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Georgia looks to "Finish The Drill"

As improbable as it seemed back in August, this 106th meeting between Georgia and Auburn is indeed the SEC's Game of the Year. Both teams need a victory, for Georgia clinches the East Division title with a win, while Auburn needs a win and some help from either Alabama, Ole Miss, or Arkansas versus LSU to reach the Georgia Dome.

The South's oldest rivalry and seventh longest rivalry in the Nation began back in 1892 with Auburn defeating Georgia 10-0 in a game played at Piedmont Park. The next nine games were played in Atlanta before the game was moved to Macon for four meetings, then to Montgomery for two and then to Savannah for two, before finally settling in Columbus. For the next 39 meetings, the city on the border served as a neutral site for this rivalry, a site that the Dawgs seemed to like as they went 21-16-2. Then towards the end of the Wally Butts era, the two schools agreed to move the game to a home & home arrangement which started in Athens back in 1959. From that point forward, the rivalry has morphed into one of the stranger ones in College Football history as the Visiting Team has held the advantage on the other's turf. Auburn currently enjoys a three game winning streak with the last UGA win coming in 1998 at Jordan-Hare.

    This Saturday's game is without a doubt the biggest one for Georgia in two decades. Failing to take advantage of their first opportunity to secure the SECE title in Jacksonville put the Dawgs into a must win situation, needing wins over Ole Miss and Auburn to get to Atlanta. With one down and one to go, this is the season for Georgia whether anyone wants to admit to it or not. Indeed, this could be a defining moment in the young career of Head Coach Mark Richt. A Georgia victory over Auburn and a win over hated arch-rival Georgia Tech would give the Dawgs an 11-1 regular season record, their best since 1982 and their sixth consecutive season with at least 8 wins.

    What are the keys to this game? The pundits have all but decided that the Dawgs don't have enough gas left in their tanks to win, ten games in a row simply being too brutal to overcome. When combined with the attrition of players, particularly at Wide Receiver, and injuries to several starters on the Defense who may not be up to full speed, it's easy to understand their logic. Auburn looks to be in far better shape as they discover a diamond in the rough at RB when Carnell Williams was lost for the season at Florida and with the steadily improving play of QB Jason Campbell, this bunch of Tigers may have reached their peak at just the right time.

    Many long time followers of this storied series simply say that every Georgia-Auburn game is a mano-a-mano affair, toss out the records and the stats and get the ice bags filled and the bandages ready, for the team that's the toughest will win. While that does seem to be the defacto style of play between these two, it is generally the team that protects the ball best who wins. I believe that turnovers will be a factor in who the victor is Saturday and Mother Nature could very well dictate the terms as heavy rain is predicted for Friday with it clearing out for Saturday, but with windy and unseasonably cool temperatures in the upper 40's to low 50's at game time.

    While the conditions will be the same for both sides, I feel that they play into favor for Georgia more than Auburn. Sure, the Tigers fully intend to run the ball, a seemingly sound idea until one considers that on a soggy track, getting outside will be much harder which will force Auburn to try and run inside on a Dawg Defense which hasn't allowed such all season. Additionally, the Tigers have averaged a 64% rushing play vs. passing play percentage this season, a lack of diversity which eases Brian Van Gorder's game planning. Auburn simply hasn't asked Campbell to pass more because nobody has been able to contain Ronnie Brown yet, but I predict that will not be the case Saturday. The Tigers will have to pass effectively and complete them if they hope to outscore the Dawgs, for they will find that to be their toughest assignment, as the SEC's best red zone Defense belongs to Georgia.

    A lot more will be written before Saturday about this game and how big it is for both Georgia and Auburn, but it is far bigger for the Dawgs. A victory would help stifle further invectives from the other rivals about the Dawgs not being able to win the Big Game, about not being able to step it up under pressure, and about taking the next step up the ladder so as to stand equally with UF and UT. A Georgia win could help sway some fence-sitting recruits that everybody wants and boost the National perception about the program. And lastly, a Georgia win would bring back the swagger in the steps of a fan base that has fiercely stood by its team through the dark ages of the Kemp years and the post-Dooley era. A fan base that has filled Sanford Stadium throughout all of those trials and tribulations, keeping Georgia in the Top 10 Nationally in attendance.

    It's a little over 24 hours until the kickoff as I write this and the anxiety is steadily building. We will get the answers to many lingering questions residing in our minds Saturday, and I for one think that the Dawgs will rise to the challenge. I look for David Greene to take control of the game, for as he goes, so does the Dawg Offense. He has developed the patience to take what the opposition gives him and to recognize when to take his shots at the endzone, qualities that the Tiger defense had a lot of trouble with in Oxford. With a fresh legged Musa Smith finding himself as a dominant runner and a punishing J.T. Wall clearing the way, Auburn faces the most prolific Offense they will have seen all season. With Fred Gibson figuring out how to catch with a cast, the element that was so noticeably missing against Florida, the big play ability, gives yet another thing for the Tigers to worry about.

    I see the Georgia defense containing Ronnie Brown and forcing Campbell to pass, his inexperience will be a liability as he has faced no pass rush like he will see Saturday. No answer has been found by anyone yet to contain David Pollack ,and with the play of Will Thompson and Robert Geathers getting better by the week, Campbell will have little time to make decisions. While the status of Johnathan Sullivan's shoulder injury is troubling, the play of Swain, Veal, Anderson, Golston and Wynn has been impressive enough to make up for any slack. With Chris Clemons back at full speed, the LB Corp is sound, save a bit of concern with Boss' knee. Even Eli Manning had trouble picking on our secondary that is more confident every week, and Jason Campbell is no Eli.     

  I called this a Georgia victory back in August and I'm not backing off of it now. Our youngsters had a chance to slay one dragon in Jacksonville and came up short. This Saturday, they Finish The Drill. GATA!

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