ATHENS — Greetings from Sanford Stadium, where there’s a chill in the air and excitement in the air over tonight’s matchup between your No. 5-ranked Georgia Bulldogs and the No. 24 Auburn Tigers. A makeshift Blackout has commenced under the lights as the Bulldogs prepare for just their second night game of the season and their home game in more than a month.
It will be merely the 123rd time these two teams have met in a football contest. Not only is it the “The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry” since it has been going on since 1892, but probably could be called the “Most Competitive Old Rivalry” as only two games separate it from being dead even over all those games. Georgia leads 58-56-8, but only after winning four of the last five games and 10 of the last 13 since 2006.
Of course, that goes back to the last time Auburn won between the hedges. The Tigers upset the No. 9 Bulldogs 31-30 with on a long pass and fumble recovery touchdown with 1:57 to play. The defeat came on the same day Georgia clinched the Eastern Division championship and punched its ticket for Atlanta. So that game was the very definition of bittersweet.
Fortunately for Bulldogs’ fans, UGA made good on its SEC title game appearance and knocked off LSU 34-14. But that loss to Auburn also assured there was nothing greater in line for the Bulldogs.
And that’s the same thing we have here today. Yes, Georgia will still get to face Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. But the that whole return to the playoffs narrative will be out the window. That’s what’s on the line. Forget regional pride, forget ancient rivalries, forget recruiting. Plain and simple, it’s about preserving a one-loss record for that Dec. 1 national championship rematch with Alabama.
And that’s why the Bulldogs should be primed and focus for tonight’s matchup against Auburn (6-3, 3-3). It helps that it’s at night and UGA Spike Squad and their fellow students will be going bananas. And all that’s great.
But like most SEC games — and this one in particular — it’ll come down to the battle in the trenches. And tonight, in particular, the challenge there will be in Georgia’s young and somewhat gimpy offensive line handling the Tigers’ hosses on the defensive front. Derrick Brown, Nick Coe, Marlon Davidson and Dontavius Russell and their backups represent the best defensive line the Bulldogs have faced all season.
Meanwhile, one of the main things Mike Griffith and I will be watching for tonight will be the availability of Georgia starters center Lamont Gaillard (knee) and right guard Cade Mays (shoulder/neck). Left tackle Andrew Thomas is also still bothered by an ankle injury that has dogged him all season.
The good news is redshirt sophomore Ben Cleveland looks ready to come back after breaking a fibula bone against Missouri seven weeks ago. He could return to the starting lineup today. We’ll be updating that and all other breaking news from the Dan Magill Press Box tonight.
Brandon Adams and Jeff Sentell are also here in Athens and will be doing their usual talk-show stuff before and after the game. Our AJC colleagues Mark Bradley and Tim Tucker are next to us here in the press box, too, so there should plenty of stories to read about tonight’s historic game. If you don’t already have, download the DawgNation app to your smart phones so you’ll know as soon as something has been posted.
Hope everybody has a great night and a safe ride home.
GAME DAY PRIMERS
- LIVE UPDATES all night from Sanford Stadium
- No. 5 Bulldogs say Auburn on other sideline all the incentive they need
- Kirby Smart tackles (more) tough QB questions on SEC Network
- 5 things to watch for in Georgia-Auburn matchup
- WSB Weather: Be sure to bundle up tonight
- SEC Nation coming back to Athens for UMass game