Auburn, Ala.--It's not a very good memory for offensive coordinator Al Borges or quarterback Brandon Cox. Ranked in the Top Five in the country last season and playing a four-loss Georgia team at home, Auburn's offense was shut down at every turn by the Bulldogs in a 37-15 loss that ruined the Tigers' hopes of playing in a BCS game.
Looking at the numbers it's easy to tell why Auburn struggled to score points. Held to just nine first downs and 35 yards passing, the Tigers never got things going. Cox was particularly bad on that day, completing just 4-12 passes and throwing four interceptions, three to Tra Battle, who returned one for a touchdown. Borges says looking back on that game is not a fond memory for anybody involved on that day.
"A little tiny part of me has never recovered from that game," Borges says. "It really hurt us and hurt our season. I blame myself as much as anybody for it. We've got to go out and play better this year to make up for how poorly we played a year ago.
"I think you would have to ask him that, but he would probably tell you that," Borges adds on whether that was the worst game of Cox's Auburn career. "We just turned the ball over and killed ourselves. It wasn't all him, but he'll tell you that's probably the worst game he's played."
This time around Auburn is looking for a different result against the Bulldogs. Cox enters the game having a solid, but unspectacular senior season. Completing 60.9 percent of his passes for 1,619 yards and eight touchdowns with seven interceptions, Cox has overcome a very rough start in 2007 to play well down the stretch.
In the first three weeks of the season, Cox completed just 37-75 passes for 436 yards with two touchdowns and six interceptions. Since that time the lefty has been on fire. In his last seven-plus games since returning late against Mississippi State, Cox is 104-158 for 1,225 yards with six touchdowns and just one interception.
Cox continued his solid play last week in a short outing on homecoming against Tennessee Tech. Playing jus the first three series, Cox led the Tigers to three touchdowns before giving way to the back ups the rest of the way. Borges says it was almost a perfect game as far as he's concerned.
"He was 9-11 and graded out at 98 percent," Borges says. "That's only on 25 plays. The more you play the more your grade tends to go down a little bit. Other than one pass, he threw one pass low and outside on a corner route, you take that one away and he was letter perfect and he's been really good in our last I don't know how many games.
"He's been solid, Cox-like, and it's all about decision-making. He's not forcing the ball. He's taking what the defense is giving. He's managing the offense well. He's doing what he does best."
This week Cox and the Auburn offense will return to the scene of perhaps his defining game as an Auburn quarterback to this point. Two years ago in Sanford Stadium Cox completed 16-28 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown in a comeback victory over the Bulldogs. In the fourth quarter alone Cox was 6-12 for 159 yards, including a career-long completion of 62 yards to Devin Aromashodu that set the stage for a game-winning kick from John Vaughn.
Borges is hoping for more magic from Cox this week as the Tigers prepare to take on their oldest rival for the 111th time. The rivalry is the seventh-most played in the country, tied with Oregon-Oregon State, and with the exception of wars has been played continuously since 1898. Borges says that while this game doesn't get the hype of some other rivalries including the Iron Bowl, but this is what it's all about.
"I think they are two different rivalries in so many ways," Borges says. "I think the Georgia-Auburn rivalry is a total mutual respect rivalry where both teams basically like each other. It may not seem like it sometimes when they play, but I think they basically like each other and whoever wins the game wins the game."