AUBURN, Ala. — Gene Chizik might worry if the only opponents left on his schedule were Alabama A&M, Middle Tennessee and California Polytechnic.
That’s not the case, obviously. Auburn’s season is definitely over two weeks and three games from now, but there are two pretty important games remaining. Georgia and Alabama are in line to face off in the SEC championship came.
The in-state Crimson Tide are in the driver’s seat to defend their national title in the BCS championship game, but the Bulldogs could have something to say about that with a crack at Alabama in Atlanta.
Ah, but that’s still an if, not yet a when. No team in the conference, and likely the nation, could be more firmly in a spoiler role than Auburn (2-7, 0-6 SEC), which remembers how that home-stretch pressure closed in during November.
“We have been on the other side of that, and there’s a lot of motivation,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “Just by the nature of the game itself, absolutely it means a lot. I think when you look at the two rivalry games we have left, they all understand what it is.”
Twenty-two Tigers hail from Georgia, but Auburn hopes to be all in on trying to shock the No. 5 Bulldogs (8-1, 6-1) tonight in the 116th installment of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry at Jordan-Hare Stadium (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2).
An Auburn upset — the Tigers are two-touchdown underdogs — would send Florida to the league title matchup in Georgia’s place as well as gain revenge for last year’s beating in Athens.
“It was very hard. It was very hard,” said Auburn junior defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker, a Warner Robins, Ga., native who was heavily recruited to Georgia. “You have a little short note of them in the back of your mind, probably the score, so you remember that and how embarrassing that was for university pride.”
Georgia poured it on offensively at Sanford Stadium in last year’s meeting of ranked rivals, a 45-7 victory as the Bulldogs rolled up 30 first downs and 528 total yards while smothering the Tigers into just nine first downs and 195 yards.
The memory etched in sophomore defensive tackle Gabe Wright’s mind was seeing the injury of veteran cornerback T’Sharvan Bell, who gave an impassioned postgame speech.
“That hits me more than anything, seeing a guy that wanted to fight,” said Wright, a Carver product. “I think at that point when he got hurt — I’m not sure if it was over — but seeing a guy crying his guts out, it just hurt him.”
Quarterback Jonathan Wallace, from Central-Phenix City, won his starting debut last Saturday 42-7 over New Mexico State to bust the Tigers’ five-game skid. He understands Georgia brandishes a whole different set of athletes.
“It’s a win, but it’s in the back of our minds now and we have to look towards Georgia,” Wallace said. “I’m going to step up to the plate — that’s what this game is about, is competing. It’s just one of those things where I have to grow up quick. I’m ready for the challenge. It’s going to be a lot of fun Saturday.”
Auburn holds a slight 54-53-8 advantage over Georgia in the SEC’s longest-running series.