2012 Media Days: Legge's Look at Auburn

BIRMINGHAM - Dean Legge's look at the Auburn Tigers.

November 12, 2012
Jordan-Hare Stadium
Overall Record: 53-54-8
Last 10 Meetings: 7-3
Richt vs. Auburn: 7-4
As it turns out Cam Newton was pretty important for Auburn – not than anyone was arguing the opposite.

Now Auburn, who is still quite young after a rebuilding year in 2011, will try its best to get back into the heavyweight fight that is the SEC West these days. It won't be easy – particularly with big brother Alabama claiming two of the last three BCS titles and a recruiting stockpile better than anyone this side of the Mississippi.

Auburn will know pretty quickly just how good they are as critical tests with Clemson (at the Dome in Atlanta) and Mississippi State (on the road) will provide a litmus test for those on the Plains.

Again, Auburn is going to be young. They are likely a year away from inflicting serious damage in the SEC West, but they are probably in position to knock off LSU, Alabama, Georgia or Arkansas – the top teams on their difficult-but-manageable schedule.

All of Auburn's critical conference tests are separated by weeks with winnable games or off weekends. The three-week stretch – hosting LSU, an off weekend and then hosting Arkansas – will likely tell if this Auburn team is a serious contender for a step up in the bowl hierarchy. It seems ambitious to think the Tigers have enough firepower to win the West. There isn't enough margin for error with a schedule that includes all of the traditional West foes, new combatant Texas A&M and old frenemy Georgia.

Auburn player to watch:

Daren Bates
5-11, 205
Undersized in a conference renowned for playmaking linebackers, Daren Bates does just fine despite his physical limitations. The Memphis native started 13 games as a freshman in 2009 and nine during the Tigers national championship run in 2010. Last season he led the team with 104 total tackles (8.5 for loss) and added 2.5 sacks. Now entering his final season on the Plains, Bates will receive the tutelage of new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. During his time at Georgia and for the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars and Atlanta Falcons, VanGorder created a reputation as an excellent mentor at the linebacker position.

What the Dawgs must do:
This is a tricky one for the Dawgs… why? Bulldog fans may not take Auburn seriously because of a poor record that is simply a reflection of a difficult schedule. The Tigers' record, however, might not be the best indicator of how good they are. Auburn is young, but they could be good pretty quick – like by the middle part of November after absorbing a few months of learning at the hands of the not-so-fun SEC West. But Georgia's annual fight with Auburn comes down to the run game – no matter the form of offense either team runs. The team that effectively runs the football in this classic SEC rivalry will be the winner – always has been… probably always will be.

Inside the numbers:

Auburn's problem in 2011 was scoring. Of the five best teams the Tigers played (South Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, LSU and Alabama) they were able to score only 12.2 points a game. The Tigers managed to win one of the games – a 16-13 fight in Columbia against the Gamecocks. But the other four teams outclassed Auburn by an average score of 43-11.

Recruiting Implications:
Significant, but not the highest of Georgia's rivals. I have written many, many times that recruiting is a zero-sum game. Two teams can't sign the same player – only one school can. At the same time, Auburn and Alabama can't both be effective in Georgia – only one of them can, and right now that's Bama. I have to add that Auburn is coming along in Georgia, but the Tide is a bigger danger at the moment for Georgia. It might not continue to be that way, but Nick Saban and the Tide have correctly diagnosed that Atlanta is a recruiting hotbed. The focus of Bama on Atlanta makes Auburn's recruiting of the city a little more difficult (it makes Georgia's recruiting of Atlanta more difficult, too). Still, Auburn and Georgia are always going to fight over players from west Georgia.

More than any other SEC power besides Georgia, the Tigers have had success in the Peach State.

Last year's prediction: The team that effectively runs the football in this classic SEC rivalry will be the winner. Unlike the Tigers, Georgia isn't replacing the bulk of their offensive line coming into 2011. That's going to be a difficult thing for Auburn to overcome in the fall. This year, it seems, a newcomer could also affect the outcome of this contest – his name is Isaiah Crowell.

Crowell blistered the Tigers for 132 yards and a touchdown, and Georgia ran for over 300 yards as they beat the Tigers by the most lopsided score since the Dawgs' 41-0 win in 1941.

Baccari Rambo scores on an interception in 2011. (Dean Legge/Dawg Post)
Click the above image for Dawg Post's look at the South's Oldest Rivalry over the years

11-Year History vs. Auburn

2001 – The Bulldogs lost a classic to the Tigers on the last play of the game. First-year coach Mark Richt called a running play with only moments remaining in the game, but the Tigers stopped Jasper Sanks near the goal line to preserve the 24-17 win.

2002 – Georgia defeated Auburn 24-21 on the Plains after a furious second-half comeback to win the SEC East title for the first time in school history. On fourth and goal from the 19-yard line, David Greene found Michael Johnson for the game-winning score in the Auburn student section end zone.

2003 – Georgia's defense dominated the Tigers in Athens on the way to winning the SEC East for the second year in a row. The Dawgs' 26-7 win was punctuated by Odell Thurman's interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter as the Tigers were nearing a score.

2004 – Auburn's undefeated Tigers dropped Georgia 24-6 in dominating fashion on the Plains. The Tigers ended Georgia's hopes of winning a third SEC East title in a row with a powerful defense and a run game reminiscent of the Auburn teams of the 1980s. Still, the Tigers were not allowed to play for the BCS National Title that year – having been passed over by USC and Oklahoma. They would be the last undefeated SEC team in the decade to be left out of the BCS Championship Game.

2005 – Auburn's John Vaughn kicked the game-winning 20-yard field goal as time expired to give the Tigers a 31-30 win in Athens. It was Auburn's second win in a row in the series. The play was set up by Brandon Cox's 62-yard pass play to Devin Aromashodu on fourth-and-10 from the Auburn 35-yard line. The Bulldogs could have secured the SEC East title with a win, but wrapped up the division with a win over Kentucky a week later.

2006 – Matthew Stafford and Georgia shocked #5 Auburn 37-15 on the Plains in one of the biggest upsets in series history. The Bulldogs had been knocked off by Kentucky the week before and few gave them hope of coming away with a win. Tra Battle's multiple interceptions – including one for a touchdown – killed the Tigers that day. Georgia left Auburn fans at Jordan-Hare stunned.

2007 – Georgia wore black uniforms for the first time in school history as the Bulldogs ran past Auburn in Athens. Knowshon Moreno ran for 101 yards and two touchdowns while the Georgia crowd – also decked out in black – cheered wildly as the Dawgs intercepted four Auburn passes and scored the final 28 points of the game that magical November afternoon.

2008 – Georgia struggled and needed a late stand from its defense to beat lowly Auburn 17-13 on the Plains. The Bulldogs struggled to score against the Tigers, but found a way to win, albeit unimpressively, on the way to another 10-win season.

2009 – For the first time since the 1940s the Bulldogs won four games in a row against the Tigers with the 31-24 win in Athens. The Tigers jumped out to a lead, but Georgia rallied behind a strong run game to lead late. That's when the Georgia defense stopped the Tigers on the last possession of the game for the win.

2010 – Auburn beat Georgia 49-31 on the way to the 2010 SEC and BCS titles. Georgia had built a 21-7 lead, but the Tigers, led by Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, exploded for 49 points on the Dawgs. It was the second-most points allowed by the Dawgs in the Mark Richt Era.

2011 – Baccari Rambo scored a touchdown on an interception return as Georgia routed Auburn 45-7 in Athens. The Bulldogs built up a 35-7 halftime lead before cruising in the second half to win in a blowout. The win was Georgia's most decisive over the Tigers since 1946.

Moment of the Decade:

David Greene connects with Michael Johnson to give Georgia a 24-21 win over the Tigers and its first SEC East Championship. The Bulldogs ended the season capturing the SEC title and the 2003 Sugar Bowl.

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