The Battle of Athens

Auburn-Georgia is famously known as the “Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.” In a series noted for teams winning on the road, there was a time when Auburn dominated in Athens. But no more.

Imagine being a freshman at Auburn University in 2005 and making your way to Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia, for another edition of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. Imagine sitting in the Georgia student section with Auburn facing fourth-and-10 with 2 minutes left. Realization that the Bulldogs are one stop from getting the better of your beloved Tigers starts to set in but then Auburn quarterback Brandon Cox steps up in the pocket and finds Devin Aromashodu for 63 yards. A few plays later, the Tigers seal the victory with a John Vaughn field goal and your first foray into Athens is successful as Auburn outlasts Georgia 31-30. It might come as a surprise to some, but that game 13 years ago was the last time the Tigers won in Athens.

Separated by only 181 miles, Auburn and Georgia’s teams are chockfull of players from the other state. In fact, legendary UGA coach Vince Dooley played at Auburn, while revered Auburn head man Pat Dye suited up for the Bulldogs.

A series in which Auburn won 11 of 14 matchups at Sanford Stadium from 1979 to 2005 has seen the Bulldogs reel off five consecutive victories at home and 10 of 13 overall against the Tigers dating back to 2006. This recent surge has put Georgia ahead in all-time meetings 58-56-8.

Photo courtesy Georgia Athletics

The rivalry’s heyday arguably took place in the ‘80s when Georgia and Auburn combined for seven SEC titles and fielded some of the best teams in league history. From Georgia’s 1980 national title squad that included freshman phenom Herschel Walker to the 1983 SEC champion Auburn team that had some guy named “Bo”, the ‘80s belonged to the Bulldogs and Tigers.

With the series a virtual deadlock, both programs have celebrated the thrills of victory and the agonies of defeat. Georgia fans point to 2002 when quarterback David Green found receiver Michael Johnson in the back of the end zone to ensure a 24-21 victory in Jordan-Hare Stadium and a berth to the SEC Championship Game. Of course, Tigers fans maintain that Johnson pushed defensive back Horace Willis and the play should have never counted.

Auburn fans point to 2010 when Heisman-winning quarterback Cam Newton led the Tigers back from 21-7 down to claim a 49-31 victory. The win secured a spot in the SEC Championship, which Auburn won en route to the program’s second national title.

Both fan bases probably chuckle when memories of UGA V, Georgia’s beloved mascot, lunging at Auburn’s Robert Baker in the Bulldogs’ 56-49 four overtime win in 1996 come to mind. And who could ever forget 2013’s improbable fourth-and-18 answered prayer—a heave from Nick Marshall that bounced off two Georgia defenders into the hands of Ricardo Louis?

Georgia inside linebacker Roquan Smith (3) Atlanta, Georgia – Saturday, December 2, 2017. The Georgia Bulldogs defeated the Auburn Tigers, 28-7, in the inaugural 2017 SEC Championship Game at Mercedes Benz Stadium. Photo by Perry McIntyre Jr. | Courtesy Georgia Athletics

This year, the fifth-ranked Dawgs come into Saturday night’s showdown against Auburn fresh off clinching the SEC East in convincing fashion against Kentucky. Georgia running backs Elijah Holyfield and D’Andre Swift rushed for 115 and 156 yards in the 34-17 triumph. Despite some clamor for highly touted freshman Justin Fields, Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm (17 TDs) has rebounded from the LSU debacle, where he completed less than 50 percent of his passes and threw two interceptions in a 36-16 loss, and put together back-to-back solid performances. If Fromm can keep the Tiger defense honest and stay out of third-and-long, the Georgia offense should continue its recent upswing.

Auburn’s 2018 campaign has been filled with tremendous highs and gruesome lows. From an impressive season-opening win over Pac-12 favorite Washington to a mind-numbing loss to middling Tennessee, the Tigers’ inconsistent play has left pundits and fans searching to determine who this team is. However, the Tigers defense has played well this season and comes into Saturday allowing just 17.3 points per game.

Linebacker Deshaun Davis has been the catalyst for defensive coordinator Kevin Steele’s unit. The 5-foot-11 senior leads Auburn with 85 tackles and 10.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage. For Auburn to have a shot against the Bulldogs, Davis and the front seven will need to slow down the potent Georgia rushing attack.

Ramik Wilson (51) tackles the Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall (14) during an SEC football game between the University of Georgia Bulldogs and the Auburn Tigers on Saturday Nov. 16, 2013 in Auburn, Al (Photo by Sean Taylor) | Courtesy Georgia Athletics

A series that dates back to 1892 has often found the visiting team coming away victorious. With Auburn owning an 18-14 record “Between the Hedges” (including 5 straight from 1993-2001) and Georgia 16-12-2 at Jordan-Hare, history points to a Tiger road victory.

Unfortunately for Auburn, Fromm will reap the benefits of the stout Bulldog run game and lead his team to victory in Athens on Saturday night and on to its matchup with No. 1 Alabama in the SEC Championship Game on December 1. Once a promising season filled with visions of championships will continue to be a mixed bag of results for Auburn. H&A

Kickoff for Auburn versus Georgia is set for 6 p.m. CST on ESPN

All photos courtesy Georgia Athletics

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