ATHENS — In Charlotte for the season opener, the stadium was filled half-and-half with Georgia and Clemson fans. At Vanderbilt, three-quarters of the crowd in the SEC’s smallest venue wore red and black. In Sanford Stadium, of course, more than 97 percent of the spectators — or right about 90,000 — are rooting for the Bulldogs.
That won’t be the case Saturday.
The No. 2-ranked Bulldogs (5-0, 2-0 SEC) head to Auburn (4-1, 1-0) for their first true road test of the season at 87,451-seat Jordan-Hare Stadium. For the first time all season, Georgia will be out-numbered.
“It’s always a concern when you go on the road in the SEC,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “I can give you four or five examples of first road trips for teams. What’s wrong is it’s not unusual to have 25 percent of your team that hasn’t been on the road for a true road game. But now it’s at 50 percent that hasn’t been in that kind of environment due to COVID last year. So, you’re seeing the impact of that, whether it’s our game, Kentucky-Florida, Alabama-Ole Miss, all the games. They’re all over the place.”
Jordan-Hare is considered one of the toughest venues in the SEC in which to play. In different seasons, it has been considered one of the loudest stadiums in the league. That’s especially the case whenever rivals Georgia or Alabama visits.
That definitely was the case the last time Georgia was there with as good a team and as lofty of a ranking as it will bring this year. In 2017, the Bulldogs had just been bestowed the nation’s No. 1-ranking when they visited Jordan-Hare on Nov. 11. When it was over, UGA was staring at a 40-17 defeat.
Nevertheless, Georgia traditionally has performed well on The Plains, as Auburn likes to call its campus. The Bulldogs have a winning record there. They’re 17-12-2.
Similarly, Auburn has a winning record at Georgia’s Sanford Stadium (17-15). It’s yet another one of the flukes in what has become known as “The Deep South’s Oldest Rivarly,” a series played annually since 1892, with a couple of war-time exceptions.
Georgia won the last time it was there, in 2019. The Bulldogs led 21-0 at the half, then had to hang on at the end for a 21-14 victory.
“Oh, yeah, it definitely gets rowdy in there in that stadium,” Georgia senior linebacker Channing Tindall said. “You can feel the ground shake a little bit down there at Auburn. Just being there, I’ve played in a lot of different away games, and you’ve just got to lock in. Our strength is ourselves, so we’ll just lean into ourselves, do what we have to do and then get on out of there.”
Of particular concern for the Bulldogs is they will be playing with a quarterback and center who have never encountered such an intense environment. Senior quarterback Stetson Bennett played at Alabama, Arkansas and Kentucky last year, but before crowds that were reduced to adhere to social-distancing requirements.
Credit: Tony Walsh
Credit: Tony Walsh
Likewise, Georgia is operating this season with a redshirt freshman at center in Sedrick Van Pran.
“I’ve heard a lot about the Auburn series and the atmosphere, and it’s something I’m looking forward to because it’s my first time,” Van Pran said. “I look forward to the challenge. … We haven’t had any issues as far as having to modify our cadence yet.”
That’s likely to change Saturday. Smart expects something akin to what the Bulldogs encountered in 2017.
“That game was really tough and physical and that was a tough environment to go into,” Smart said. “We know our guys are getting ready to go into a very tough environment. Playing at Auburn is probably one of the toughest places to play in the SEC. Their fan base does a tremendous job in that element and it will be key for our guys to keep calm in the storm, show composure and play our best football against what I think is a very talented Auburn football team.”
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