AUBURN, Ala. — Anticipation for the Iron Bowl is building with a trip to the SEC Championship Game possibly on the line.
Plenty of reason to be looking ahead if you’re the Auburn Tigers. Or more good reasons to not look past Georgia this week.
“We haven’t won much lately,” Gus Malzahn said of recent battles against the Bulldogs. “We have to find a way to solve that. I really like our team. I like the way they responded at Ole Miss. The thing about this team is they are going to fight. They are going to get after it. They are going to scratch and claw. We just have to find a way.”
Georgia has won 8 of the last 10 matchups against the Tigers. Auburn beat Georgia on its way to the national title game in 2013. The Bulldogs own back-to-back wins, including a 34-7 throttling in Sanford Stadium in 2014.
Georgia leads the all-time series 56-55-8. To even that score, Auburn’s defense must contain running backs Nick Chubb (691 yards, 5 TDs) and Sony Michel (487 yards, 2 TDs).
Last weekend in Georgia’s 27-24 road win at Kentucky, the two backs totaled 212 of the Bulldogs’ 215 rushing yards.
“They have two running backs that are very, very good at what they do,” Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said. “And they call them, I think I’ve heard the term ‘Thunder and Lightning.’ They’re both thunder and they’re both lightning to me when I watch them.”
For Auburn’s defense, the game will be a chance to go against players they’ve watched and come to know through the last few seasons.
“This year has been a pleasure. Being in high school and seeing all these running backs — Leonard Fournette, Nick Chubb, guys like that — and just facing them and applying technique,” sophomore linebacker Darrell Williams said. “I’m looking forward to having a good game against them. I respect them. You’ve got to respect your opponent’s game…So we’ll have fun going against those guys.”
The Bulldogs’ rushing attack isn’t Auburn’s only concern.
Georgia freshman quarterback Jacob Eason has Steele’s attention. The newcomer led game-winning drives twice this season and has an impressive quarterback rating in home games (145.59).
“Yeah, we definitely have to go after him (Eason),” Williams said. “We talk about that every week, get after the quarterback because that affects the game and what they do. We definitely want to get after him and affect him, him being a freshman. We do respect our opponent. He can throw the ball.”
The game also brings an element of familiarity. More than 30 players on Auburn’s roster are from Georgia.
It’s also the first time Tray Matthews will play in his old stadium. The junior defensive back transferred to Auburn in June of 2014.
“That’s where he’s from or whatever and he still talks to a lot of those guys,” Williams said. “You make relationships and stuff, so you kind of want to play your biggest game. You don’t want to let people down. You feel like you have a lot of weight on your shoulder…He’ll be fine.”
The excitement will build as the weekend nears.
“Most guys are excited about it being our second-biggest rivalry behind the last game of the year,” Williams said. “It’s the deepest, longest rivalry. It’s a big game. A lot of history tells us that we haven’t been too good against Georgia the last couple of years, so we’re looking forward to this game and playing hard. We don’t really want to give them anything.”