AUBURN, Ala. – As soon as Auburn players returned to the athletic complex Sunday following a much-needed win, the past was officially the past.
It’s Georgia week. Time to renew the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, against the fifth-ranked team in the country in the driver’s seat for an SEC East championship within shouting distance of a national title game berth.
“Being realistic, we have nothing to lose,” defensive end Corey Lemonier said. “To ruin their dreams of going to the BCS championship, that would make our season.”
The Bulldogs (8-1, 6-1 SEC) are led by quarterback Aaron Murray, who paces the conference’s third-leading offense. They seized control of the East from Florida two weeks ago, and they’re coming off a 37-10 win to cool off Ole Miss.
“Georgia’s playing great football right now. No question about it, they’re pretty much clicking on all cylinders,” head coach Gene Chizik said. “It’s just going to be one of those games that players love to play in. Georgia’s got a lot riding on the line, so I’m sure they’re going to be extremely fired up about what the results of this game can mean for them.”
Twenty-two Tigers (2-7, 0-6) on the roster – including wide receiver Quan Bray, defensive tackle Gabe Wright and three starting defensive backs – call Georgia home.
“It’s a personal game,” sophomore cornerback Jonathan Mincy said. “Growing up being a Georgia fan, and not going there, we definitely want the W.”
Future plans: Lemonier, considered Auburn’s most pro-ready underclassman, said he’s not sure what he’ll do for the 2013 football season, between staying for his senior year or testing the waters in next April’s NFL Draft.
He declined to divulge whether he’ll send in the proper forms to receive an approximate draft grade on where he’d likely get selected.
“It’s all about performance,” Lemonier said. “It’s self-explanatory. I’m still just trying to focus on the season.”
Lemonier’s five sacks lead the Tigers. He ranks ninth in Auburn history with 16.5 sacks for his career.
Man in the middle: Junior middle linebacker Jake Holland figures to start against Georgia, after retaking his job against New Mexico State.
Freshman Cassanova McKinzy made 12 tackles in his starting debut at Vanderbilt, but he has become something of a project going forward.
“He’s just a young guy that’s really got to continue to learn,” Chizik said of McKinzy. “We all know that he’s very talented, we all know that he’s going to be a very good player, he’s physically gifted. He’s just got to continue to learn the game, and get aligned properly and do all those things within the defense that our defense is going to require for him to do.”
Chizik did decline to officially name Holland the starter.
Injury report: The remainder of sophomore tight end C.J. Uzomah’s season is in flux, after getting hurt in practice last week.
“That’s an unfortunate situation and we’re not sure exactly where we’re at with that,” Chizik said. “Kind of a freak accident with his hand. We’re going to keep close tabs on it but that’ll be touch-and-go.”
Blocking-focused sophomore Brandon Fulse has become Auburn’s only active true tight end. True freshman Ricky Parks is still planning to redshirt, according to Chizik.
Defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker has missed the past two games, but Chizik’s encouraged by his recovery from an undisclosed injury. Defensive end Dee Ford played about 30 snaps Saturday on the mend, while cornerback Chris Davis (concussion) remains a question mark.
Handyman: Blake Burgess had “no idea” he’d ever get a chance to catch a pass at Auburn, walking on as a center, but that’s exactly what happened Saturday when he hauled in a 10-yard reception from Jonathan Wallace.
He loved hearing his name announced, since it was the first time he’d ever caught a pass in a football game. Ever.
“When they say career, they mean career. The entire spread,” Burgess said.
Burgess is a unique blend – a fullback slash H-back slash tight end slash guard slash center slash tackle. He’s practiced everywhere on offense except quarterback and wide receiver.
“It’s hard. But if you love to play the game, that’s the best part,” Burgess said. “I’ve gotten to learn every position. It helps me with techniques, what everybody’s doing on the field.”