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Georgia's Amarlo Herrera (52) tackles Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall (14) during their 2013 game.

ATHENS, Ga. -- The Auburn Tigers and Georgia Bulldogs collide Saturday night with opposing defensive line coaches who were Auburn teammates during the 1980s.

Auburn defensive line coach Rodney Garner is in his second season with the Tigers after spending 15 years as a Bulldogs assistant, while Tracy Rocker is in his first season at Georgia. Rocker was the defensive line coach on Auburn's 2010 national championship team and was an All-American for Pat Dye's Tigers in 1987 and 1988.

"Coach Rocker just wants to win, no matter where he is, even if it's against his alma mater," Georgia senior defensive tackle Mike Thornton said Tuesday. "He isn't bringing up the fact we're playing his team."

In 1988, Rocker became the first Southeastern Conference player to win the Outland Trophy and the Lombardi Award in the same season. Thornton witnessed Rocker in action recently when the SEC Network replayed the 1988 "Earthquake Game," LSU's 7-6 win over Auburn in Baton Rouge.

"I sent him a picture of him on the TV," Thornton said. "I knew he played in that game, and once I heard that game was going to be on, I wanted to watch it to see how he played.

"He was like a man among boys. He was a fast, strong guy, just getting off blocks and dominating."

Home sweet home

Georgia's home game this weekend will be its first since Oct. 4, when Todd Gurley rushed 25 times for 165 yards and two touchdowns in a 44-17 win over Vanderbilt.

After defeating the Commodores, the Bulldogs won at Missouri and at Arkansas before having an open date. Georgia then lost to Florida in Jacksonville and won last Saturday at Kentucky.

"We've been on this journey on the road trying to take care of business," Thornton said, "and it will be great to be back in front of our home crowd. I don't think I've ever been away from home this long."

Said senior cornerback Damian Swann: "It's going to be exciting to actually have people cheering for you and not booing you."

An arm to behold

Bulldogs senior quarterback Hutson Mason isn't about to get in a distance throwing contest with Auburn counterpart Nick Marshall.

Mason learned back in 2011, when Marshall was a freshman cornerback for the Bulldogs, that he wouldn't fare very well.

"We were warming up at the Georgia-Florida game, and he was out there messing around," Mason said. "He threw the ball, no kidding, 80 yards in the air. It was one of those things where the ball was in the air, and everyone was like, 'Whoa.' I was kind of jealous.

"The guy has a super special arm, and that is so God-given. You saw how far he threw the ball last year at the end of the game."

Gone for good?

Mason admitted Tuesday that there was a prevailing thought among Bulldogs players that Gurley might decide to forgo the rest of his college career once he was suspended, so he could focus on the NFL.

"I think it speaks high to Todd's character and what this means and what this season means to him to keep fighting through that adversity, because I know it was frustrating for him," Mason said. "Obviously I don't want to put words into his mouth, but it was definitely what some people were thinking could happen."

Going the distance

Auburn's Quan Bray and Georgia's Isaiah McKenzie are the only two players in the SEC this season to have returned two punts for touchdowns. Bray leads the league with his 20.5-yard average, while McKenzie ranks third at 15.1.

Neither team, however, is excelling in punting. Auburn ranks 11th in the SEC with a net of 36.9 yards, and Georgia is last at 35.8. Collin Barber and Adam Erickson have been sharing punting duties for the Bulldogs.

"They both have not had the years that you would expect and certainly that they wanted to have," Georgia assistant coach John Lilly said. "We've got to be better than what we are."

Odds and ends

Auburn leads the Deep South's oldest rivalry 55-54-8 following last season's miraculous triumph at Jordan-Hare Stadium. ... Georgia last led the series 42-41-7 in 1986. ... Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said there will be more official recruiting visitors at Saturday's game than any he can remember. ... Auburn coach Gus Malzahn on Marshall facing his former team: "It's not as big of a deal the second time." ... Georgia's 256.3 rushing yards a game rank second in the SEC behind Auburn (286.4).

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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