ATLANTA -- Gus Malzahn was right. His Tigers did whip the "dog crap" out of Georgia just over two weeks ago.
But the Bulldogs let them. After several self-inflicted wounds from a lack of discipline, poor tackling and dropped passes, the Georgia Bulldogs were cowering as Auburn pounded them 40-17.
The Tigers took away Georgia's No. 1 ranking, and then they did it again against Alabama just two weeks later. Alabama made a lot of the same mistakes as Georgia and struggled as Auburn's offense fooled them with a lot of pre-snap movement and kept them guessing.
No. 2 Auburn now stands one win away from likely reaching the College Football Playoff, but they must do it all again against No. 6 Georgia in the SEC Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday.
The Bulldogs have built some momentum since their first meeting with the Tigers thanks to convincing wins against Kentucky and Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs' running tandem of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel have been able to break free for 376 yards and seven combined touchdowns in two games since that night at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
And if Georgia is able to keep their composure and avoid costly mistakes, they'll swap places with Auburn in the Playoff and will sit one win away from playing for their first national championship since 1980.
"It’s just another chance," senior linebacker Lorenzo Carter said. "There’s not many chances when you get a chance to redeem yourself, and I feel like we have to go out there and be ready to redeem ourselves on Saturday.”
No one can take away anything from Auburn. They are loaded with talent, and that allows them to be creative in their play calling. Their blocking is exceptional. And their run game, led by running back Kerryon Johnson, keeps the defense honest.
If Johnson's not cutting around the edge or catching a screen pass and breaking tackles, Jarrett Stidham is finding receivers like Darius Slayton, who caught a 42-yard touchdown pass against Georgia in their first meeting. Stidham threw three touchdown passes against the Bulldogs.
But Johnson is questionable for Saturday's game. He injured his shoulder against Alabama. Malzahn said he's day-to-day. But that doesn't affect how Georgia head coach Kirby Smart will prepare.
"They've got a lot of strengths. They've got other backs that are good, probably not near as good as Kerryon. But they've got quality backs and they're SEC backs," Smart said. "They've also got ways of creating a running game that Gus has done outside of Kerryon. He does a good job of sharing those carries."
As for the players, they didn't feel like they played to the standard they know they can in the first meeting. They are looking to make a statement at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
"This game means a lot because I get to go out there and try to prove myself for these seniors and send them out on top. To get revenge for them," receiver Terry Godwin said. "I hate for them to go out with a loss like this. For this team, I think we kind of needed that to wake us up. For these seniors, we’re going to go out there and put it all on the line.”
It's true. The discipline wasn't there. A leaping penalty on a punt allowed Auburn to keep their drive alive and eventually find Slayton in the end zone, extending the lead. Mecole Hardman, who has done well in special teams this season, fumbled a punt. Again, Auburn was able to take advantage and find the end zone four plays later. Sony Michel fell victim to his emotions on a punt and was called for a personal foul. That's when it was clear, Georgia was off their game. And everything unraveled from there. Eliminate one or two of those mistakes, Georgia may have been able to turn the game around before it got out of hand.
“Discipline always has been one of our mottos. We have to follow it, because Auburn is a team that capitalizes on mistakes," Michel said. "We have to stay poised and do what we do. We can’t act out of character. We just need to go out there and play our ball game."
The offensive line will be tested again against Auburn's stout defense, which sacked freshman quarterback Jake Fromm four times in the first meeting. It held Georgia to just 46 yards on the ground. After that game, Ben Cleveland started at right guard in place of Solomon Kindley.
Georgia and Auburn have never met in the SEC Championship for the "Deep South's Oldest Rivalry." Teams that won the regular season meeting are 5-1 in SEC Championship rematches. So history isn't on Georgia's side.
But Smart has this program ahead of schedule in just his second season, whether he wants to admit it or not.
"I've repeatedly said the same thing, there is no schedule for winning championships. Our job at the University of Georgia is to educate, get degrees, make sure we make the student-athlete a better person, and to win championships," Smart said. "At the end of the season, we look back and say did we get the most out of this unit, this team, that we possibly could withstanding injuries, withstanding circumstances that you can't control. That's what we'll do at the end of this year and we'll do the same thing the following year."