As one might expect, Auburn coach Gene Chizik sees some good and some bad, regarding the way his defending national champion Tigers have performed entering Saturday afternoon's game at 14th-ranked Georgia.
Minus Cam Newton and Nick Fairly, the Tigers will roll into Sanford Stadium (3:30 p.m., CBS) after last week's bye week 6-3, 4-2 in the SEC West.
While those numbers aren't bad by any stretch, Chizik said Sunday during a teleconference with Georgia beat writers, his team will need to find some measure of consistency against a Bulldog squad (7-2, 5-1) he feels is rightfully playing with as much confidence as it has all year.
"There's been some good and some bad, obviously. There's some things that we've improved at, no question about that and there's a lot we can still improve on here in the next three weeks," Chizik said. "We expect to win every game we play, and the fact that we have three losses is very disappointing to us, but we've also had some very good wins on top of that. We're just continuing to work and continuing to try and improve every week. That's what we tried to spend last week doing, working on Auburn."
Doing a better job on third downs was one thing to improve on.
Auburn went into the weekend ranked No. 8 in the SEC in third down conversions (37.1), a number he said won't cut it against a Bulldog defense ,which going into the weekend, was giving up the fewest third downs of any team in the country (25.7).
"That's certainly been an issue - being able to stay on the field and extend some drives, posses the football," Chizik said. "That's definitely something we need to be able to do to have a chance to win these last few games."
Avoiding big plays and cutting down on penalties are two others.
Chizik lamented the fact his squad ranks 10th in the SEC in penalties, racking up 53.5 yards of penalty yards per game.
Georgia entered Saturday's game giving up 51.4 yards worth of penalties per contest, but most of that has come on the offensive side.
"The games we've lost, negative play that are pre- or post- snap have hurt us and our margin for error is too slim for us to overcome a lot of that," Chizik said. "Penalties as a team is something we've talked about this whole past week and focused on it, the little discipline things that can cost you ball games. The three games we've lost, penalties have certainly played a big part in that. That's undisciplined football."
Although there's no Newton, running backs Michael Dyer (186 carries, 989 yards and nine touchdowns) and Onterio McCalebb (448 yards, 2 touchdowns) will obviously play key roles for the Tiger offense in Saturday's game, the 115th meeting between the two schools.
"I think it's a great rivalry. Not only is it the oldest rivalry in the South, but I think it's one of the great rivalries period," he said. "There are so many similarities between the two schools, you just look over time the margin of points which was used to decide wins, back and forth for each school is so close and that helps make it a great rivalry. Rivalries are made when both sides are equally involved in winning. That's certainly been the case with the Auburn-Georgia rivalry, so it's a great one.
"When you're that close, when you have so many players we have personally from the state of Georgia that recruit, I think there's a lot of passion, energy and excitement for the players on both sides. They know each other, and have usually played with each other or against each other, usually."
Chizik offered plenty of kind words for the Bulldogs, who jumped up to 15th in this week's BCS standings.
"I just think they're just solid all the way around. You take their defense
take their whole team. They're in the top three in the league in total offense, total defense. When it comes offensively, they're very efficient. They're No. 1 in the league in pass efficiency..Very physical up front and can run the ball with good, young backs," Chizik said. "They're a talented, physical football team and I think they're playing with a lot of confidence right now."
Anthony Dasher is the managing editor for UGASports
and he can be reached via email at [email protected]