Travis Williams remembers it vividly.
The former Auburn linebacker and current assistant coach recalls every key moment and each distinct detail of the Tigers’ 31-30 win at Sanford Stadium against rival Georgia in 2005.
He remembers Devin Aromashodu’s 63-yard catch-and-run on fourth down during Auburn’s game-winning drive. He remembers squaring off with Georgia tight end Leonard Pope and quarterback DJ Shockley. He remembers the atmosphere in Athens after John Vaughn’s game-winning 21-yard field goal in the waning seconds lifted the Tigers to a win.
“That was a heck of a game,” Williams said in August. “… I remember it was a freaking great game. It was great…. I just remember it all. There were some really great players in that game. The atmosphere after the game was incredible. That's going to be a game, now. That's always going to be a great game.”
What Williams didn’t quite recall was that it has been since that thrilling game more than a decade ago that Auburn has left Sanford Stadium victorious.
“It’s been that long?” Williams asked. “2005? What’s that, 13 years?”
Indeed, it has been 13 years. Since then, the Tigers have been trapped Between the Hedges, losing five straight on the road in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry while struggling immensely offensively — especially after the first quarter — in each of the last four meeting in Athens.
Those are two trends No. 24 Auburn (6-3, 3-3 SEC) will attempt to buck on Saturday at 6 p.m. (ESPN) for the 123rd installment of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry against No. 5 Georgia (8-1, 6-1), the SEC East champion. Fixing the latter will clear a path for the former this weekend.
Gus Malzahn has been part of four of those five straight losses in Athens, first as Auburn’s offensive coordinator in 2009 and 2011, and then as head coach in 2014 and 2016. In those four games, Auburn has outpaced Georgia, 35-21, but the wheels have fallen off in the other three quarters. The Bulldogs have outscored the Tigers, 88-10, after the first quarter during those four games.
Malzahn’s offense has not scored a point after the first quarter since a third-quarter Wes Byrum field goal in 2009 (the Tigers got a 99-yard kick return touchdown from Demond Washington in the fourth quarter of that game, but it wasn’t an offensive score).
“We’ve got to correct that,” Malzahn said. “We’ve got to do a better job, no doubt. They’re always a talented team. They’re always going to be one of the most talent-based teams in our league. When you go there, that’s a tough place to play, but we need to switch that up and we need to play well.”
Auburn hasn’t always struggled in Athens. Prior to the current five-game skid, Auburn had won 10 of its previous 12 meetings with Georgia on the road, as the series was often won by the visiting team between 1980-2005.
Of late, however, the road has not been kind to the Tigers. That includes the most recent loss, when Auburn had one of the worst offensive performance of Malzahn’s career in a 13-7 loss in 2016. The Tigers finished that game with just 164 yards of total offense, just 37 passing yards on 8-of-22 attempts, including a pick-six and did not pick up a first down after halftime.
Though Auburn’s offense has largely struggled to find consistently this season, Malzahn and players are confident the Tigers will find their footing against the Bulldogs following the offense’s fourth-quarter surge during its late-game rally last week against Texas A&M. Auburn is hopeful that will result in better production Between the Hedges — and an upset of one of its two biggest rivals as the Tigers try to play spoiler late in the year.
“You’re talking about two teams that have a lot of similarities, and I guess sort of like a brother, your brother,” Auburn defensive line coach Rodney Garner said. “It’s such an intense rivalry in that it’s going to be so competitive every time you get together.”
Article first appeared on AL.Com