Our Manic-Depressive Preview duo has now faced nine Georgia contests, seven of them SEC games, and though there have been plenty of ups and downs along the way, this weekend brings them to the exact same spot they were at when they geared up for their eighth and final SEC game last year: a chance to clinch the East Division title. That game, as you'll recall, was a plug-ugly nine-point win over a Kentucky team that shouldn't have been able to hang within three touchdowns of the Dawgs. Will this weekend's game provide a similar outcome, or will the Dawgs leave no doubt on the last step on their road back to the Georgia Dome? You will be shocked, shocked, to find out Manic Doug and Depressive Doug have wildly differing opinions on this.
Depressive Doug: So I'm gonna need you to do me a favor when we go to Auburn this weekend.
Manic Doug: Sure, what's up?
DM: OK, so I figure we're gonna start tailgating around noonish local time, right? When we get there and set up, I'm gonna take an Ambien and fall asleep in the car. Y'all have fun, go off to the game, find your seats and whatever. I'm going to set the alarm on my phone for, oh, 8:30 p.m., which should be about when the game is headed to halftime, and I'll meet up with you guys in the stadium. But after the first drive of the second half, if I still haven't made it to our section and sat down with you, call me and wake me up, all right?
[long, perplexed pause]
MD: Um . . . just what in the hell is all this for, anyway?
DD: It's simple: One of the recrurring leitmotifs of this season for the Bulldogs is that we basically take the first half off. Honestly, the Vanderbilt and Florida games are the only times I can think of when we didn't do that. Every other time we've had trouble getting emotionally ginned up for the game until about halfway through. So I figure I can miss the first 30 minutes this weekend, when Georgia screws around and basically plays like hot garbage, and I'll restrict my viewing to the second half, when we play great and start pulling away — it'll be better for my sanity. Not to mention your annoyance level.
MD: Well, I can't argue with that last p — wait, did you say Georgia's going to start pulling away?
DD: In the second half, yeah.
MD: So does that mean you're actually predicting a win? For only, what, the fifth time this year?
DD: Yeah. As much as I know I'm tempting fate by even suggesting this, I don't really see how we lose to an Auburn team this bad, not with this much on the line. I mean, the Tigers have fallen so far from their national-championship pedestal two years ago that it's almost comical.
MD: Wow, it's great to see you finally living in the real world for once and not whatever doomsday scenario you've concocted for yourself. It'll be nice to watch Georgia lay down a good old-fashioned blowout with you and actually be able to enjoy it together without you biting your nails and having flop sweats the entire time.
DD: Oh, I never said I wouldn't be biting my nails or sweating — I'm sure I will be. And I'm pretty sure this game isn't going to be a blowout, either.
MD: But you just said you were looking forward to watching the Dawgs pull away in the second half —
DD: Right, after watching us screw around and let Auburn stay in the game for the entire first half. Look at last week's game: From a talent perspective, Ole Miss wasn't even close to us. Their offense is more scheme than personnel, and their defense is minuscule by SEC standards. Yet they put together a couple good scoring drives early, and that undersized front seven straight-up manhandled our offensive line. And that was in our own house! On Homecoming! How can you be so sure it's going to be any better when we go on the road to play Auburn?
MD: Because Auburn, as you alluded to earlier, is terrible. I don't know that we have enough time between now and the game for me to adequately explain to you just how bad they are, but here are a few stats: The Tigers are next-to-last in the SEC in basically every offensive category except rushing, where they're 11th. And the only reason they're next-to-last and not dead last is because they got to whip up on a terrible New Mexico State team last week, which allowed them to swap places with Kentucky, who got shut out by Vanderbilt. And even after the performance against New Mexico State, Auburn is still last in the conference in rushing defense — bad news when they have to face Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall — and next-to-last in total defense. There is quite literally nothing they are good at, except maybe kickoff returns (since Onterrio McCalebb broke that long one for a score against Mississippi State). Well, and maybe punting, since they've had so much practice at it.
DD: Nice burn there.
MD: Thanks. Anyway, my point is there is absolutely no reason to think they'll be any more than a speed bump for us this weekend. Your belief that this game could even be close is enough to make me wonder if you need to be in therapy.
DD: First of all, I'm already in therapy, thanks for noticing. Second of all, weren't you pretty much saying the exact same stuff about Kentucky?
MD: Completely different situation. We were still moping from the South Carolina loss and we were looking ahead to Florida; it was a classic sandwich game. No such worries this week, since we're coming off a win and there's no danger of a look-ahead, unless you really think we've had Georgia Southern circled on the calendar for the past 11 months.
DD: There's danger of a look-ahead, all right, only it's not Southern, it's the SEC Championship Game. Ever since we knocked off Florida, we've been hearing people tell us we're basically a lock to go back to the Dome. In the first half against Ole Miss, we played like we thought our tickets were already punched. What happens if we do the same thing this weekend?
MD: We still win by three touchdowns, because Auburn is just that bad.
DD: That'd be nice, but given our propensity for playing down to the level of our opponents this season — and I mean all the way down — I don't think I can buy it. If our pass protection can struggle that much against a front seven the size of Mississippi's, I think we could be in for another long day against Auburn, particularly if we play like we think we've already got the game sewed up. Auburn's gonna be fired up for this game, and it's a night game in front of the home crowd, so their fans will have had all day to get geeked up about crushing Georgia's dreams. I think we actually head into halftime facing a three- or four-point deficit, but Grantham flays his defense alive in the locker room, and the offense comes out firing on a few more cylinders in the second half. And you know that once we build any kind of lead, even if it's just a small one, Richt will throttle the offense back so that we can coast to the finish — which means we'll probably escape Jordan-Hare by an extremely uninspiring score, something like 27-23.
MD: So let me get this straight: We have an SEC East title to clinch and perhaps the worst team in the conference to do it against, and we only win by four? Dude, we beat these guys by 38 last year, and that was with them fielding a substantially better team than they one they've got this year. I think our offense comes out on fire from the very beginning, and both Gurley and Marshall end up topping 100 yards against their sorry run defense. And on the other side of the ball . . . ohhhh, you know Jarvis Jones is anxious to show that Auburn offensive lineman the error of his ways after that "it's not that hard" comment earlier this week. The Tigers are dead last in the SEC and in the bottom 10 in the nation in sacks allowed, so if I were Chris Slade I think I'd have kept my mouth shut on that one — I'm betting Jarvis gets at least three sacks all by himself, the Auburn offense goes nowhere, and we pitch a shutout on the Plains. Georgia 49, Auburn 0.
DD: Wow. A 49-point Auburn loss, against one of their historic arch-rivals, in their own stadium. You honestly think that's how it's going to happen.
MD: They lost by 42 to Texas A&M earlier in the season. Honestly I think I'm selling our team short by thinking they won't go over 50, but Mark Richt doesn't like showing people up, so . . .
DD: Well, our predictions average out to a 38-12 Georgia win — I hope you can still be satisfied with that.
MD: It'd mean we covered the spread, at least, so yeah, I can live with it.
DD: OK. So you're gonna wake me up if I don't show up by the time the second half is under way, right?
MD: Dude, just come to the game with us. It's not gonna be that bad. And besides, I'm not your concierge service.
DD: You sure you're gonna be able to stand me tearing my hair out the entire first half?
MD: First of all, there won't be any need for that, since Georgia's gonna roll from the get-go. Second, even if it does, I think there'll be enough no-show Auburn fans that I can find an empty seat far away from you if I have to.
DD: Uh . . . thanks?
MD: Don't mention it. I'm looking out for both of us here.