At stake for both teams is a berth in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta Dec. 7. For Georgia the math is easy, beat Auburn and they're in. For Auburn it's not so simple. If they take care of business against the Bulldogs and then against Alabama next week, they will still need a little help against the LSU Tigers. But anything is possible in the world of college football and the Auburn-Georgia rivalry echoes that beautifully.
Since the rivalry began in 1892 the two teams have played 105 times with the Tigers holding a 51-46-8 advantage. Signifying how close the series is, all-time Auburn has outscored the Bulldogs by just five points (1,567-1,562) and there have been 46 games decided by seven points or less. One thing that isn't close is the series when both teams come into the game ranked in the Top 25. After dropping the first two games in that scenario, the Tigers have won the last 10 games in the series when both teams are rated, as is the case this season.
Hoping to change that is quarterback David Greene. After growing up an Auburn fan, he made his way to Athens to play football and the Georgia nation has been happy ever since. Just a sophomore, he has thrown for 2162 yards and 19 touchdowns on 164-of-287 passing. With just seven interceptions, he isn't prone to making mistakes and will challenge the Tigers down the field.
One thing Georgia Coach Mark Richt believes in is playing two quarterbacks and that means the Tigers will likely see redshirt freshman D.J. Shockley (6-1, 190) sometime Saturday. With 273 yards passing on 23-of-36 attempts for four touchdowns and two interceptions, he is a threat throwing the ball, but is most effective on the run. Averaging 3.8 yards per carry this season, he has rushed for 92 yards and has a long of 29 against Kentucky this season. When he's in the game expect to see rollouts and some option plays to challenge the corner of the Auburn defense.
A problem area for the Bulldogs is at wide receiver where stars Terrence Edwards (47-804-10 TD) and Damien Gary (27-254-4 TD) are both out for the Auburn game with injuries, leaving Fred Gibson (6-4, 190) to carry the load on the outside. As perhaps the most dangerous receiver in the SEC today, the sophomore has 29 catches for 508 yards and three touchdowns this season despite missing two games completely because of a broken hand and parts of five others. Expect Green to look Gibson's way early and often to make some big plays against an Auburn defense hoping to deny just that.
Picking up the slack for Georgia is the task for receivers Reggie Brown (6-1, 195, So.) and Bryan McClendon (6-1, 180). With 17 catches for 228 yards and two touchdowns, Brown has already experienced success this season and has the talent to give the Tigers fits. McClendon, a true freshman, has caught four passes for 81 yards, but is one of the fastest players on the Georgia team. At tight end Ben Watson (6-3, 253, Jr.) is a threat with 26 catches for 255 yards and two touchdowns in 2002.
David Greene is a redshirt sophomore for the Bulldogs. (Photography: David Zanine)
While Green is the catalyst of the Bulldog offense, Musa Smith (6-2, 226, Jr.) is the key to Georgia's success. Averaging 95.8 yards per game on the ground with five touchdowns, he has been big in recent games running the ball. Coming of a 148-yard effort against Ole Miss Saturday on a career-high 37 carries, Smith is starting to become the workhorse that Georgia hoped he would be before the season. When he needs a rest Tony Milton (5-10, 200, RFr.) comes in with a change of pace. Capable of getting the corner, Milton has used his speed to rush for 259 yards this season on 59 carries with a long run of 25 yards against Tennessee. Fullback J.T. Wall touches the ball more than the average fullback with 21 carries for 116 yards and one touchdown. He's also a key receiver with seven catches for 59 yards, but two big touchdowns.
Up front the Bulldogs feature one of the more experienced and talented offensive lines in the conference. Strong tackle Jon Stinchcomb (6-6, 297, Sr.), strong guard Alex Jackson (6-4, 335, Sr.), center Ian Knight (6-3, 291, Sr.), tight guard Kevin Breedlove (6-2, 300, Sr.) and tight tackle Kareem Marshall (6-5, 328, Sr.) have combined for all but three of Georgia's offensive line starts this season. With continuity and experience, they'll be a tough challenge for Auburn's defensive line on Saturday.
Defensively, the Bulldogs begin and end with David Pollack. A dominating defensive end, the 6-3, 264 sophomore has 11 sacks and 79 tackles this season and is always a threat to make the big play as he's done against both South Carolina and Florida. Small but quick Will Thompson (6-3, 243, So.) is the starter at the other end for Georgia. With 46 tackles and five sacks, he's a good complement to the unforgiving rush of Pollack on the other side. In the middle 6-3, 299 Johnathan Sullivan has been a man for the Bulldogs in the middle. Totaling 55 tackles and three sacks, he's the run stopper in the middle. The nose tackle for Georgia is also a player that plays the run well. Ken Veal, at 6-1, 311, has 23 tackles this season in just three starts. Also seeing action this weekend will be outstanding true freshmen Kedrick Golston (6-4, 285) and Darrius Swain (6-2, 316) and sophomore Robert Geathers (6-3, 258).
An outstanding linebacker corps returns to form this week as Chris Clemons (6-3, 236, Jr.) is expected to be back in the lineup alongside Boss Bailey (6-3, 229, Sr.) and Tony Gilbert (6-0, 244, Sr.). The leader in tackles for the Bulldogs with 92 along with two sacks, Bailey has been bothered by a sprained knee and is doubtful to be 100 percent this weekend but will play. In the middle Gilbert is tough against the run with 81 tackles, including 54 solo. Clemons has 37 tackles this season. Redshirt freshman Thomas Davis (6-1, 223) has taken over in the absence of Clemons and done an outstanding job. With 46 tackles, he has been productive and will see some playing time this weekend as will freshman Tony Taylor (6-1, 208).
In the secondary big Sean Jones is the leader of a physical unit that prides itself on stopping the run. The 6-2, 209 senior is fourth on the team with 63 tackles and doesn't have an interception. Former tailback Bruce Thornton has turned into a solid cornerback as a junior. The 5-10, 192 Thornton has 33 tackles and one interception this season and is Georgia's top cover man. On the other side junior Decory Bryant (5-11, 184) is the more physical of the two outside guys and has 31 tackles this season with one interception. Rover Kentrell Curry rounds out the secondary. With 60 tackles, the 6-1, 198 junior plays a good bit in run support and will be on the line of scrimmage much of the game. He's tied for the team lead with two interceptions.
Georgia has a definite advantage in the kicking game coming into Saturday's game. Kicker Billy Bennett has been one of the most productive field goal men in the league this season. A solid 15-19 this season and perfect on extra-points, he is almost automatic. Punter Jonathan Kilgo is averaging 41.2 yards per punt on 47 attempts this season. Gibson will likely handle the kickoff return duties while Jones could be back on punt returns.
This game will likely come down to which team can run the ball while still stopping the run. With Ronnie Brown likely running against an eight and nine man front for Georgia, if he has success early look out because it will be a big day for the Tigers. On the other hand, early success for Smith would force Auburn to commit more players to the run and leave the secondary vulnerable to Green and Gibson. What is always a classic rivalry should be no different this time around.