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Auburn prepares for rare rematch in SEC championship game
Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson had 167 yards rushing, 66 yards receiving and a touchdown in the first meeting against Georgia. Photo: Wade Rackley/Auburn Athletics
Nov. 27, 2017

By Greg Ostendorf

AUBURN, Ala. -- Playing the same team twice in one season is rare in college football, but Auburn has done it before. In 2010, the Tigers beat South Carolina in September and then again in the SEC championship game -- winning the latter, 56-17.

That should bode well for this year's Auburn team as it heads into a rematch with Georgia for the SEC title on Saturday. In fact, there have been six rematches since the SEC championship game began in 1992, and the team that won during the regular season is 5-1 in the rematch. So Auburn's 40-17 win over the Bulldogs earlier this month has to be a good sign, right?

"The unique thing about this is it's a four-week turnaround," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "It's been very recent. That makes it a little more unique and challenging."

"It's a challenge, for sure, especially (facing a team) that's really good like this one," added offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey. "I think it just comes down to you trying to get your players in a position to play well and win and give them the best opportunity based on the gameplan. I'm sure they're doing the same thing on their side.

"There'll be wrinkles, I'm sure, on each side, and how we adjust to those will be important. At the end of the day, this is a players' game, and we'll put them in position to make plays and see what happens."

When the two teams met the first time, it was all blue and orange. Kerryon Johnson accounted for 233 all-purpose yards and a touchdown. Jarrett Stidham threw three touchdowns. And thanks to the Auburn defense, Georgia's star running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel each ran for fewer than 30 yards. As a team, the Bulldogs finished with just 46 rushing yards.

This Saturday is a different game, though.

Having coached as an assistant in the NFL for four seasons, Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele understands that as well as anybody. He has plenty of experience playing the same team twice in one season.

"One thing I learned real quick is it's hard to beat somebody twice in the same year," Steele said. "Particularly if they're a good football team. And if they're a really, really good football team, it's really hard. So that being said, having been around conference championship games and having to play opponents that you've played before, really it's got a life of its own.

"That last game? This [game] is not going to look anything like the last game, probably. So we've got to prepare just like the first game against Georgia never happened."

Obviously, the coaches will look at the tape from the first game -- see what worked and what didn't work, correct the mistakes, add new wrinkles -- but both sides have to prepare for a different game with a completely different set of variables surrounding it.

For starters, the first meeting was inside the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium. On Saturday, Auburn will play inside what could be a pro-Georgia Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta. There's also the revenge factor that the Bulldogs can use as motivation after getting run out of the stadium the first time around.

"Of course they're going to have a crowd," Malzahn said. "There's no doubt as far as that goes. This being for the SEC championship, it's as big as it gets, no matter revenge or not. We're expecting their best. You're talking about one of the more talented teams in all of college football and very talented on both sides of the football."

The stakes will be much larger Saturday, too. The winner not only wins the SEC, it also secures a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Greg Ostendorf is a Senior Writer for Follow him on Twitter:



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