War Eagle, everybody! Spring practice is now only two weeks away tomorrow. I think folks are especially eager this year to hear the news on how the new schemes are progressing. While it's unlikely that a full-blown offense and defense will be shown on A-Day, we'll get to see the team's base formations and plays, and we'll see how well the players excute.
Football is a funny business. Ten years ago, Gene Chizik and Brian vanGorder were gearing up as competing defensive coordinators for rival SEC schools. Auburn and Georgia would meet three times with Chizik and vanGorder at the helms of their respective defenses, and the two teams waged some titanic defensive battles. It will be interesting this spring to see how the two coaches now work together.
Philosophically, the two coaches were similar in their approach to stopping the run a decade ago. vanGorder was a bit more multiple with his coverages, and Chizik was a bit more extreme with moving his fronts around, but the two guys were both basically cover-2 guys that liked their defense to swarm to the football. vanGorder claims to have evolved from those days, but I'm not sure we'll see it on A-Day. Spring games typically feature base defenses and little blitzing.
Read a recap of the first Chizik vs. vanGorder battle after the jump!
In 2002, Auburn hosted #5 Georgia on a gray, chilly, drizzly afternoon in Jordan Hare Stadium. Georgia was close to running the table on the season, but had just lost to Ron Zook's Florida Gators. Auburn had survived a mid-season swoon by changing quarterbacks, and had rebounded with 3 straight wins, over LSU, Ole Miss, and Louisiana Monroe.
The Tigers got the ball first, and attacked vanGorder's defense with quarterback keepers and swing passes to Ronnie Brown. This caught Georgia off guard, but they bowed up in the red zone as Sean Jones picked Jason Campbell off at the nine yard line, and raced some 60 yards the other way. A desperation tackle by Campbell prevented the pick-six.
Georgia knocked out one first down, but Chizik's jumping front got after the Bulldog backfield, and Georgia's Billy Bennett missed a long field goal attempt. From there, the Tigers knocked out another first down on a Campbell scramble, then Ronnie Brown broke loose on 3rd and 1 against a sell-out Georgia front. Brown tore through the middle of the field, and sprinted for a 53-yard touchdown! Auburn led 7-0.
Chizik's defense forced a quick stop, but Roderick Hood fumbled the Jonathan Kilgo punt at midfield, and UGA was back in business. The Tiger defense against stiffened after a first down, and Bennett this time was good from 43 yards. Auburn led 7-3.
Georgia quickly picked off a Jason Campbell bomb, but could do little with it. Both offenses bogged down a bit, and not even change-of-pace quarterback D. J. Shockley could spark the Bulldogs. The Tigers finally started a drive with four minutes left in the half, after a 36 yard punt return by Roderick Hood. Auburn knocked out a drive featuring nearly all running, by Brown and Campbell. On first and goal from the two, Auburn coordinator Bobby Petrino crossed vanGorder up, as Jason Campbell hit fullback Brandon Johnson for the touchdown. Auburn led at the half, 14-3.
One thing that epitomized the early Mark Richt teams at Georgia was a tough, never-say-die demeanor, especially on defense. We're really hoping coach vanGorder instills that at Auburn going forward. In order to protect Georgia quarterback David Greene, the Bulldogs began the second half with a successful running game, and some timely passes. The folks in the stands thought Georgia got by with a couple of offensive pushes by the Georgia receivers, but in any event the Bulldogs drove the 3rd quarter kickoff down to the Auburn one yard line. David Greene sneaked it over himself, and Georgia cut the Auburn lead to 14-10.
Auburn answered by running right at the Bulldogs. Tre Smith, Ronnie Brown and Jason Campbell plowed into the line, and Campbell broke off the last 21 yards on a quarterback draw. Auburn led 21-10, and was seemingly back in control of the game. A first down sack of David Greene had the Tigers pumped, but Musa Smith erased that with a 32-yard draw play on the next snap. Georgia went back to the quick passes, then beat Auburn deep with a 31-yard strike inside the five. The Tigers forced a fumble, but lineman Jon Stinchcomb recovered the loose ball in the end zone for a Bulldog score. Near the end of the 3rd quarter, Auburn's lead was cut to 21-17.
On the next possession, fullback Brandon Johnson left the game with an injury. Auburn's offense went with him, vanGorder's D flexed its muscle, and the Tigers shanked a series of sub-40 yard punts for much of the rest of the contest. Auburn did not pick up a first down in the next 5 drives. Gene Chizik's defense hung tough, forcing a fumble recovered by Mark Brown and an interception by Tavarious Robinson. The Tigers also stopped Georgia on downs with just 2:33 left in the game.
The Tigers still could not knock out a first down. Georgia burnt all of its timeouts, Damon Duval shanked another punt, and Georgia had 1:58 left to work with. On second down, Georgia's Fred Gibson got by with a blatant push-off, and the pass went for 41 yards down to the Auburn 14. Auburn's rush stepped up. David Greene threw three incomplete passes, sandwiched around a false start. The Bulldogs were 4th and 15 from the 19 yard line. Under a big rush, Greene lobbed a hail Mary for the back of the end zone. Auburn corner Horace Willis was there, but somehow the ball got by him. Michael Johnson went up and got it, and Georgia had the touchdown. The Bulldogs led for the first time in the game, 24-21.
With only 1:21 left in the game, and tailback Ronnie Brown now also out of the game, Auburn had little chance against vanGorder's defense. The Tigers lost the ball on downs, and Georgia had eeked out a victory in a tough, hard-nosed contest. Auburn would rebound with a shocking 17-7 upset of 9th ranked Bama in Tuscaloosa, and a 13-9 Cap One Bowl win over Joe Pa and the Penn State Nittany Lions. Georgia would smash Arkansas in the SEC title game, and downed ACC Champ Florida State in the Sugar Bowl. The Bulldogs finished 3rd in the nation, behind Ohio State and Miami.