- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
ATHENS, Ga. -- If it feels like we’ve been here before in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, it’s because we have.
Saturday’s game on the Plains will be the 21st time that the Georgia-Auburn game decided the conference fate of at least one of the teams, whether it was an overall SEC or divisional title. Georgia is 11-8-1 in such situations in series history.
This time, No. 5 Georgia (8-1, 6-1 SEC) has its SEC East and BCS bowl hopes on the line, while Auburn (2-7, 0-6) is attempting to create a bright spot in an otherwise disastrous season.
Record: 2-7 (0-6 SEC)
Coach: Gene Chizik, fourth season (32-17)
Series record: Auburn leads 54-53-8
Top players: RB Tre Mason (127-706, 5.6 ypc, 6 TDs), WR Emory Blake (39-609, 15.6 ypc, 3 TDs), LB Daren Bates (86 tackles, 2 sacks, 5.5 TFL, 1 INT, 2 fumble recoveries), FS Demetruce McNeal (84 tackles, 7 TFL, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery)
Scouting the offense: Auburn is averaging 17 fewer points than Georgia (36.8 to 19.2) and 163 fewer yards (468.2 to 305.2). The Tigers have been mostly ineffective both running and passing, ranking 11th in the SEC in rushing (143.4 ypg) and 13th in passing (161.8). However, they seemed to find a spark in last week’s 42-7 win against New Mexico State with 35 points in the second half. Mason (22 carries, 152 yards) and Onterio McCalebb (8-113) crossed the 100-yard mark during the Tigers’ first win in six games.
Scouting the defense: As bad as Auburn has been on offense, it has been just as bad on defense in its first season under defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder -- who held the same position at Georgia from 2001-04 to great success. The Tigers rank among the nation’s worst teams in total defense and against the run. They rank 13th in the SEC in total defense (428.67 ypg) and 10th in scoring defense (27.33 ppg) and are 14th against the run (199.22) and ninth against the pass (229.4).
The Tigers have three of the top eight tacklers in the conference, which might seem like a good sign. But two of those tacklers -- McNeal and Jermaine Whitehead -- are defensive backs, meaning they are too often making tackles downfield.
Three keys to victory
Start quickly: The Tigers are just two weeks removed from an historic 63-21 home loss to Texas A&M where they surrendered 671 yards of total offense and trailed 42-7 at halftime. Auburn hasn’t been blown out in all of its SEC losses -- the Tigers nearly knocked off LSU before falling 12-10 in September -- but they will likely have difficulty responding if Georgia jumps out to a comfortable lead.
Hound Wallace: Last week against New Mexico State, freshman Jonathan Wallace became the Tigers’ third quarterback to start a game this season. He had an OK debut, completing 9 of 16 passes for 164 yards, one touchdown and one interception -- and most importantly, a victory. Auburn’s coaches have hardly taken off the training wheels for the freshman, however, and he will be up against a reinvigorated Georgia defense that will surely attempt to pressure him into mistakes.
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