November 13, 2009

Auburn offense a big test for Dawgs

All week long Georgia coaches and players were asked about Auburn and its new-look offense, which continues to pile up numbers at a record-setting pace.

Check out these totals.

The Tigers under first-year coach Gene Chizik rank first in the SEC in total offense (450.3 yards per game), second in rushing offense (230), tied for second in scoring offense (35 points per game) and is on pace to break the school record 5,854 yards of offense by the end of the year.

This brings us to the Bulldogs, whose defensive issues have been well documented throughout the course of the 2009 campaign.

Head coach Mark Richt is certainly aware of those issues, and is somewhat concerned with whether or not his defense will be able to adjust to the different little nuances and looks that the Tigers (7-3, 3-3) will bring to Sanford Stadium for Saturday's 7 p.m. game (ESPN2).

"I think the change for this game will not nearly be as drastic as when you play Georgia Tech's triple-option," Richt said. "But it is a unique system. It's not one that you could just flip on the film and say we are going to do exactly what we did last week. You have to get a good, strong plan because they are into creating chaos for you. That's what they want to do; they want to create confusion and bloody your nose in the meantime."

There have been a few bumps for the Tigers along the way.

After winning its first five games, Auburn dropped three straight to Arkansas (44-23), Kentucky (21-14) and LSU (31-10) before bouncing back with victories over Ole Miss (33-20) and Furman (63-31).

Defensively, the Tigers are actually giving up more points per game than the Bulldogs (26.6 to 26.1) and are allowing 169.8 rushing yards a contest. Nevertheless, with an offense that's had little trouble piling up huge numbers, Auburn has been able to keep the pressure off its defense more times than not.

"To me, offensive momentum is always important. Especially with what we do on offense -- trying to keep a tempo, keeping defenses out of rhythm -- it's really important. The way this year has unfolded, when our offense has been in rhythm, we've done well. When we've not been in rhythm, we've struggled, and I think that's evident and huge," Chizik said. "You'd like to think that you could carry momentum week-to-week, but the reverse side of that is if you're not clicking, you don't want that to carry over. Therefore, it's a game-to-game issue. Sometimes we start the game off slow and pick up rhythm--it's happened this year. Sometimes we start the game off fast, and lose it a little bit. Sometimes we've had the momentum all game. It happens different ways and it really is a game-by-game issue in my opinion."

The Bulldogs (5-4, 3-3) would love to build a little momentum of their own.

Last week's 38-0 win over Tennessee Tech was the Bulldogs' first shutout since 2006 while Georgia's much-maligned running game produced 304 yards against the Golden Eagles.

Granted, nobody is going to confuse Tennessee Tech with the visiting Tigers, but quarterback Joe Cox is hoping some of the good karma will still carry over to Saturday's game.

"When you play good teams you've got to execute your game plan and minimize penalties and turnovers," Cox said. "Those are the things that good teams will capitalize off of and turn them into points for themselves. We're going to have a good game plan. We just have to execute it and not make mistakes."

However, anybody who's followed the Bulldogs knows that's been easier said than done.

Georgia's turnover ratio (minus-16) through nine games ranks the Bulldogs 119th nationally, a puzzling statistic that's haunted the team throughout the course of the 2009 campaign.

Fortunately, not all the news is bad.

After missing the Tennessee Tech with a bruised lung, the Bulldogs will have wide receiver A.J. Green back at their disposal, along with defensive end Justin Houston, who leads Georgia with five sacks.

Georgia figures to need all the help it can get to counter the Tigers and senior tailback Ben Tate, who ranks 12th nationally in rushing (114.2 yards per game) and has six 100-yard rushing games this season. Tate has posted 18 1,000-yard games over his career and enters Saturday's contest with 1,142 yards.

"I'm really proud of him, and I think that the acknowledgements that he is getting right now are well deserved. He's become a team leader for us in my opinion. He's a guy that laid low at the beginning of the year and kept working on the things that he needed to do to become a better football player," Chizik said. "I think it showed up 1,100 yards later. It's just really good to see good things happen to him, because he just really deserves it. He's put a lot of effort and everything into Auburn. He's already graduated, which is as good as it gets. It's just great to see good things happen to him, because he's really produced for us."

Saturday's game will be the 113th meeting between the Tigers and Bulldogs, which is the oldest rivalry in the Deep South. Although Auburn holds a two-game edge in the overall series history, with a 53-51-8 record, Georgia has won the last three meetings.

That fact apparently has the Tigers fired up about their opportunity.

"They definitely have pep in their step, but to be honest they have been that way all year," Chizik said. "This game is obviously a great rivalry and we have a lot of kids from Georgia on our roster so they will be very excited for the game. They are coming in and watching film. They are into it and will be excited Saturday night. I am not going to say that they have a completely different personality because they have been excited to play every week, but this one will certainly be fun for them."

Georgia has reason to be excited as well.

With one more win, the Bulldogs become bowl eligible, which would push the program's streak of consecutive bowl trips to 13.

"It's a big deal for us as a staff, it's a big deal for us as a team," Richt said. "We definitely want to get ourselves in position to finish out this season in flying colors, so this game can help us do that."

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