AUBURN - Gene Chizik will coach in his seventh Auburn-Georgia game Saturday. And he long ago understood what it's all about.
Corey Lemonier is undecided about NFL draft/Robin Conn photo
Chizik was 1-2 against the Bulldogs as defensive coordinator from 2002-2004 and he's 1-2 as head coach. He'll get another shot Saturday when the Tigers (2-7, 0-6) play No. 5 Georgia (8-1, 6-1) at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Kickoff time on ESPN2 is set for 6 p.m.
"Everybody on our team knows what this game is," Chizik said Sunday. "It doesn't matter what state you're from. Everyone's going to say, 'Well, you've got a lot of guys from Georgia, is it going to mean more to them?' This game means a lot to anybody that's a part of the Auburn family. That's just the way it is.
"All our players know what this game is. They know what it means, so I think, just by the nature of the game itself, absolutely it means a lot. When you look at the two rivalry games we have left, they all understand what it is."
Chizik said there will be no suspense this week about who will be the starting quarterback. True freshman Jonathan Wallace will carry the load again against the Bulldogs. Sophomore Kiehl Frazier will be the backup. Junior Clint Moseley is still questionable with an ankle injury.
Wallace said he recognizes the challenge will be far greater when Georgia comes to town.
"You have to take a different approach," Wallace said. "You're playing some guys who have pro potential. That's one of the things that I like as far as having to raise to my competition level. As a player, I'll have to go out there and compete a lot harder. Not taking away from New Mexico State, but Georgia has some really good athletes."
Junior defensive end Corey Lemonier, projected to be a high NFL draft pick, isn't ready to say whether he will return for his senior season. He doesn't even like talking about it.
"I don't know yet," Lemonier said. "Basically, it's all about performance. It's self-explanatory. We're still in the season. I'm just trying to focus on the season."
Lemonier said he didn't know if he would submit paperwork to get his draft status evaluated.
Asked by a reporter from Georgia what has led to Auburn's worst start in 60 years, Chizik said there was no easy answer.
"I don't think you can pin it on one thing," Chizik said. "We've been in a lot of football games and had chances to win. When the game could have gone either way, execution-wise, we weren't able to pull those out when we have in past years for the most part. I don't think you can pinpoint it on one group or one thing. As we've said all along, we have to coach better and we have to play better."
Chizik said junior defensive tackle Jeff Whitaker, who has missed the last two games, is improving and could play against Georgia. He said cornerback Chris Davis, defensive tackle Devaunte Sigler and Moseley are questionable and will be evaluated as the week goes on.
After rushing for 311 yards against New Mexico State, the Tigers will be committed to running the ball against Georgia, Chizik said.
"I think we have to be committed to run the football," Chizik said. "If you want your quarterback to have some success, you have to be willing to, if it's not the perfect look, run it sometimes anyway. There also becomes that fine line where you don't want to beat your head up against the wall and just be unreasonable about it."