Tigers Have Emotional Edge In Athens

Several Tigers talk about the importance of winning Saturday's game between the 7-3 Tigers and 7-2 Bulldogs.

Auburn, Ala.--It's not a coincidence that Auburn has won 10 of its last 12 visits to Sanford Stadium, but it hasn't been because of a coaching advantage or a talent differential.

"This is huge," says Robert Dunn of Augusta, one of 24 Auburn players from the state of Georgia. "This is my Auburn-Alabama game. I'm excited about playing this week and coming out and trying to be intense in practice and carrying it over into the game.

"A lot of guys are amped up about this game," Dunn continues, "whether it's because of recruiting or anybody holding a grudge against UGA, anything to get amped up. You don't want to be that person to go home and people say, ‘Ohh you got beat by Georgia this year.' A lot of the guys on the team are fired up. I know I had to hear it for a whole week after they beat us (last year). I didn't even want to go home."

Dunn, who caught a pair of touchdown passes in last Saturday's 35-3 victory over Tennessee Tech, is one of a handful of Tigers from the Peach State expected to have an impact on The Deep South's Oldest Rivalry.

"With all of the Georgia guys we have on this team, this is definitely a big game," says tight end Cole Bennett, a native of Dalton. "A lot of us were recruited by Georgia as well. This is basically our big rivalry game."

As preparation continues for the 111th meeting between the Tigers and the Bulldogs, the effect of the players from the state of Georgia has rubbed off and has become evident to the rest of the team.

"It's sort of the same feeling that I have for the Bama game," says Jerraud Powers of Decatur, Ala. "You've got a lot of guys on the team that went to high school and played with most of those guys for their entire lives, and there are a lot of best friends on the team. It's the oldest rivalry in the South and like for us with the Bama game, this game means a lot.

"I know with Josh Thompson (Statesboro, Ga.) he's been watching film for about three weeks probably knowing him," Powers jokes. "It means a lot to them and us Alabama guys on the team are going to make sure we get the job done for them."

There has been hooting and hollering and scraps and scuffles at the AU practices as the Tigers get ready for the visit to Athens, Ga., which is no surprise as the Auburn program relies on recruiting several players from the state of Georgia every year. Many Auburn greats like James Brooks, Kevin Porter, Takeo Spikes, Ronnie Brown and Carlos Rogers, to name a few, are from the state of Georgia.

However, just one Bulldog from Alabama is expected to have an impact on the game--offensive tackle Chester Adams from Luverne, Ala.

Rod Smith, who scored a TD against Georgia last season, played at Tucker High School with Georgia cornerback Asher Allen before transferring to South Gwinnett High.

Whatever edge Auburn has because of the personnel wasn't apparent last season as Georgia marched right into Jordan-Hare and trashed the Tigers 37-15. However, the Tigers want revenge and contest that it's completely different returning to their home state to play the game.

"I'm real excited," says tailback Brad Lester, who played his prep days about 40 minutes down the road from Athens at Parkview High. "I'm ready for it and I can't wait to go there. It's good that we get to play in Athens and it's always fun to go there.

"You think about that every time someone is talking about the Georgia/Auburn game," he adds of last year's loss, "especially going back home. A lot people talked about that last year. We had a team meeting (on Sunday) and a couple of guys from Georgia stood up and talked. They said they don't want that feeling. When we go home for the break and they go back to their high schools and watch the games and people are talking about how we got beat by Georgia and we got whooped by Georgia. We're going to go out there with the attitude and play hard and leave everything on the field."

On Saturday, Georgia (10th) will be ranked higher than Auburn (18th) and probably slightly favored. But that didn't matter in 1999 when Hartwell-native Ben Leard tossed for a school-record 416 yards as a bad Auburn team beat the 14th-ranked Bulldogs 38-21.

Two years earlier, Georgia's #7 ranking didn't matter to Newnan-native Karsten Bailey as he took a slant 76 yards to give the Tigers a commanding lead over one of the better UGA teams in years.

Lionel James, Steve Wallace, Jeff Burger, Tracy Rocker, Marcus McNeill and Kenny Irons are also among Auburn greats to have returned to their home state and beat a top 10-ranked Georgia team in Sanford Stadium.

"It means a lot to get back to my home state with a chance to play at Georgia and experience that atmosphere," notes Tray Blackmon of LaGrange, who hopes to add his name to the list. "I've seen it during recruiting, but I've never really been in it, actually in it. It's going to be big to get down there and experience that."

When the Tigers and Bulldogs kick it off on Saturday, UGA head coach Mark Richt may need to use all of the motivational tricks he has, that is, if there are any left.

Kickoff is set for shortly after 2:30 p.m. CST on CBS Sports.

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