Seeking a second straight appearance in the SEC Championship Game, the fifth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs head to Alabama to take on the Auburn Tigers on Saturday night.
Georgia has reached the SEC Championship Game four times previously, all under current head coach Mark Richt, and at 6-1 in conference play will earn its second straight trip with a win in this contest. The Bulldogs, who have won three consecutive games following their lone loss of the season -- 35-7 at South Carolina on Oct. 6 -- have only bouts with FCS foe Georgia Southern and ACC rival Georgia Tech left in the regular season. Last week, UGA took care of visiting Ole Miss in a 37-10 final.
Auburn is at the opposite end of the success spectrum, as the team is a dismal 2-7 on the year, and has yet to win an SEC game (0-6). The Tigers put the brakes on a five-game slide last weekend when they stepped out of conference to entertain New Mexico State, whipping the Aggies in a 42-7 final. Auburn's only two wins this season have come against NMSU, and in overtime versus ULM back in mid-September. AU is 2-3 at home this season.
The Georgia-Auburn series is the seventh-most played rivalry in FBS history, and the Tigers own a narrow 54-53-8 advantage despite dropping five of the last six meetings. The Bulldogs easily won last year's matchup, 45-7.
With a poised signal-caller at the controls, the Georgia offense has been highly productive this season in averaging 36.8 points and 468.2 total yards per game. Aaron Murray is completing nearly 65 percent of his passes for an average of 272 ypg, and he has thrown 21 TDs against only seven interceptions. A total of four players have caught at least 24 passes, with Tavarres King (27 rec., 551 yards, six TDs) now the top guy in the receiving corps after both Michael Bennett (24 rec., 345 yards, four TDs) and just recently, Marlon Brown (27 rec., 469 yards, four TDs), were lost for the remainder of the season due to injury.
Todd Gurley spearheads the UGA rushing attack with 857 yards and 10 TDs, while Keith Marshall adds 520 yards and five scores. Both average in excess of six yards per attempt.
The strength of the Georgia defense is its ability to curtail the opposition's passing attack (197.3 ypg, 10 TDs), as the Bulldogs have logged 19 turnovers and 20 sacks. Amarlo Herrera and Shawn Williams both have 61 tackles on the year, and Jarvis Jones has made a significant impact along the line of scrimmage with 15 TFL and 8.5 sacks.
Ole Miss actually led 10-0 last week in Athens, but the Bulldogs came to life about five minutes into the second quarter and scored the next 37 points en route to the relatively easy victory. Murray threw for 384 yards and four TDs, hitting 21-of-28 passes, and while he was sacked five times he did not throw an interception. Brown made his final collegiate game a good one as he finished with 113 yards and one TD receiving, while Gurley rumbled his way to 117 yards on 18 carries.
As for the Rebels, they finished with just 46 net rushing yards and only 234 yards total, and they were guilty of three turnovers, converted just 2-of-13 third-down tries and were on the field for fewer than 25 minutes. The Bulldogs were credited with four sacks, and Alec Ogletree led the way with 11 total tackles. His stat line also included a pick and a sack.
Despite Auburn's struggles this season, coach Richt knows his team is going to have to fight tooth and nail to come out victorious this week.
"We know they've got great players. We know that they have outstanding coaches, and we have a lot of respect for them. We know that the rival game certainly brings the best out of both teams, so we're expecting quite a challenge and quite a battle."
Ranking near the bottom of the SEC in nearly every major statistical category, it's no wonder Auburn has yet to win a conference game and is in the midst of one its worst seasons ever. The Tigers generate just 305.2 ypg in putting up a mere 19.2 ppg, and their effort in the passing game has resulted in just seven scoring strikes and a scant 161.8 ypg. The run has produced 11 trips to the end zone, but the team averages just 3.9 ypc. Four different guys have attempted a pass this season, with sophomore Kiehl Frazier connecting on just 62-of-115 attempts for 753 yards with two TDs and eight interceptions. Despite the inefficiency of his quarterbacks, Emory Blake has 39 receptions for 609 yards and three scores. Tre Mason and Onterio McCalebb have combined for 1,159 yards and 10 TDs on the ground, and each averages better than 5.5 ypc.
The Auburn defense allows roughly 200 ypg rushing, and foes have scored 17 of their 30 TDs that way. From a pass defense perspective, the Tigers give up 229.4 ypg, and they've come up with only one interception. The unit has posted 18 sacks, with Corey Lemonier being credited with five of them. Daren Bates and Demetruce McNeal both have more than 80 tackles this year, with the former owning the team's lone pick.
Auburn exploded in the second half of last week's clash with New Mexico State by turning a 7-0 halftime lead into a 42-7 rout. Both Mason and McCalebb went over 100 yards rushing in the game, and they combined for three TDs. The aerial attack saw first-time starter Jonathan Wallace complete 9-of-16 passes for 164 yards, one TD and an interception, with Blake making the most of his four catches by turning them into 78 yards. Auburn finished with a season-high 475 yards of total offense.
Defensively, the Tigers allowed just 83 net rushing yards and only one meaningless fourth-quarter TD. The Aggies lost a pair of fumbles and gave up four sacks, one of which went to McNeal, who led the team with 10 total stops and he also forced and recovered a fumble while breaking up two passes.
Auburn head coach Gene Chizik is hopeful his team will use the recent win over NMSU as a stepping stone to closing the season on a high note.
"Obviously, it was great to get a win today. That is just as simple as I can put it. I am very proud of our team because again I feel like they have worked every week. I feel like again today, they deserved it." he continued, "We have a great SEC game coming up next weekend, and it is going to be extremely tough, but we will take some things that we did a little better this week than last week, and we will try to build on those, and we will continue to work every day in practice and try to improve."