Prior to the defeat at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Georgia was the No. 1 team in the country and there had been murmurs of the Bulldogs reaching the College Football Playoff regardless of whether or not they won the conference title game.
Now, multiple teams, such as Georgia, Auburn, Miami, Clemson and Wisconsin, have found themselves at the end of the regular season with a shot to make the playoff, given one simple-sounding condition: win this Saturday.
As the SEC championship game between Georgia and Auburn approaches, the matchup could serve as a redo of sorts after mistakes and penalties plagued the Bulldogs in the initial matchup, but that’s not something the team was necessarily seeking.
To them, the game is simply a rematch.
With Georgia’s only blemish on its season record coming at the hands of Auburn, the game between these two teams will be replayed, this time inside Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium for a conference title.
When Georgia and Auburn played on Nov. 11, the Tigers trounced the Bulldogs, winning 40-17. Georgia accumulated multiple costly penalties and had a few key mistakes. The run game couldn’t push past Auburn’s defensive front, while Georgia’s defense couldn’t stop Auburn’s backs.
From the final statistics to the end result, Georgia’s play against Auburn was unlike the other 11 games so far this season.
And even though he wasn’t explicitly hoping for a redo after the regular-season matchup, now, running back Sony Michel said, the team has “another shot.”
“The last game that we played against them, that wasn't us,” wide receiver Terry Godwin said. “We knew we made a lot of mistakes and didn't perform the way we wanted to perform. I feel like we've got a chance to redeem ourselves. That's what we're going to go out there and do. ”In a way, Godwin said, the loss turned into a “chip on our shoulder” and was almost like a wake-up call. “I just know for sure that [Georgia is] going to bring it,”
Auburn linebacker Tre’ Williams said. “No matter what, they're going to bring their A game, so we're going to have to prepare like we've never played them because Georgia is a really good team.”
Even after the mistake-riddled loss at Auburn earlier in the month, Godwin doesn’t see the SEC championship as a chance for revenge, and neither does Lorenzo Carter. Looking at the game that way would just consume “emotional energy,” Carter said.
Plus, head coach Kirby Smart, who has experience with this type rematch since Alabama beat LSU for the national title in 2011, said simply having a revenge-oriented mindset can’t single-handedly win a game.
“When the toe meets leather, it’s about striking people, it’s about speed, it’s about blocking, tackling, it’s about having composure, it’s about having discipline,” head coach Kirby Smart said. “It really doesn’t revert back to who won the previous game. It matters a lot more about what you do in that game because the other game is past history.”
The last time Georgia played Auburn, which was just a few short weeks ago, the Bulldogs gave up 488 total yards of offense — 251 passing yards and 237 on the ground.
That’s the most yards Georgia’s defense has given up all season.
“We got whooped, we got it handed to us,” senior outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter said. “So I’m sure everybody's coming out really ready just to get another chance. And everybody’s really focused. We’re playing for a championship, we’ve got a lot on the line.”
Georgia gets its rematch this weekend in the SEC Championship, and the defense gets a chance to redeem itself. In order for that to happen, Georgia will have to contain sophomore quarterback Jarrett Stidham and junior running back Kerryon Johnson.
Stidham was 16-for-23 with 214 passing yards and three touchdowns the last time Georgia and Auburn met while Johnson ran 32 times for 167 yards and caught two passes for 66 yards.
“We didn’t play disciplined, we didn’t set our edges, we weren’t tight in our communication,” senior defensive back Aaron Davis said. “We just didn’t play as physical and fast as we had been accustomed to.”
Seeing the Tigers for the second time in a season will be beneficial for the Bulldogs’ defense. They will know how to handle Stidham, Johnson and the rest of Auburn’s offense better than they did at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Playing for an almost-sure spot in the College Football Playoff won’t hurt either.
“It’s still fresh on everybody’s mind,” Carter said. “We don’t have to do a lot of rebuilding of the pyramids or reinvent the wheel. We’ve just got to get in there and fix the little things and make sure everybody’s in the right mindset.”
Those little things are things like not letting Johnson reach the outside and making sure Stidham doesn’t have room to run the ball, all the while making smart decisions that don’t result in penalties.
And while the recency of the game helps, playing at a neutral site will help as well. The atmosphere in Jordan-hare Stadium was a major factor in the game and everybody could see it. But head coach Kirby Smart said his team wasn’t affected by the noise very much.
“The atmosphere this weekend is going to probably be just as loud in a lot of ways,” Smart said. “You could make a case that we’ll have more fans there, but from what we’ve been told it’s an extremely loud place.”