry in the South, and one of the more unpredictable ones. The home team has won only three times in the last 10 meetings, including the last two. Auburn leads the series 52-48-8 and is 17-9 in Athens.

Auburn is banged up, Tuberville noting in particular linebacker Kevin Sears and Travis Williams, and receivers Courtney Taylor and Ben Obomanu. They'll be in practice Tuesday or Wednesday.

"Pretty physical game," Tuberville said of the win over UK. "Nothing major. When it comes to the next two games for us, they'll all play and all be ready to play."

Georgia will have quarterback D.J. Shockley back under center after a knee injury sidelined him for half of the Arkansas game and the entire Florida battle.

Richt said Shockley is ahead of his rehabilitation schedule and will wear a lighter brace in practice starting today.

Tuberville, for his part, expects a Shockley at full go.

"They've had a week off; he'll be ready to play," the coach said. "This is a big game for both teams. This is a guy who's been their quarterback all year. He's been very effective.

"We'll prepare for him."

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