#5 Auburn Needs to Get Past Georgia If They Want a Shot at The SEC Title
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Although Georgia is enduring its worst season in a decade, Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville won't allow his team to look past its longtime rival.
The fifth-ranked Tigers (9-1, 5-1) try to remain in close contention for a spot in the SEC and BCS title games when they play their final home game of the season against the Bulldogs (6-4, 3-4) on Saturday.
Winning its remaining games against Georgia and Alabama is critical to Auburn's hopes of winning the SEC West Division. The Tigers trail Arkansas by a half-game for the division lead, but the Razorbacks own the tiebreaker after handing Auburn its lone loss, 27-10 on Oct. 7.
The Tigers have won four straight since, and rank sixth in the BCS standings. That's five spots ahead of Arkansas, but winning the SEC West - and the conference title game - is likely Auburn's only shot at receiving a bid to play for the BCS championship.
The Bulldogs have dropped four of their last five games after last week's 24-20 loss to Kentucky, and already have their most conference losses since the 1996 team went 3-5 in SEC play.
Tuberville, though, refuses to take them lightly.
``They're still Georgia,'' he said. ``They've got good football players.''
They also have a history of playing extremely tight games against Auburn. Four of the last six games between the Tigers and Bulldogs have been decided in the final seconds, including last year's 31-30 Auburn victory, decided on John Vaughn's 20-yard field goal with six seconds left.
Auburn leads the series between the schools 53-48-8. The scoring differential between the teams has been even closer, with the Tigers holding a 1,650-1,648 edge over the 109 meetings.
Defense is the main reason for Auburn's success this season. The Tigers are allowing 11.5 points per game, fourth-fewest in the nation, and limited Arkansas State to 177 yards of offense in last week's 27-0 victory.
Although the effort was good enough to win, it was by no means a dominant performance by the Tigers offense, which committed four turnovers, including two interceptions by Brandon Cox.
``We've found a way to win a lot of games, but it hasn't been pretty,'' Tuberville said. ``We've won a lot of games in the last minute. We win them right at the end. I think we can be better. I might be wrong. We might be playing to our potential.
``One thing I have noticed is our focus has not been as good for the entire game as it could have been.''
Auburn's offense could receive a lift from tailback Kenny Irons, who played only one series against Arkansas State due to a bruised right fibula and sprained right ankle, injuries that have limited him for much of the season.
The senior, who led the SEC with 1,293 rushing yards last season but has only 687 in 2006, will play against Georgia despite not being 100 percent.
``It will be a while before I'm full speed because of the injury,'' said Irons, who gained 179 yards on a career-high 37 carries against the Bulldogs last season. ``But I'm not even going to think about it. Send me out there and you won't even think I'm injured the way I'm going to run. I'm just going to go.
``I know I'm going to be in pain but I've just got to fight through it.''
Irons needs 20 rushing yards to reach 2,000 for his Auburn career, and would like to achieve the milestone in his final home game.
``I just want to go out there and leave with a bang,'' he said. ``It's my last game at Jordan-Hare Stadium and I want to make it the best.''
Georgia's offensive struggles have been worse than Auburn's, as the Bulldogs have turned the ball over 14 times in the last three games. Freshman Matthew Stafford threw three interceptions against Kentucky, giving him eight in the last three contests. Coach Mark Richt, however, does not plan to make a change.
``We're certain we're going to stick with Matthew; that's a definite,'' Richt said. ``There were a lot of times he made some good decisions not to throw the ball. He's definitely getting better.
``He's made an abundance of very fine plays for us. We're having to live through some of the growing pains, but we're definitely sticking with him.''
The Bulldogs' streak of four consecutive 10-win seasons will come to an end this year, and they may have trouble just finishing with a .500 record. Georgia concludes its regular season against No. 19 Georgia Tech on Nov. 25.
Despite the disappointing year, Richt expects a top effort out of his team against Auburn.
``There's no doubt who we are playing is going to help with the motivation factor,'' Richt said. ``But I think our guys still have some pride. They still want to show they are a good football team.''
by: Anthony White - theSpread.com - Email Us
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