A mountain of a player whose first responsibility will be to eat up blockers to allow the linebackers to make plays, Auburn's Jeffrey Whitaker said this game holds a special meaning for him and the rest of Auburn's players from the State of Georgia.
"This is it," Whitaker said. "This means a lot. Last year, we actually clinched the SEC West, if I'm not mistaken, after Georgia. It's so ironic that this year they're in the same kind of deal we were in last year. It's one more game. We're going to get their all. You're going to get Georgia's all playing them anyway. I've got a lot of respect for Coach Richt. It's like going against family. It's going to be pretty special. We have a job we've got to get done."
That job will require Whitaker and the Auburn defense to slow down running back Isaiah Crowell and put the Georgia offense in obvious passing situations. That won't be easy as the Bulldogs average 175.6 yards per game on the ground with Crowell going for 86.1 yards and leading the team with four touchdowns, but if the Tigers get it done then there's a good bet that Eltoro Freeman will be at the center of things.
"He lifts up the defense," Whitaker said. "We actually call him Bull. He's a high-energy guy, high motor, very vocal guy. When you see him out there doing his thing, running across and making unbelievable tackles and causing fumbles and all that, when you're getting that from your middle linebacker it lifts everybody. It makes you want to elevate your game."
Just putting Georgia in passing situations won't guarantee success either as Aaron Murray has thrown for 2,060 yards and 23 touchdowns with eight interceptions. He is completing 60 percent of his passes with many of those deep balls down the field. Because of that Whitaker said it's going to be important to get pressure on Murray early and often.
"Murray is one of those quarterbacks where if you give him time and let him sit back, he'll pick you apart," Whitaker said. "We've got that. There's no way we're going to underestimate him or anything like that. Murray is a great quarterback. He runs that offense. The deal is that we have to get to Murray and hit him when we can -- the right way. Not late or anything like that. I'm pretty sure they've been circling their game for a minute because of how that game ended. I'm pretty sure they're ready and pumped up, but so are we."
Last season things turned ugly in a hurry in Auburn's win over Georgia as smack talk by the Bulldogs turned into physical play on both sides of the ball and eventually to punches being thrown by both sides. Whitaker said he expects a physical game again this Saturday going up against a very good Georgia line, but he adds that Auburn plans to play hard and try its best to get a win.
"That's the way it is," Whitaker said. "It's Georgia and Auburn. When you've got a pretty good offensive line, who don't mind hitting you in the mouth and you don't mind returning the favors, there are going to be some shots. There's going to be a little talking here and there. We're going to respect the game. We're going to play until the whistle blows.
"We're just trying to get seven on the board and Georgia's in the way of that. That's where we're trying to go. We understand where they're trying to go. It's all about Auburn when it comes to Auburn. It's not about the opponent."