It’s a matter of opinion whether it’s the dirtiest, but recent history suggests it definitely belongs in the conversation.
Last month, The Wall Street Journal examined college football’s traditional rivalries over the last five years and determined that the Auburn-Georgia game is the dirtiest based on an average of 5.4 “behavior related penalties” per game.
Last year, the teams went toe-to-toe in a game that featured 16 penalties for 162 yards. There were 11 personal foul calls, although several didn’t result in penalties because they were offsetting after being called on both teams.
Two players — Auburn defensive linemen Mike Blanc and Mike Goggans — were ejected. A late hit on Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray by defensive tackle Nick Fairley became a widely-viewed YouTube staple, as did a hit by Fairley on Murray that wasn’t called as a personal foul.
“That’s always part of the deal,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said Tuesday when asked about the necessity of stressing clean football with his players. “Unfortunately, some things happened last year that I wish didn’t. The bottom line is we’re always trying to do things the right way, and I don’t expect there to be any issues at all.”
Murray, who returns at quarterback for Georgia on Saturday, also doesn’t expect a game similar to last year’s, won by the Tigers 49-31.
“I don’t think so,” Murray said. “It’s two new teams. I mean we’re not the same exact teams we were last year. We’re just going to go out there and play ball. We’re not talking about last year, and we’re not worried about last year. We’re just worried about going out there, making plays and putting points on the board. “
The nature of the rivalry lends itself to games where emotions “overflow.” Saturday’s game will be the 113th meeting between the Tigers and the Bulldogs with the Tigers leading the series 54-52-8.
The states border each other, leading to plenty of recruiting wars, although Auburn recruits Georgia far more heavily than Georgia recruits the state of Alabama.
There are 17 plays on Auburn’s roster from the state of Georgia, while only Georgia’s Ben Jones is from Alabama.
“I think it’s a great rivalry,” Chizik said. “It’s not only the oldest rivalry in the South, I just think it’s a great rivalry. There are a lot of similarities in the two schools. If you just look over time the margin of points that were decided in wins and the number of wins back and forth for each school — it’s so close.
“When you’re that close and you have so many players for us personally that we recruit from the state of Georgia, I think that there’s a lot of passion and energy and excitement for players on both sides. They know each other and have either played against each other or with each other, in some cases a good bit.”
Last year’s game turned decidedly mean because of the play up front. Fairley was called for a late hit on Murray in the third quarter after drilling Murray in the back well after he had delivered the football.
On Georgia’s final possession of the game, Fairley drew the further ire of the Bulldogs when he hit Murray around the ankles after Murray had released the ball on a pass completion.
No foul was called, partially because it appeared Fairley may have been blocked into him, but Murray left the game injured.
Over the next three plays, skirmishing after the whistle led to the ejection of both Goggans and Blanc.
On the final play of the game with his team trailing 49-31, Georgia coach Mark Richt instructed backup quarterback Hutson Mason to take a knee and run out the clock.
“The reason why I did that was that tempers were flaring and were out of hand,” Richt said after the game. “I thought that if we ran another play, things could get out of hand. My goal was to take the knee and make sure nothing broke out. When things get that hot and that emotional, I thought it was the wise thing to do. It’s a physical game.”
Asked about the ejections after the game Chizik said: “Just really disappointed in that. That’s a lot of reflection on us as coaches and I am embarrassed by it. That’s not who we are. That’s not the way we carry ourselves, and we will address that tomorrow.”
Blanc and Goggans were suspended for the first half the following week in Auburn’s Iron Bowl game at Alabama.
Tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, a junior from Marietta, Ga., said last year’s game probably changed public perception of the rivalry.
“Yeah, everyone kind of thought it was a friendlier rivalry up until last year when it got a little more heated toward the end,” he said. “We know that they remember that from last year and we remember them kind of coming after us toward the end. So I think it’s going to be another physical game.”
Blanc, Goggans and Fairley are all gone for the Tigers. Defensive end Nosa Eguae, who played in last year’s game, said he expects the game to be physical, but stressed the necessity of playing under control.
“In the trenches, that’s where this game is won,” Eguae said. “That’s what it comes down to. It comes down to in the trenches. I wouldn’t say there’s a feud between these two teams, but when we get out there between those lines, we want to win. They want to win for Georgia and we want to win for Auburn.”