The man perhaps best equipped to comment on both programs, Vince Dooley, was asked this week how Georgia has managed to turn things around against Auburn.
Dooley, not quite known for beating his chest, did this time.
“My scheduling,” he said.
Dooley elaborated: Every year from 1953-2001, the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry had immediately followed the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail party. Georgia played Florida and then turned around and immediately played Auburn. It took a toll, which Dooley knew from first coaching the Bulldogs and then serving as athletic director.
“I said, ‘If there’s one damn thing I’m going to do I’m going to separate the Florida and Auburn games,’ ” Dooley said. “That was the toughest thing we ever had to do, was to play those two teams back-to-back.”
So during three days in Birmingham, Dooley can’t remember which year, the SEC athletic directors hashed it out so Georgia would get a break in between those arch-rivalry games. That started in 2002, and ever since then, the Bulldogs have had the better of the rivalry with Auburn.
Georgia has defeated Auburn 11 of the past 15 times, and Auburn’s only wins over Georgia during the past 11 years came in seasons that the Tigers appeared in the national championship game. And even then the games were close:
-- 2010: Cam Newton and Auburn eventually pulled away for a 49-31 win, but it was a four-point game early in the fourth quarter. This in a year that Georgia finished with a losing record (6-7) and Auburn went unbeaten (14-0).
-- 2013: It took the infamous (for Georgia, at least) Prayer at Jordan-Hare for Auburn to pull out a 43-38 win. On fourth-and-long, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, dismissed by Georgia the previous year, threw a pass that was tipped when two Georgia players collided, and receiver Ricardo Louis caught the ball and ran in for a 73-yard touchdown with 25 seconds left. (Even then, Aaron Murray led Georgia back downfield and had a last-second pass fall incomplete.)
Otherwise, Georgia has won every game dating back to 2006 and often not by close margins: Five of the 10 wins in that period were by double digits, including 45-7 (2011 in Athens), 38-0 (2012 at Auburn) and 34-7 (2014 in Athens, when Auburn entered the game ranked No. 9 in the country).
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The run began in 2006 when Auburn was ranked No. 5 in the country, and yet unranked Georgia went to The Plains and routed the home team, 37-15.
So what’s behind all this?
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn may have hit on an explanation for the recent games – when Auburn’s vaunted offense has managed just seven points in each of the past three games against Georgia. The 2014 game was just dominance. But the past two years Auburn has entered the game with injuries, particularly at quarterback.
“I will say this, we are healthier as a team,” Malzahn said. “And I will say this, our starting quarterback is healthy. So I can’t say that the last two years. I feel good about where we’re at going into this game.”
Indeed, last year Auburn trotted out quarterback Sean White, dealing with an arm injury and very limited, and tailback Kamryn Pettway was out with a hamstring injury. Pettway is out again this year.
Auburn entered that game ranked No. 9 in the nation. Georgia won 13-7, the best win in Kirby Smart’s first season as Georgia’s coach.
As for previous matchups this century, Dooley perhaps deserves credit for helping even the playing field. Georgia has, on the whole, tended to have better teams. Georgia is 171-60 this century, while Auburn is 155-73.
Prior to the scheduling switch, Auburn held the all-time lead in the series. Now Georgia holds it, 57-55 with eight ties.
Dooley, the Auburn graduate, perhaps does then deserve full credit for turning it around.
“I’m just kidding,” Dooley said, before adding, “but it’s a fact.”
Staff writer Chip Towers contributed to this story.