What kind of rivalry is this?
That kind of rivalry. "J**n V****n as redeemed hero" rivalry. The same guy who threw the dagger that helped said redemption returning the next year to play the worst game in the history of the forward pass kind of rivalry. Dameyune Craig playing the world's first successful game of 1-on-11 kind of rivalry. 4th-and-15 from the 17 before you get slugged in the stomach and your insides go dead kind of rivalry.
The phrase "throw out the records" gets, well, thrown out a lot more than it should. As a rule the records of the two teams headed into the Iron Bowl are a decently reliable (if obviously not ironclad) predictor. But the Deep South's Oldest and Probably Coolest Rivalry has been won by the higher-ranked team just four times in the last 11, as pointed out by Get the Picture this week, and as various birds in the Auburn-to-Athens corridor could tell you by now, by the home team just three times in the last 15. This is the kind of rivalry where a) Auburn is on the road and b) the opponent is ranked in the top 10, and I don't just feel like those facts might give Auburn a better shot; I know, in my bones, it gives Auburn a better shot.
So, yeah, I can cop to being at least a little bit confident about this game. But as as strong as the historical precedents might be, there's still the actual teams to deal with, and there are several things about this Georgia team that Auburn will have to deal with in a much more practical fashion than the Dawgs will use in battling inexplicable streaks:
1. Knowshon Moreno. One of these years, Mark Richt will realize that giving the lion's share of carries to their most talented back rather than spreading it around to one really talented back and two okey-dokey guys is probably the way to go. Unfortunately, the cruel/benevolent hand of fate did Richt's work for him in removing Moreno's competition for carries, and now he's getting Herschel comparisons left and right. The sad thing is, in terms of effectiveness, I'm not sure they're even that outlandish.
2. Matt Stafford. Sure, Stafford's struggled at times. But he's got the talent. It's not possible to look more like the Platonic ideal of quarterback than Matt Stafford. And most worryingly the last guy who had struggled at times but still possessed Stafford's kind of arm lit Auburn up for a 22-35 for 319 line.
3.They don't turn the ball over. It would be nice if Auburn could get a couple of short fields to work with a la so much of 2006, but as Hey Jenny Slater pointed out in an excellent pre-game breakdown, no one in America has turned the ball over less than Georgia. Curses.
Apparently their supposedly young and sucky offensive line hasn't sucked all that much, either, much like another supposedly young and sucky line (and like one coached by a grad of the school on the opposite sideline Saturday.) Here's the thing, though: All of those positives are on the offensive side of the ball.
The Dawgs just got finished giving up 34 points to a decent but hardly earth-shattering Troy team. Florida scored 30 but more importantly averaged six yards a play, hardly the stuff of a dominant defense. And of course Tennessee ground them into so much dust in the wind. Bottom line: this is not what we could call a "good" defense. If Auburn comes out and executes the way they did against Florida or vs. LSU for the first half, points are going to be scored and the ball is not going to find its way back to Georgia hands with any kind of quickness.
The same is likely also true when Georgia has the ball. But they of course will have to tangle with a defense that (finally!) has Aairon Savage back, has Tray Blackmon 100 percent, has ... well, everything but Craig Stevens, basically. And had a de facto off week last week. If I was a Georgia fan, I'd be worried: not only do all the historical precedents point towards Auburn, but I'd argue the Tigers are better at this point of the season on paper. There's not much difference in quality, if any, between the Dawg offense and the Tiger D; but I think the Tiger offense, particularly if Cox continues his post-benching form, has a fairly clear leg up on the Dawg D.
All of which, of course, makes me sort of worried when I think about it this long. Ever since the LSU loss, I think Auburn fans have consoled themselves with the idea of finishing 9-3. 9-3! That's a heck of a record with this team, that is. And with a win over 'Bama to boot, why, that's not a bad season at all. Might even get a team to the Sugar Bowl, even! And all it takes is a win in Athens--never been a problem--and then over the Tide at home. Not easy, but damn doable. Just holding serve, right?
Right. But Auburn's never been one for holding serve, have they? 9-3 would be great, but how much more likely is it, really, than 7-5? Not more enough for comfort. Not more enough that Auburn's worst-case scenario doesn't remain a hideous crash to Earth through the Amen Corner, a bowl loss, and an entire off-season of discontent the disgruntled factions say Auburn would have been better off if Tubby had bolted while the rest of us yell at them to go root for 'Bama if they hate their team so much. Not fun, no.
The good news? On the balance of history, and perhaps even the balance of talent, Auburn wins. Crisis averted. The bad news? This is Auburn-Georgia. This is the rivalry of Ben Leard throwing for 793 yards and 12 TDs in a half, of Terry Bowden's magic carpet ride unraveling, of Mark Richt's brain stepping out just long enough for the Dawgs to run into the goal line with 10 seconds left, of Hail Marys into overtime and sprinklers unloosed and 111 years being divided by 20 points.
Wait a minute. Maybe that, too, is the good news.