Has it really been two years? It's amazing how time flies. My memory isn't great. But some nights, like November 16, 2013, are pretty easy to recall. The players and coaches are forced to focus on this matchup on Saturday, but we as fans can remember one of the wildest fourth quarters ever, right?
Auburn was in the midst of a shocking turn-around. At 9-1, the Tigers controlled their own destiny and needed wins over Georgia and Alabama to go to Atlanta. Auburn played arguably their most complete first half of the season and entered halftime with a 27-10 lead. Even as a paranoid Auburn fan, I felt pretty confident at the intermission. My confidence grew as the TIgers took a 37-17 lead into the fourth quarter.
Then everything changed.
Georgia's senior quarterback Aaron Murray got hot, Auburn's offense sputtered, and the Bulldogs eventually took a one point lead on an extremely questionable touchdown ruling with less than two minutes ago. After Nick Marshall was sacked on third down, it was 4th and 18 and the Tigers hopes of a championship were nearly gone.
Auburn had to get 18 yards or the game was over. It was one of those plays in a close football game that literally determines the outcome. Because of that fact, every single person in Jordan-Hare Stadium was paying attention. As Nick Marshall launched the deep ball into the air, there was a collective sigh and silence that filled the air. We all knew this was it. That ball seemed to hang in the air forever - "moments seemed to slow down" said my good friend Drew Lambert.
Perhaps you were one of those who noticed that Sammie Coates was wide open on the 20 yard dig route over the middle of the field. Those people probably were the ones that sighed as I mentioned previously. As the ball finally came back to Earth, it looked like a tailor made interception. But Josh Harvey Clemons and Tray Matthews both went up to make a play on the ball. Harvey Clemons deflected the pass into the air and for whatever reason, Ricardo Louis kept running.
After the tip, there was a split second of hope. When Ricardo got his hands on it, the stadium erupted in arguably the loudest single outburst most people have ever heard there. Everyone has their own reaction story - Adam Pope said he hugged everyone around him. He also said he's pretty sure he crushed someone's sunglasses from jumping. What did you do as that play unfolded? Feel free to comment below.
I ran up and down the rows around me giving high fives and hugs to dozens of people. "That play was totally unbelievable," Pope said. He was right. The season was resuscitated and the game was won when Dee Ford destroyed Aaron Murray as time expired.
The 2015 Game
This year's edition of the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry doesn't have a championship contender. There are two teams that seem fairly evenly matched who have both had high and low points this season. Each team also picked up massive wins last week.
Georgia started 4-0 with impressive wins each week. It all built towards a showdown with Alabama, and then things started to fall apart. The Bulldogs were embarrassed by the Crimson Tide then lost to Tennessee. They barely survived a struggling Missouri team then got destroyed by Florida. The seemingly annual Mark Richt hot seat talk got increasingly loud.
But last week, they rallied to easily beat Kentucky at home 27-3. Georgia has played three quarterbacks this year and lost their MVP Nick Chubb in the Tennessee game. Greyson Lambert has had good moments but also had moments where he looks overwhelmed. The offense is still centered around the running game, and Auburn will surely make every effort to stop the run and let their secondary play against Lambert and/or Ramsey.
The Georgia defense is statistically impressive but didn't hold up very well against Alabama, Tennessee, or Florida. Auburn is likely somewhere between those three opponents and the others that Georgia has played, so it'll be interesting to see how much success Auburn's offense can obtain.
Auburn's defense seems to be improving, and the offense showed consistent signs of life in College Station last week. We likely won't know until gameday whether Jeremy Johnson or Sean White will start against Georgia. But either way, Jovon Robinson has added a new dimension to the offense and the receivers (outside of the Arkansas game) have done a good job since the departure of Duke Williams.
Keys for Auburn to achieve bowl eligibility this week:
1. Be aggressive defensively - Greyson Lambert has struggled when he's under pressure. Auburn's pass rush has been much improved since Carl Lawson's return. It's also key to limit Georgia's rushing yards on early downs to create obvious passing situations. I think Will Muschamp trusts this unit much more now and will continue to dial up some pressures this week.
2. Efficient Offense - This year's unit isn't going to create a ton of huge plays, but they are an efficient group. Overall this season, Auburn has been good on 3rd down and lately has avoided drive-killing penalties and turnovers. Those things need to continue Saturday.
3. Generate More Points from Opportunities - This one's obvious, right? But when given the opportunity whether its on special teams, defense or offense, we need to generate more points. We have held each SEC opponent other than LSU to 27 points or less (in regulation). That should be enough to win most weeks in modern day football. But the offense has struggled in the red zone and we haven't had many of those chunk scoring plays. I'd love to see a few of those Saturday to really help our cause.