All on the Line

ATHENS - A look at Georgia's game with the Auburn Tigers.

Heated rivalry with Auburn takes center stage for Bulldogs

The Georgia-Auburn game is known as the oldest rivalry in the south.

That rivalry will take on more significance when Georgia hosts Auburn on Saturday at Sanford Stadium.

The Bulldogs (7-2, 5-1 SEC) need a win to maintain their hold on first place in the SEC East. After an 0-2 start, Georgia has won seven straight.

"We do control our own destiny," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "We've been fighting like mad for that ever since the moment South Carolina beat us. But the thing that's gotten us this far on a weekly basis is just trying to take care of business. Again, that's got to be our focus, for every man to do their job. ... Just focus on the process, and we feel like good things will happen if we do."

The rivalry between the two schools always has been heated. Auburn's campus is fewer than 40 miles from the Georgia border, and the school often ventures into Georgia for recruits.

Things got chippy between the two schools during Auburn's 49-31 win over Georgia last season. Two Auburn players had to sit out the next game for throwing punches. Former Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley was flagged for a late hit on Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, and Georgia's offensive linemen were called for personal fouls later for retaliating.

"A lot of people have been asking me about that, and I guess I just have a short memory," Richt said. "I don't think about those things much. I'm just so focused on this season and what's important right now, I haven't even thought about last year and what might have happened."

Auburn no longer has quarterback Cam Newton, who declared early for the NFL draft last season. But the defending national champion Tigers (6-3, 4-2 SEC) have put together a solid rebuilding season.

Auburn sophomore running back Michael Dyer is closing in on a 1,000-yard rushing season.

"Even though Cam was a big part of their offense last year, they still have some great playmakers," Georgia defensive lineman Abry Jones said.

Without him, Auburn would be in Dyer straits

Michael Dyer didn't enter his sophomore season as a starter, but Auburn's coaches knew how important he'd be toward the team's success in 2011.

They probably didn't figure that he'd be this important, though.

After nine games, it's safe to say Dyer has truly carried an Auburn offense that has struggled at times to move the ball through the air.

With a new quarterback at the helm, Clint Moseley, Dyer's role is amplified as the Tigers head down the home stretch starting with Saturday's rivalry game against Georgia.

"I'm 95 percent sure that everybody's game plan is to stop No. 5," Moseley told the Opelika-Auburn News of Dyer. "I've only started twice, and they're probably willing to make me beat them.

"But if our line is blocking like they did last week, it's really going to be hard for them to stop Mike, even if they know it's coming. But that's really going to open it up for me. The corners are softer. It really helps us out."

Even when teams know it's coming, like last week against Ole Miss when he finished with 177 yards and two touchdowns, it's been nearly impossible.

There's another running back in the state of Alabama who's receiving plenty of Heisman trophy hype, but Dyer has been arguably as important to his team's success as Alabama's Trent Richardson.

According to the Opelika-Auburn News, Dyer and his 989 rushing yards account for 57.5 percent of Auburn's rushing offense and when you tack on what he's amassed in the passing game, he's represents 31 percent of the Tigers' overall offense.

"We're a run/play-action team," offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn told the Opelika-Auburn News. "And if we're able to run the football effectively, that's what we're going to do.

"We've got to be able to do both. That's what we're working hard on doing. If you can't run the football, you've got to throw it, and if you can't throw it, you've got to run it. Each game will dictate that number either being higher or lower."

Sprinkle in the change-of-pace ability of Onterio McCalebb, and the Tigers' rushing game is clicking at the right time.

"I think it has the potential to wear on teams and pick up in the second half, like it did a lot last year," offensive line coach Jeff Grimes told reporters last week. "I think it was good for us to kind of get back to that."

GEORGIA NOTES, QUOTES

--Georgia coach Mark Richt has been pleased with Cordy Glenn's transition to left tackle from left guard. "Cordy has improved every week," Richt said. "I think he's very comfortable there now. I think his future is very bright. I think he could play tackle or guard in the NFL. I think he made a wise decision to come back and play another year and prove he could be athletic enough to play on the edge too in the best league in college football."

--Richt said PKs Blair Walsh and Brandon Bogotay will continue to compete for the starting job this week in practice. Richt didn't rule out using both Walsh and Bogotay in different roles against Auburn. "We're going to go through practice too and see how everybody does throughout the week," Richt said. "It's a highly competitive situation, and I think that's healthy. I think it's good for them."

AUBURN NOTES, QUOTES

--Auburn coach Gene Chizik gave his players their first long weekend of the regular season during the team's bye week. After going through a walk-through Friday morning, the Tigers didn't have to report back until Sunday afternoon.

"They need to go spend the weekend with their families; most of our guys are close enough to be able to do that," Chizik told reporters. "We encourage them to do that and go home and see their parents, or their aunts and uncles or grandmas and grandpas."

--WR Emory Blake is close to being back to 100 percent. Slightly below that was good enough for the Tigers' leading receiver to haul in five passes for 71 yards and a touchdown against Ole Miss. He's expecting to do better against Georgia. "Just doing this for so long, I felt comfortable and confident and I think it kind of showed on the field," Blake told the Opelika-Auburn News.

--Defensive line coach Mike Pelton has liked what he's seen from freshman Devaunte Sigler, especially now that he's moved from defensive end to defensive tackle. In nine games, Slgler has nine tackles and a sack, but his improvement goes beyond the stat sheet, Pelton said. "That kid is just so athletic," Pelton told the OA-News. "He kind of surprised me of how well he just transitioned to it. It looks like he's been out there all season."

SERIES HISTORY: Auburn leads 54-52, eight ties (Last meeting, 2010, Auburn 49-31).

SCOUTING THE GEORGIA OFFENSE: Georgia ranks fourth in the SEC in scoring offense at 34.8 yards per game. The Bulldogs have adapted well to a higher-tempo, no-huddle offense installed by offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. Georgia ranks second in the SEC in pass offense (253.2 ypg) and sixth in run offense (175.6 ypg).

SCOUTING THE AUBURN DEFENSE: The Tigers knew they would be young this season across the defense. It's shown at times, but there have been other areas that have aged accordingly. The defensive line looked rather suspect against Ole Miss, surrendering far too many rushing yards, but players such as freshmen Gabe Wright and Devaunte Sigler showed dramatic improvement from the first time they arrived on campus. The linebacking corps was the obvious weakness early in the season, but MLB Eltoro Freeman is playing at as high of a level as anybody on the Auburn defense. Daren Bates and Jonathan Evans' have also picked up their games. In the secondary, it's been a mix of hot and cold. Good moments from CB T'Sharvan Bell and Chris Davis are often overlooked because they've been burned on repeated occasions in big games. S Neiko Thorpe has a ton of tackles, but he's making far too many mistakes. But a freshman like CB Jermaine Whitehead gives promise to the future.

SCOUTING THE AUBURN OFFENSE: Auburn got exactly what it needed heading into the bye week, as the running game was as productive as it's been all season, and the passing game, buoyed by the return of WR Emory Blake, did enough to keep Ole Miss' defense off balance. That kind of confidence boost will be pivotal heading into a game where the Tigers probably won't have to be as successful, but will need to move the ball against a tough Georgia defense. The same thing has been said all season, and it will be said again before Saturday's game. Auburn needs more production from the receivers who aren't named Blake and Philip Lutzenkirchen. Opposing defenses have been devoting all of their resources to stopping that tandem, especially near the goal line. As the two players' stats indicate, it hasn't always worked, but it would make life easier for QB Clint Moseley if he had a few more options. Of course, RB Michael Dyer has been playing so well that the number of options is irrelevant.

SCOUTING THE GEORGIA DEFENSE: Georgia is tied with LSU for most turnovers forced (20) in the SEC. The Bulldogs also are second behind LSU in the SEC in sacks with 20. Georgia is holding opponents to just 28 percent on third-down conversions.

GEORGIA QUOTE TO NOTE: "You never know what tomorrow is going to bring, so it's not like we've arrived or anything like that. But we have played well lately, and we've won lately so that's a big deal." -- Georgia coach Mark Richt, on dealing with being on the hot seat during the course of the season.

AUBURN QUOTE TO NOTE: "Not just the plays that he made, but his leadership. Our offensive guys look to him, they look to look up and see him in the huddle. So it was really good to have him back." -- WR coach Trooper Taylor on WR Emory Blake, who returned last week from an ankle injury.

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Auburn at Georgia, Nov. 12 -- Georgia (7-2, 5-1 SEC) will try to move a step closer to its first SEC East title since 2005 and avenge a 49-31 loss to Auburn last season. The Bulldogs have won seven straight, bouncing back nicely from an 0-2 start.

GEORGIA KEYS TO THE GAME: For Georgia, it begins on defense with stopping the run. Auburn sophomore RB Michael Dyer is 11 yards shy of 1,000 for a season, and RB Onterio McCalebb has 448 yards rushing and 244 yards receiving. Auburn has struggled at the quarterback position, though sophomore QB Clint Moseley is coming off a four-TD performance against Ole Miss. On offense, Georgia projects to have a big day against an Auburn defense that ranks 11th in the SEC in scoring defense and 11th in total defense. But Georgia must avoid turnovers against an Auburn team that has forced 16 this season.

AUBURN KEYS TO THE GAME: Auburn has to immobilize Georgia QB Aaron Murray and force him to beat it with his arm. Murray is at his most dangerous when he's able to pile up yards through the air and on the ground. On offense, Auburn has to continue to find success in the passing game to make life easier for RB Michael Dyer and the rest of the rushing attack.

GEORGIA PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Aaron Murray -- Murray is coming off a five-touchdown performance against New Mexico and has thrown for 23 TD passes and eight interceptions this season. Georgia coach Mark Richt also has been impressed with Murray's leadership ability. "He is a very good quarterback, and I think he's a great leader," Richt said.
WR Chris Conley -- Conley, a freshman, has emerged as another deep threat in Georgia's offense. He's filled in nicely for injured WR Malcolm Mitchell, catching 10 passes for 189 yards and a TD this season.
RB Isaiah Crowell -- Crowell should be motivated and rested coming off a one-game suspension. Georgia is going to need balance on offense to beat Auburn. Crowell is still Georgia's leading rusher with 689 yards and four TDs.
LB Alec Ogletree -- To beat Auburn, Georgia is going to need to stop the run first. Ogletree has done a nice job since coming back from a broken foot, registering eight tackles. He's also forced a fumble.
S Bacarri Rambo -- Rambo has an SEC-high six interceptions and could get a chance to make more big plays against inexperienced Auburn QB Clint Moseley.

ROSTER REPORT
--WR Malcom Mitchell is expected to return after missing the past three games with a hamstring injury.
--RB Isaiah Crowell will return from a one-game suspension. Richt says Crowell will start at running back. "We're expecting big things from him this week," Richt said.

AUBURN KEYS TO THE GAME: Auburn has to immobilize Georgia QB Aaron Murray and force him to beat it with his arm. Murray is at his most dangerous when he's able to pile up yards through the air and on the ground. On offense, Auburn has to continue to find success in the passing game to make life easier for RB Michael Dyer and the rest of the rushing attack.

AUBURN PLAYERS TO WATCH:
--RB Michael Dyer won't be tough to miss. He'll be the guy with the ball a lot on Auburn's offense. The Tigers haven't hesitated to let Dyer pile up the carries, and they certainly won't with an extra week of rest under their belt. For the season, Dyer has 186 carries for 989 yards and nine touchdowns.
--QB Clint Moseley, a redshirt sophomore, he will be looking to build off the best game of his career, one that saw him throw for 160 yards and four touchdowns in a victory over Ole Miss. Moseley finally has his full array of weapons available now that WR Emory Blake is back from an ankle injury. As he displayed on a deep pass to Quindarius Carr on Saturday, though, Moseley has no problem trying to incorporate more receivers into the offense.
--LB Eltoro Freeman, a senior known simply as "The Bull," has been an absolute animal in recent games. In the last two, Freeman has 19 tackles and in the last four, he has 7.5 tackles for losses. The on-again, off-again Freeman is certainly on right now, and the Tigers need him to stay that way for the rest of the season.

ROSTER REPORT
--DE LaDarius Owens remains "week to week" and a possibility remains that he could be done for the season, coach Gene Chizik said.
--Freshman WR Sammie Coates is back with the team, but isn't healthy enough to play this season. Coates is focused on building muscle in his calf after having to wear a cast on it for the majority of the season.


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