Hard hits have characterized most of the 115-year rivalry between Georgia and Auburn more than hard feelings.
So many of Georgia’s veterans don’t want the nastiness that sprouted in the final stages of last year’s game to carry into Saturday.
“It was definitely a game that nearly got out of hand,” Georgia tight end Aron White said. “Anytime you have a rivalry game, there’s going to be some questionable things with guys, emotions get the better of them to a degree. … It definitely got ugly at times. There were definitely some plays you’d like to take back. But at the end of the day, they’re a good team. We’re a good team. Even though there are a lot of the same players going to be out there, it’s a completely different feel.”
The quality of sportsmanship took a step backward in the fourth quarter of last year’s 49-31 win by Auburn . There were several shoving matches, major penalties and a couple of late ejections of Auburn players. The image that stuck with Georgia fans after the game was Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley’s borderline late hit on quarterback Aaron Murray.
“Last year has nothing to do with this year at all,” Murray said. “We’re two completely different teams and we’re not going to worry about any of the chippiness from last year at all. It was extremely physical. But you’re going against an SEC defense. Every team you’re going to play against is going to have guys who can knock the snot out of you. And you’ve got to be ready for it and be ready to take the abuse and the pounding. We didn’t do that very well last year. We did it for about a half. But if we want to win big games and big-time rivalry games, we’ve got to play all four quarters.”
Auburn does not think much of the bad blood from last year to spill over either. A year has passed and both teams are in different places in the standings.
“That’s always part of the deal,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “Unfortunately, some things happened last year that I wish didn’t The bottom line is we’re always trying to do things the right way, and I don’t expect there to be any issues at all.”
Unlike Georgia ’s rivalries with Florida and Georgia Tech, fans don’t tend to express unabashed hatred for the opposing schools. The atmosphere during Georgia-Auburn week is usually more civil than similar buildups before playing the Gators or Yellow Jackets.
“It’s always been hard-hitting,” former Georgia coach and Auburn player Vince Dooley said. “I think there’s so much in common. Someone descried it as feuding cousins and I think that’s a good description. It’s a great rivalry. But there’s a lot of similarities – a lot of respect for both institutions. It’s a hard-hitting football game and the fact that a lot of Georgia football players at Auburn and that adds to it.”
Georgia and Auburn went into last year’s meeting on diverging trajectories. Auburn was unbeaten and on track for a Southeastern Conference title and an eventual national championship. Georgia had played up and down all year and eventually finished with its first losing record in Mark Richt’s tenure.
The game started well for Georgia as the Bulldogs took a 21-7 first-quarter lead. But Auburn, led by eventual Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, roared back by outscoring the Bulldogs 42-10 in the final three quarters.
“I remember we were up by about two touchdowns and the next thing you know, they’re gone,” Georgia cornerback Sanders Commings said. “A lot of that had to do with Cam Newton. He was great. I wish I had the opportunity to play him again but he’s gone now.”
Two of Auburn ’s dominant personalities from last season, Fairley and Newton , are in the NFL now. Georgia returns many of its primary producers but the Auburn game doesn’t resonate with them as much as the 6-7 season.
“The whole team kind of wanted to move forward from last year,” Georgia defensive lineman Abry Jones said. “The only thing we wanted to dwell on about with last year was our losing record. Individual games I don’t think we wanted to dwell on. But seeing the type of lead we had and how we gave it away is going to add a little extra motivation for us this week in practice.”
This year, the roles are reversed to a point. Georgia rides a seven-game winning streak and enters November alone in first place of the SEC East. Auburn is 6-3 but is in the bottom half of the SEC West. Georgia has more at stake than just ego so staying on an even keel and winning make more sense than settling year-old scores. But it is a rivalry game and some people have long memories.
“It’s both, we play a whole lot more disciplined now and we’re a more mentally tough team,” Georgia linebacker Cornelius Washington said. “I don’t think anything they do is going to make us all discombobulated or anything – or get us out of our game plan or get us out of what we’re trying to do. I’m really not all that worried about there being any kind of trouble or anything like that.”