ATHENS, Ga. — The Deep South's oldest rivalry became the Deep South's ugliest rivalry a year ago when Auburn and Georgia combined for 16 penalties and two ejected players at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Auburn won 49-31 to clinch the Southeastern Conference West Division title and continue its march to the national championship, but Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray wasn't nearly as fortunate. Murray got knocked out of the game with a bruised chest and a bruised left knee, and that was after he survived a late hit to the back from former Tigers defensive tackle Nick Fairley that resulted in a personal foul.
"Walking around campus, everybody is definitely saying that we've got to pay them back for what Nick Fairley did to Aaron and a couple of our other guys," Georgia tight end Orson Charles said Tuesday. "We're definitely getting the support that we need."
The No. 14 Bulldogs (7-2, 5-1) and the No. 24 Tigers (6-3, 4-2) will vie Saturday in Sanford Stadium with the hope that last year's calamitous contest can stay in the past.
Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo committed a personal-foul penalty on the first play from scrimmage, the first of 10 penalties the Bulldogs would compile for 89 yards. Auburn got flagged six times for 73 yards, and the amount of penalty yardage for each team would have been higher were it not for several offsetting situations.
"Everyone kind of thought it was a friendlier rivalry up until last year, when it got a little heated toward the end," Auburn tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen said. "We know that they remember that from last year, and we remember them kind of coming after us toward the end, so I think it's going to be another physical game."
So combative were the waning moments that Auburn defensive linemen Mike Blanc and Michael Goggins, who were both seniors, got ejected and had to sit out the first half of the Alabama game. And with 27 seconds remaining, Georgia coach Mark Richt called for backup quarterback Hutson Mason to take a knee.
"I wasn't sure if either side could control their emotions at that point," Richt said after the game, "so I decided that taking a knee would diffuse that."
Richt was asked after the game if Georgia coaches were getting flustered by some questionable hits on Murray, but he refused to answer.
Murray said Tuesday that he knew he was in for a long game after the first drive. The most wicked lick was Fairley's hit to the back after Murray threw an incomplete pass in the third quarter, but the flag kept the drive going for the Bulldogs, who got a field goal to pull within 35-31.
"Actually that one felt good, because I think he readjusted my back," Murray said. "It was like being at the chiropractor. It kind of felt good. That was probably the most pleasurable one."
Richt and Auburn coach Gene Chizik are choosing not to dwell on the chippy play that soured last year's matchup. Richt stressed that his team has done an excellent job of avoiding personal-foul penalties this season, though he quickly cited the Vanderbilt game as an exception.
Chizik still believes the rivalry is great and that there are a lot of similarities in the two schools.
"Usually rivalries are made when both sides are equally involved in winning, and that's certainly been the case with the Auburn-Georgia rivalry," Chizik said. "When you're that close and have so many players that we personally recruit from the state of Georgia, I think there is a lot of passion, energy and excitement from players on both sides because they know each other and have either played with or against each other, and in some cases a good bit."
Murray said it's a new season with two new teams and what happened last year is not being discussed among the players. Cornerback Sanders Commings admitted he's more motivated by the loss last year than its shenanigans.
Auburn closed last year's win over the Bulldogs on a 42-10 run behind Heisman Trophy quarterback Cam Newton.
"There may or may not have been a couple of dirty hits, but that's all in the past," Commings said. "We just want to get this victory."
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...