The defending national champion, Auburn has lost three games so far this season, and all of those defeats have come against teams currently ranked in the top-11 of the BCS standings. Wins and losses have been rotated evenly over the last five games for the somewhat inconsistent Tigers, who are coming off a 41-23 victory over Ole Miss. Since that game took place back on October 29, Gene Chizik has had ample time to prepare his club for Saturday's duel.
"It was good to get back out there on the practice field, there was a lot of excitement and enthusiasm," said Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Rood after the players returned from a week off.
Georgia opened the season with a loss to Boise State, and the club then suffered a narrow setback to South Carolina. Mark Richt clearly heard the cries for his job, but the head coach of the 'Dawgs righted the ship and has his club on a seven-game win streak.
"I know that the players all understand what is at stake and that we are in a better position now and do control our destiny," Georgia head coach Mark Richt said on Sunday. "We have been fighting like mad for that ever since the moment South Carolina beat us. The thing that has gotten us this far on a weekly basis is just trying to take care of business."
Auburn holds a narrow 54-52-8 series lead over Georgia, but the Bulldogs have won six of the last 10 matchups.
Last season, the Tigers lit up scoreboards weekly with Cam Newton at the helm of the offense. Without him, Auburn is understandably less potent, averaging 26.5 ppg and 354.2 total ypg. The Tigers are still a threat when running the ball, averaging 191.1 ypg at a clip of 4.5 ypc. Michael Dyer is the star of the backfield, as he has compiled 989 rushing yards and nine touchdowns to date. On a down note, the quarterback play has been rather mediocre, as neither Barrett Trotter or Clint Moseley has been able to provide even half of what Newton did a year ago.
Moseley was under center last week against Ole Miss and did play brilliantly, however, so it remains to be seen if his performance was a sign of things to come or just an anomaly against a poor defensive squad. He completed 12-of-15 passes for 177 yards and a touchdown, while Michael Dyer rushed for 177 yards and a score.
It is surprising that Auburn is surrendering 27.7 ppg and 400.7 total ypg, as strong defense was a major key to last year's title run. The Tigers have yielded 16 rushing touchdowns and are permitting foes to pound out 185.7 ypg on the ground. There is plenty of room in the pass defense as well, and the fact that opponents are moving the chains on 47 percent of their third down conversion attempts is disappointing.
Ole Miss has been unable to put up big offensive numbers all season, so the fact that the Rebels were able to reach the end zone three times against Auburn while compiling 382 total yards is a bit disappointing. Sure, Chizik's crew won the game, but the performance could have certainly been better.
"We had our mistakes that were costly, but we came back in the second half and we made plays and fought back," said defensive end Corey Lemonier.
The Bulldogs will return RBs Carlton Thomas, Isaiah Crowell and Ken Malcome for this weekend's affair after the three were suspended for one game. In their absence, redshirt sophomore Brandon Harton stepped up to gain 98 yards and a touchdown in his first career start.
"We liked what he did. There was no doubt about that," said Richt of Harton, who obviously shined in the 63-16 victory over a poor New Mexico State squad last week.
Nine different players scored touchdowns for the Bulldogs in the romp, and quarterback Aaron Murray completed 18-of-23 passes for 238 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions. Murray has guided the Bulldogs to 34.8 ppg and 428.8 ypg to date, and he has thrown for 2,060 yards with 23 touchdowns against eight INTs. Orson Charles and Tavarres King have both scored five receiving TDs, and Crowell returns to build on his 689 rushing yards and four TDs.
Opponents are scoring just 19.9 ppg against UGA, which is permitting a minuscule total of 91.1 rushing ypg at a clip of 3.0 ypc. Also impressive is the fact that they have notched 12 INTs while surrendering a mere eight TD passes.