After sitting out the Louisiana-Monroe game and his final Homecoming game because of a sprained thumb, the Ponte Vedra, Fla., native said this one is as good as it gets as far as he is concerned.
"It's a huge rivalry and it has been close every year," Nowland said. "I guess we can expect the same for this year. It will be a battle to the end really. It's my last home game so it will be a big game for us."
Ben Nowland (55) and Danny Lindsey (68) work during Tuesday's practice.
While Danny Lindsey took over the center duties last week with Nowland out and did a terrific job, the Tigers will return to their normal lineup this week against the physically talented defensive line of Georgia. Even though he still wears padding on his right hand, Nowland said he should be fine for Saturday.
"It's fine," Nowland said. "It's a little ,but I can hold the ball and snap the ball with no problem. That was my main concern."
A concern entering the season because of inexperience at several key positions, the offensive line has emerged as the strength of an Auburn offense that leads the SEC in total offense and is second in scoring. With true freshman Marcus McNeill starting at one tackle and other youthful players seeing action this season, Nowland said it is important that the Tigers get their normal lineup back on the field this week to keep some continuity.
"Even though we're young, not really inexperienced any more because of the reps they have this season, we're playing pretty good," Nowland said. "It's exciting for me watching them develop into a good offensive line. We just have to come together cohesively as a unit; we haven't had to do too much flipping around except for the last game. This is the most solid we've been in a while as far as injuries."
In an unexpected turn of events, the Tigers were able to practice outside despite the area getting soaked the last three days with rain. Although the field was wet, Auburn was able to continue putting in the game plan on both sides of the ball and work on special teams. Defensive coordinator Gene Chizik said it is immeasurable how important it was for the team to be able to go outside on Tuesday.
"It was huge," Chizik said. "We got so much done today. We got so much more done today than we would have if we had gone indoors. That was huge on Tuesday. If you have to go indoors on a Thursday that's one thing because really you're just polishing and working out the bugs from the day before. Tuesday is an implementation type deal and it's huge to be able to have the room and see the field. It was invaluable today."
While everyone talks about Georgia's passing game with quarterback David Greene and wide receiver Fred Gibson, just like every other week the Tigers are taking the running game very seriously. Despite averaging just 134.5 yards rushing per game, the Bulldogs enter Saturday's contest off a game against Ole Miss in which they ran the ball for 196 yards on a season-high 54 carries. Leading the way was talented tailback Musa Smith, who had 148 yards on 37 carries. Chizik said that's the thing that concerns him right now looking at Georgia's offense.
"Obviously, they are coming into their own running the football," Chizik noted. "I think the first thing you have to do is deal with that tailback and big offensive line. They can move you off the football and knock you around pretty good. That's what they did to Ole Miss. Obviously, you have to contend with that first and then the problems that they give you off the running game.
"They have some great deep threats and they'll take you deep and try to hit the big one on you eight to 10 times a game. They have no problem with that. You have to stop the run and at the same time you can't leave yourself vulnerable on those passing situations."
Helping the cause for the Tigers on defense was the return of injured starters Reggie Torbor, Spencer Johnson, Jay Ratliff and Karlos Dansby to practice on Tuesday. Although still not 100 percent, Chizik said all should play on Saturday.
"They all dressed out today," Chizik said. "As far as I know right now they are all going to be alright. Anytime you have those guys on the field it always helps you with just the leadership of them being out there. It's good for them to be out there being a part of this thing, too, collectively as a group for a change."
Offensively, in addition to Nowland returning, tight ends Lorenzo Diamond and Cooper Wallace both practiced on Tuesday and looked to be in good shape for Saturday. Still the Tigers had wide receiver Anthony Mix working at both tight end and wide receiver in case of injury.
Kickoff for Saturday's game is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. and can be seen on CBS. Tiger Walk is scheduled for 12:20 with College Hall of Fame Inductee Terry Beasley the guest of honor. The Tigers will practice Wednesday and Thursday, go through a short walk-through Friday and travel out of town Friday night before the game.