They’ve played 110 times, in each season that didn’t conflict with a World War since 1892, and they’ve had plenty of time to check each other out. Still, after all that time, it’s hard to spot many substantive differences between two programs that share bond after bond after bond.
“Whether we want to admit it or not, it’s like looking in the mirror in a lot of ways with our two programs,” Georgia head coach Mark Richt said.
The two schools were forever linked by two men – Vince Dooley and Pat Dye. Dooley played for the Tigers, while Dye was an All-American at Georgia. Then they traded sides and coached the other school during what still are considered the Glory Years on each campus, and the coaching ties continue today.
Georgia defensive line coach Rodney Garner and offensive line coach Stacy Searels were offensive linemen for the Tigers in the mid-80s. Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp and offensive line coach Hugh Nall played at Georgia, where Nall was an offensive lineman on the 1980 national championship team and Muschamp played safety in the early ‘90s.
“There’s just all kind of that going on, all kind of mixed marriages (too),” Richt said.
Those bonds filter down to the player rosters. Auburn has 24 players from Georgia, and just about every Bulldog knows, or knows of, one of the Tigers players from his high school days.
Georgia linebacker Marcus Washington and Auburn wide receiver Robert Dunn grew up just down the road from each other in eastern Georgia, where Dunn played at Laney High School in Augusta, and Washington played at Burke County High School in Keysville.
“Yeah, there are a little extra emotions involved with the game,” Washington said. “It’s kind of like a pride thing.”
The player crossover always has been great. Garner grew up in Leeds, Ala., but by the time his Auburn playing career was over, he felt he knew as much about Georgia high school football as about Alabama high school football, he said.
“Just because of all of your teammates who were from Georgia,” he said.
Georgia often goes head-to-head against Auburn in recruiting because high school athletes see the same qualities in each school, Garner said.
Even the current head coaches are similar. Both made their name as assistant coaches in the state of Florida, where Richt was a longtime Florida State assistant and Auburn’s Tommy Tuberville worked for seven years at Miami, and both are very involved in FCA.
“We’re like-minded in a lot of ways,” said Richt, who said he considers Tuberville a friend.
The series, of course, has its own personality. The road team has won 11 of the last 15 games. (Both teams have played well on the road in any stadium. Since 2004, Auburn has the nation’s second-best road record, 13-2, while Georgia is fifth, 12-3.) The point differential in the series, which Auburn 53-49-8, is 20 points. That means the average margin of victory in the previous 110 meetings is .18 points.
The games of the Richt era certainly have been close. Of all the opponents in the last six-plus years, Auburn brings back the most vivid post-game memories for Georgia’s coach. In his first year, he was lambasted for a clock management decision late in a 24-17 loss. The next season he was on the other end of the emotional spectrum when Michael Johnson caught a 19-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-15 to clinch a spot in the SEC Championship Game.
In 2005, Auburn returned the favor with a last-gasp fourth down conversion that resulted in a 31-30 win, and no game may end up being more crucial to the Richt era than last year’s season-saving victory on The Plains, when the Bulldogs stopped a skid in which they had lost four of five games by beating the No. 5 Tigers 37-15.
“There has been a lot of spoiling of parties between these teams,” Richt said. “It’s an exciting game. It’s one our fans get jacked for and our players do to.”