A lot on the line vs. Auburn

ATHENS -- Georgia still has a shot to earn its second SEC Championship in Mark Richt's three seasons, but that's a fact even the Bulldogs' coach has to remind himself of sometimes.

"We're still in very good shape to do some really good things," Mark Richt said this week. "This can still be remembered as one of the better years around here."

That fact tends to get lost in all the fretting over injury after injury, yet another loss to Florida and the missed chances in this wide-open collegiate season.

"This has been a tiring season," Richt acknowledged. "It's just been a little bit more of an emotional grind this year."

Still, the No. 7 Bulldogs (7-2, 4-2 SEC) probably will win their second straight Eastern Division title if they win their final three games of the season, starting today with Auburn (6-4, 4-2).

If Georgia, Tennessee and Florida all win the remainder of their league games, they will finish tied for the division lead, and the Bulldogs would be expected to go to Atlanta based on their BCS ranking.

"It's tough to look at the tiebreaker and all that stuff when you know you have to play Auburn," wide receiver Bryan McClendon said. "We really have to focus on this game because this is a must-win game."

Georgia and the Tigers meet at 3:30 p.m. in Sanford Stadium, where Auburn has won nine of 10 and five straight.

"Every year, you can see the intensity rise in practice during this week," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. "Players turn into coaches and point out what the younger players should expect heading into the game. On Sunday, a lot of guys become more vocal because it's Georgia."

Georgia has a streak of its own, 12 straight wins at home, the second-longest in school history. The last time the Bulldogs lost at home was a 24-17 defeat at the hands of Auburn in 2001. (Georgia's longest home winning streak, 24 games, was ended by Auburn in 1983.)

"You don't want anybody to beat you on your home turf," defensive tackle Gerald Anderson said. "That's like letting an intruder come into your house and beat you up."

The Tigers are led by tailback Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, who averages 99 yards per game and will be going up against the nation's No. 9 rushing defense. Auburn is more reliant on its running backs than any team in the league. The Tigers running backs account for 51 percent of their team's offense, the highest percentage in the SEC, but Georgia is allowing just 86.6 rushing yards per game.

"We have to shut down the running game," Georgia defensive end David Pollack said. "That's where it all stems from."

Georgia is coming off a bye week, which gave the Bulldogs time to get over what Richt called "the Florida blues." Auburn, which was ranked preseason No. 1 in the country by two polls, is coming off a 24-20 loss to Ole Miss that eliminated it from SEC contention.

"They don't sound like a bunch of guys who (will quit)," Richt said. "I just don't see that in them. I think we'll face a team that is a little bit mad and still feels like it has a little bit to prove."

Tuberville agreed.

"There will be no problems getting our guys ready to play this game," he said. "Both teams leave everything on the field. Everyone plays their hearts out from the beginning of the game, which makes for several memorable plays in the series."

The last three games have been decided in the last two minutes, twice on the final play of the game.

"It's going to be a 60-minute war," Georgia defensive tackle Ken Veal said. "I just feel like it's going to be that kind of game."

Despite his concerns, Richt still like his team's chances in that kind of game.

"I see a lot of good signs," he said. "They still seem to be enjoying each other and enjoying working toward the common goal we have in front of us."

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