After Auburn defeated New Mexico State 42-7 this past weekend, first-year Tigers defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder was asked why his unit was more effective compared to the previous Saturday.
"It was a better matchup," he deadpanned.
While VanGorder will be remembered at Georgia for developing a defense that helped lead the Bulldogs to the 2002 Southeastern Conference championship with the likes of David Pollack, Boss Bailey and Sean Jones, his short stint on the Plains is producing some different imagery. On Oct. 27, Auburn gave up a school-record 671 yards in a 63-21 loss to Texas A&M, which was the highest point total ever allowed by the Tigers in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The Tigers are 85th nationally in total defense entering Saturday's home game against No. 5 Georgia, yielding 428.7 yards per contest, and their one interception through nine games ranks last in the country.
"Obviously everybody knows Brian's body of work," Tigers head coach Gene Chizik said. "He's done a great job of being a defensive coordinator wherever he's been, and with us it's been a transition period for sure. We've had our peaks and valleys. There are some games where we have played very, very well, and there have been some where we've played well partly in the game.
"Then we've had our low moments, like the Texas A&M game two weeks ago. I don't think you can pin it on one thing. It's been very inconsistent and sporadic."
Auburn played well defensively in a 12-10 loss to LSU and not-so-well in a 41-20 loss at Ole Miss. Against Texas A&M, Aggies redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel completed 16 of 23 passes for 290 yards and had 90 yards on nine carries.
Texas A&M was 9-of-11 on third-down conversions.
"We had tackling problems, speed issues, execution issues and a couple of third-down penalties. We didn't need to help them any," VanGorder said. "It was an accumulation of a lot of things and a lot of errors. Plus, they were pretty darn good. It was not a good matchup for us."
Georgia hasn't been a good matchup for Auburn in recent seasons, winning five of the past six meetings to pull within 54-53-8 in the Deep South's oldest rivalry. The Bulldogs have scored at least 30 points against the Tigers six of the last seven years, going over 40 in the 2007 "Blackout" game and again last year.
Mike Bobo, Georgia's offensive coordinator and play-caller, worked with VanGorder in Athens under head coach Mark Richt during the 2001-04 seasons.
"One thing Georgia's done over the years that's been smart and very effective is that they do things based on their personnel," Chizik said. "When they had Orson Charles, their tight end was a huge potential receiving threat, and they took advantage of that when they could. They've always had good receivers.
"It's been a long time since Brian was over there with them, but for the most part their base offense and the things that they've done really hasn't changed."
VanGorder said before the season that he has a lot of respect for Richt, whom he credits for "giving me my big break in this profession." His successor at Georgia, Willie Martinez, held the defensive coordinator role for five seasons before being fired in December 2009 and has reunited with VanGorder as Auburn's secondary coach.
Considering Auburn's 2-7 record, it is unknown whether VanGorder will be given time to develop more positive memories compared to the ones experienced against the Aggies.
"I believe in size on defense, so we want to build a bigger and stronger defense moving forward," he said. "But in all fairness to the players, I want to keep working with the guys we have here and try to continue developing and ascending a group of guys. I thought we had been doing that throughout the year until the Texas A&M game, which was such a major disappointment.
"We've got to see if we've got the courage to get better."
Georgia junior quarterback Aaron Murray was named Monday as an SEC co-offensive player of the week after completing 21 of 28 passes for 384 yards and four touchdowns during Saturday's 37-10 win over Ole Miss. ... The Bulldogs practiced for an hour Monday, with junior guard Chris Burnette (shoulder contusion) sitting out.
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.