ATLANTA - The anticipation is building ahead of this weekend's big rematch in Atlanta between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Auburn Tigers.
Three weeks after an ugly 40-17 loss at Auburn, No. 6 Georgia is facing perhaps the biggest do-over in school history. At stake Saturday will be the Southeastern Conference championship and a probable spot in the College Football Playoff. Standing in the way is No. 4 Auburn, who a few weeks ago dominated Georgia.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart had a one-word answer when asked what is the most important area in which his team must play better against Auburn.
"Physicality," he said, no doubt remembering lost battles up front three weeks ago. Quarterback Jake Fromm was sacked four times.
Perhaps the most dramatic imbalance in the loss to Auburn was in the running game. Georgia leads the SEC in rushing, so it was humbling for the Bulldogs to be held to 46 yards on 32 carries. Auburn's Kerryon Johnson also had 32 carries and 167 of the Tigers' 237 yards rushing.
Georgia's ground game has once again been productive in wins over Kentucky and Georgia Tech since the loss. But with all due respect to the Wildcats and Yellow Jackets, they don't have Auburn's defensive front.
Georgia needs to establish the running game with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel to avoid putting too much pressure on Fromm.
Smart said two impressive wins since the loss to Auburn, including last week's 38-7 win at Georgia Tech, did not prove the Bulldogs can beat the Tigers.
"They've improved," Smart said of his players. "We've seen them be resilient and respond to adversity because they had some adversity in that game. They had to come back out and play hard. But they haven't played Auburn again. They haven't played a team of that caliber just yet.
"It's a great opportunity, to go out and play a really good football team with an opportunity to prove that we've got a good football team."
This is the Deep South's oldest rivalry. The teams first met in 1892 and have played every year since 1898, except for a two-year break caused by World War II (1917-18) and no game in 1943 because of World War II. Georgia is seeking its first conference title since 2005, while Auburn last won the crown in 2013.