Let's delve a bit deeper into this week's matchup by speaking to a man who knows the Auburn Tigers as well as anyone: Gene Chizik.
Actually, Mr. Chizik is a bit distracted right now, plus he's not exactly a fountain of personality. So we'll speak to another man who knows the Tigers: Bobby Lowder.
Actually ... Mr. Lowder doesn't give many interviews. So never mind that either.
Fine. I've got a better guy anyway.
Aaron Brenner covers Auburn for the Ledger-Enquirer, and as you will see he has some very in-depth insight into the Tigers and this game. We actually traded Q&As this week: Here's a link to my answers to Aaron's questions about the game.
1. Let's not leave anyone in suspense: The Gene Chizik hot seat meter, where is it on a 1-to-10 scale now, and is there anything Chizik can do?
AB: Whatever the number is, it ends in -teen. Ten's not high enough. Let's consult the ol' thesaurus to help us describe the current temperature of Gene Chizik's chair. ///consults thesaurus/// Ah, here we are. Searing ... calescent ... igneous, even. Yeah. The 2010 AP Coach of the Year has completely lost his mojo. He's looked in over his head all year with these new coordinators, with teams overmatching and outfoxing the Tigers week after week. The tongue-in-cheek discussion around here is Chizik can keep his job (and, it must be mentioned, forego a $7.5 million buyout in installments over the next few years) by beating Georgia and/or beating Alabama.
From talking to the locals, seeing as the Crimson Tide are firmly entrenched as a title contender (while the Bulldogs have their foot in the door, they're partially on the outside looking in) and represent in-state bad blood, an Iron Bowl shocker might win back their favor. But now, today, you've got reports running around that the Auburn president has already made up his mind and will make a move basically as soon as the bus rolls back in from Tuscaloosa. With all the off-field body blows to Auburn's reputation - shootings, arrests, NCAA investigations, oh my, and that's before you get to the on-field product - it'd be a challenge to blame Dr. Gogue.
2. Auburn, from afar, seemed like a team on the verge of packing it in. Was that impression fair, and did getting a win - even over New Mexico State - do anything to revive spirits?
Brenner:The Tigers quit against Texas A&M. Like, before halftime. It was abundantly clear in person, it was abundantly clear on tape. The fans realized it, and combined with the weather not cooperating, they astutely fled for shelter in more ways than one. That was the lowest moment for Auburn this year, because the Tigers took a supersonic wedgie from the new kid on the block ... in their own house, no less. But the schedule insists the Tigers have to lace 'em up three more times, just like September call-ups playing out the string in Major League Baseball. We'll find out soon exactly how much pride the Tigers have in taking on their rivals and throwing a wrench in the SEC or BCS championship picture. Auburn 42, New Mexico State 7 stopped the bleeding, for now. At least there's something positive to build on, for a change. But it might be too little, too late.
3. Obviously, Auburn's offense has been the main culprit this year. How much of the problem has been the change in scheme, and how much has it just been personnel? (In other words, the quarterback.)
Brenner: I'm gonna hedge and say it's both. Sadly for Scot Loeffler, who's an earnest guy with a sick work ethic, this was not the right opportunity for him. He stubbornly stuck to a pro style that clearly wasn't working for Kiehl Frazier, took forever to unleash Tre Mason, and couldn't figure out ways to utilize receivers not named Emory "Double-Covered At All Times" Blake. His in-game play-calling has been puzzling as well. Now, with that in mind ... these players didn't help out their first-year coordinator, who's almost certain to be looking for work in less than a month. Frazier melted under any kind of pressure, the offensive line has been painfully inconsistent (not helped by center Reese Dismukes, an SEC all-freshman teamer in 2011 who's missed one game to suspension and another to an arm injury) and, well, some of these receivers have more stars on their Scout profile than touchdowns in their college careers because they're dropping balls or mistiming routes on their quarterback. Put it this way: when kicker Cody Parkey is your clear-cut first-half MVP, that's not a good sign.
4. The defense also hasn't been that great, especially against over the past month against Ole Miss and Texas A&M. Bringing in Brian VanGorder was supposed to be an upgrade. What's gone amiss?
Brenner: In the season opener against Clemson at the Georgia Dome - which Auburn gamely lost by a touchdown - Andre Ellington appeared to be locked up in the grasp of Auburn linebacker Jake Holland. But Ellington somersaulted around Holland, stayed on his feet and went the next 68 yards to set up a short Clemson TD. If that wasn't a harbinger of bad tackling to come, I don't know what is. You mentioned Ole Miss, that game got out of hand in the second half, helped by a similar somersaulting running back breaking sure tackles. The Texas A&M game in particular - it's like the Aggies (671 yards!) were dipped in grease in the pregame locker room - had to have VanGorder echoing unprintables throughout the film room. VanGorder has quietly grumbled the need for more size along his front, which is coming in the form of three blue-chip defenders in the class of 2013. Obviously, that's not going to help this Saturday; Reuben Foster and his buddies are still in high school. Oh, and zero interceptions by the secondary has another former Georgia defensive coordinator-turned-Auburn assistant, Willie Martinez, pretty frustrated as well.
5. Georgia is probably most vulnerable on the offensive line, where it has often had trouble protecting Aaron Murray. How capable is Auburn of applying pressure?
AB: Somewhat. Corey Lemonier's biggest games of the year have been against Clemson and LSU, which would be those under-the-lights, high profile games on national TV. They also featured Dee Ford on the other side, who's a fellow junior of Lemonier's and at times just as bullish on getting to the quarterback. Ford's back healthy from an abdominal strain. It would seem if there's any mechanical advantage for the home team Saturday, it's the defensive ends' ability to disrupt a gameplan. That said, Georgia's offensive line is as big and stout as any Auburn has faced this year ... except for Texas A&M with their pair of NFL-ready tackles, and we've already discussed how that went for the Tigers' defense.
6. Finally, what are the two or three things that have to happen for Auburn to pull off the upset?
AB: Hop in the DeLorean and convince Gus Malzahn to stick around, while begging for another year of Cam Newton's eligibility? No, in all seriousness, I wouldn't exactly bet my house on Georgia Saturday. But maybe my car. You know, if I participated in that sort of thing.
Fact is, the Bulldogs had better come out hungry - and why wouldn't they? There's championship hopes directly at stake, and not to mention, rivalry bragging rights. Yes, Georgia slapped around Auburn last year on its home field. Well, LSU did the same to the then-defending champs at Tiger Stadium, and Auburn very nearly laid its vengeance on LSU, under the lights on national TV. This is kind of a similar scenario, except Auburn no longer has anything to play for besides its dignity. So, to answer your question, I'd say three things have to happen: a) Auburn's true freshman quarterback Jonathan Wallace plays unafraid and has the night of his life running and passing, with a big play or three from his receivers, b) Auburn's defenders play like their pants are on fire, which we've barely seen at all at 2012, and c) Georgia simply comes out flat, like it did against Ole Miss, and never bounces back. Yes, Auburn needs help to have a prayer. I say if Georgia brings its A-game, or even its B-game, this result's in the bag.Bb> My prediction: Georgia 38, Auburn 17.