Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray was on the ground time and again last year against Auburn after getting roughed up — sometimes after the whistle — by the Tigers defense. The two meet again Saturday.
AUBURN, Ala. — So much for those neighborly Georgia-Auburn get-togethers.
The rivalry billed as the oldest in the Deep South got nasty last year with 10 personal foul penalties, two suspensions of Auburn players for throwing punches and a couple of injury-causing hits on Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray.
This is supposed to be the kinder, gentler version of Alabama-Auburn and Georgia-Florida.
“Yeah, everyone kind of thought it was a friendlier rivalry up until last year when it got a little more heated toward the end,” Auburn tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen said. “We know that they remember that from last year and we remember them kind of coming after us toward the end. So I think it’s going to be another physical game.”
That’s true of just about any Southeastern Conference game, and certainly any time Auburn and Georgia meet up.
Having the game get as testy as the last one is less common.
Auburn (6-3, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) was trying to stay alive in the national championship hunt, quarterback Cam Newton was embroiled in a recruiting scandal and ferocious defensive tackle Nick Fairley was busy stirring up trouble.
Fairley was called for a late hit on Murray when he appeared to come in, illegally, helmet-first. Murray sustained a bruised sternum.
Later, tempers really flared when Fairley hit Murray low on a clean play, knocking the quarterback from the game with a bruised knee. A resulting scuffle led fellow Auburn defensive linemen Mike Blanc and Michael Goggans to draw suspensions for the first half of the Alabama game for throwing punches.
All three of those linemen are gone. Do the hard feelings remain? Depends on who you ask.
“No, it’s two completely different football teams,” Murray said. “That was last year. A bunch of guys graduated on our team, a bunch of guys graduated on their team. We’re not talking about that at all. We’re focused on winning this game and continue to set us up for chance to get back to Atlanta (to play for the SEC championship).”
Bulldogs tight end Aron White said some guys were still angry and holding grudges after Auburn rallied from a two-touchdown deficit to win 49-31.
“But at the end of the day, it’s still a rivalry game,” White said. “You have to expect things like that. Our emotions got the best of us like they got the best of them. It’s always going to get a little chippy out there against Auburn.
“Last year happens to be one of those games where it got a whole lot more chippy.”
The Bulldogs (7-2, 5-1) have the high stakes this time, since they’re in the driver’s seat in the East Division.
This is typically one of the biggest — and tightest — games for both teams. Auburn holds a slim 54-52-8 edge.
The scoring margin through 114 meetings: Georgia 1,809, Auburn 1,771. That breaks down to an average score of 15.87-15.5. To Auburn coach, Gene Chizik this meets the very definition of rivalry, though he says he doesn’t expect a repeat of last year’s outbursts.
“A rivalry is always made up of two teams that usually have something in common and are great competition for and with each other,” Chizik said.
Former Georgia coach and Auburn quarterback Vince Dooley agrees with Chizik that the rival programs share many traits.
“It’s always been hard-hitting,” Dooley said. “But there’s so much in common. Somebody described it as feuding cousins. I think that is probably a good description. It’s a great rivalry. There’s a lot of similarities, a lot of respect for both institutions, and it’s a hard-hitting football game. Then there’s the fact there’s a lot of Georgia people who played at Auburn, that adds to it.
“Auburn is very close to the border. It’s a great rivalry.”
The rivalry even has a gentlemanly history. Georgia is the only one of Auburn’s major rivals who didn’t raise a fuss about moving the game from a neutral site to campus. It was played mostly in Columbus, Ga., until the late 1950s.
Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia Tech indicated they’d rather drop the rivalry altogether, and the Crimson Tide didn’t play on Auburn’s campus until 1989.
It remains to be seen whether that courteous relationship will be evident between the hedges at Sanford Stadium on Saturday.
The players might be willing to let it go, but White said he’s been hearing from students about payback.
“They’ve been talking about Nick Fairley, things like, ‘He’s gone but we can still get their quarterback,’” White said. “I’m not really buying into all that. I’m just trying to win the game.”
Auburn defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker is from Warner Robins, Ga. He expects plenty of hard-hitting action, but for the teams to keep it clean.
“That’s the way it is. It’s Georgia and Auburn,” Whitaker said. “When you’ve got a pretty good offensive line, who don’t mind hitting you in the mouth and you don’t mind returning the favors, there are going to be some shots. There’s going to be a little talking here and there. We’re going to respect the game. We’re going to play until the whistle blows.”
Or maybe until the flags fly.
WHAT: Annual rivalry game.
WHEN: 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
RADIO: WGPC-AM 1450 or WJAD-FM 103.5.
LINE: Bulldogs by 13 points.