AUBURN, Ala. — Greetings from a sunny but brisk and breezy Jordan-Hare Stadium. It’s pretty chilly right now, but it truly is a lovely day on the Loveliest Village on the Plains.
I don’t know if it’s an indication of the atmosphere that awaits us at game time, which is 11 a.m. locally, but that was by far the easiest commute into a game at Auburn that I’ve ever had. I rode in with Steve Hummer and Seth Emerson this morning and we drove straight to the media parking lot without hardly hitting the brakes. As we approached the stadium, there was very little in the way of tailgating atmosphere.
They say that about playing on the road in these noon games favors the visiting team, and you can kind of see why that is. That said, I believe this to be a huge game for coach Mark Richt and his coaching staff. And if the atmosphere isn’t intense in the stands, it needs to be in the Bulldogs’ locker room and on the sideline and on the field.
As we all know, Georgia has already lost to two of its traditional rivals in Tennessee and Florida, and Alabama, too, of course. Heading into October, the Bulldogs were ranked No. 7 and undefeated. Heading out, they were unranked and dragging three losses.
Now if there is any program that can identify with disappointment this season, it’s Auburn. Not only were the Tigers expected to contend in the West, they were picked to win the SEC Championship at Media Days in Birmingham back in July. Instead, Gus Malzahn’s fourth Auburn team finds itself in last place in its division (5-4, 2-4 SEC) and last in the league in total defense.
But it’s not Malzahn and Will Muschamp and the rest of his staff that’s feeling heat coming into this game. It’s Richt and his charges. And that’s what makes this such a monumental contest.
The Tigers seem to have gotten it together of late. Injured defensive end Carl Lawson returned two games ago and the defense is playing much better since. Quarterback Jeremy Johnson started for the first time since the second week of the season this past Saturday and Auburn went for a season-high 434 yards offense in a 26-10 win on the road against Texas A&M.
In short, the Tigers enter this game supremely confident. “Our confidence is through the roof right now,” Auburn linebacker Kris Frost said this week. We feel like we are moving in the right direction.”
Likewise, Georgia is feeling pretty good about itself coming off a 27-3 win over Kentucky. The Bulldogs unleashed the “Wild Dog” to great effect on offense and allowed the Wildcats only 180 yards. But this will be a test of a different sort today.
This is another rival game. The oldest one in the Deep South in fact. Today will be the 119th renewal, and the teams are deadlocked at 55-55-8 after all that time.
But for Richt and the Bulldogs, it’s not about all those years. It’s about this year. It’s about winning games against your rivals, and Georgia has done enough of that this season. It’s Auburn today and it’s Georgia Tech in two weeks.
As ever, the Bulldogs need to win them both this year. And that starts today.
Travel roster update
There’s nothing major in terms of who did and didn’t travel for Georgia. Here are the notable players who didn’t make the trip:
- DL Jonathan Ledbetter
- WR Shaquery Wilson
- TB AJ Turman
- CB Devin Bowman
Pyke re-claiming starting spot?
Greg Pyke, who came off the bench last week, may be back in the starting lineup today. The junior was getting the first-team snaps at right guard during warm-ups, rather than Dyshon Sims.
Sims started in Pyke’s place last week, the first time Pyke hadn’t started since the beginning of the 2014 season. But Pyke subbed in for Sims during the game and received plenty of snaps.
Matthews active for Auburn
Former Georgia safety Tray Matthews is indeed in uniform for Auburn today, after missing last week’s trip to Texas A&M with an injury.
Matthews, a sophomore, transferred to Auburn after being dismissed from Georgia in 2014 for an accumulation of off-field incidents. He wasn’t able to play last year because of transfer rules, so this will be the first time he’s faced his former team.