Amazing 2013 edition of Georgia-Auburn shows rivalry is worth saving

Scott Cunningham

No, it's not time to stop talking about what will likely be remembered as the best game of 2013. Except for Georgia fans. We're sorry, Georgia fans.

When a game ends like this...

...we should keep talking about it for a while. So let's do that.

1.  Gus Malzahn has warmed a lot of seats.

If you aren't already, put yourself in the shoes of a Texas fan. Or a Florida fan. Or a Virginia fan. Or a Mississippi State fan. Or a Washington fan. You are feeling uncertain about whether your program is headed in the right direction. On the other hand, you can think of arguments in favor of stability. You can think of the transition costs of bringing in a new head coach, namely the effects on recruiting and the downsides of a scheme change.

And then you watch an Auburn game. You see a team that was 3-9 last year get to 10-1 with a new, more modern offensive approach. You are reminded that Gus Malzahn's predecessor won a national title in 2010, yet Auburn didn't view his continued employment as guaranteed by virtue of winning a championship. You look at that and say, "to hell with being patient; I want that!"

There hasn't been any waiting around for Auburn, no "when we get the system and players in place, then we'll see competence." Just immediate success and a season-ending date against their arch rival with absolutely massive stakes.

Below the surface, there are a couple factors that have Auburn's transition under Malzahn a little easier than the garden variety coaching change. For one thing, Malzahn is only two years removed from being Auburn's offensive coordinator, which means that he knew the players, most of whom were recruited with his system in mind. For a second, Gene Chizik might have been a bit of a boob, but his staff was full of excellent recruiters, which left a full cupboard for Malzahn. For a third, Auburn has been fortunate this year, going 5-0 in one-score games. Despite being 10-1 and ostensibly in national title contention, the Tigers are only 11th in F/+.

So every program can't expect to fire its coach and have Auburn's record in 2013, but that won't stop fans of foundering programs from dreaming.

2.  When Gary Danielson just calls the game, CBS is damn near perfect.

CBS has the best intro music of any network, a decades-old jingle that makes middle-aged lawyers and accountants want to run into ... something.

Verne Lundquist is the perfect big-game announcer, having nailed a couple rather memorable calls over the years and remaining sharp after decades in the booth (with the occasional, forgivable goof). CBS's camera work is excellent, and they have figured out how to go split-screen and show replays in a no-huddle era. Bless them, they still show starting lineups at the outset of a game, unlike ABC/ESPN.

And that brings us to Gary Danielson. I'm on record as finding his anti-spread jeremiads annoying. That said, he has toned the rhetoric down this year, which just leaves an above-average analyst. Whether he has come to grips with the ascendance of the run-based spread or he has been told to squelch the grand ideological statements, Danielson has been more focused on just analyzing what's in front of him in 2013.

Georgia-Auburn was a perfect opportunity for the old Gary to make an appearance. You had a spread team against a pro-style opponent. The spread team struggled in the red zone and left enough time and space for the pro-style team to rally. There were no grandiloquent statements about how the teams' styles of play allowed Georgia to take a 38-37 lead. Instead, Danielson did what he had done all game, which was just break down the action on the field, thus improving the viewing experience for fans at home.

Scott Cunningham, Getty

3.  Aaron Murray deserved better.

The Auburn game was the perfect encapsulation of Aaron Murray's career at Georgia. His individual performance was outstanding.

Despite a skill-position corps that has been ravaged by injuries over the course of the year and an offensive line that was inconsistent at best in protecting him, Murray threw for 415 yards and two touchdowns at 8.5 yards per attempt and added two touchdowns on the ground. The last of Murray's four touchdowns was an epic fourth down scramble on which Murray gave up his body to give the Dawgs their first lead of the game with two minutes to go. If Daniel Moore were a Georgia fan, then Murray's leaning score would have ended up on a wall somewhere in Newnan or Perry.

Oh yeah, and the other if requires that Georgia's defense would have needed to get the final stop that never came. What was true after the LSU-Georgia game remains true today: for Georgia to win against top opponents, they consistently needed Murray to outscore an opponent that was always likely to push past 30 points.

Give beloved former Georgia quarterback (and, before Murray, the SEC career yardage leader) David Greene's defenses to Murray, and the Dawgs probably have a national title. At a minimum, they have a collection of epic Georgia-Alabama games in the Georgia Dome as opposed to just one. Give Murray's defenses to Greene, and you don't have a 2002 SEC Championship. This bears remembering when Murray's legacy is considered by SEC fans.

4. Les Miles, shut your mouth.

It makes sense that the Georgia-Auburn rivalry produced this sort of drama. The game is an underrated blood feud on a national scale, in no small part because it's not common knowledge among college football fans outside of the South that a very large portion of the Auburn fan base lives in Georgia. Thanksgiving tables across the state will be the scenes for all manner of taunting, from wry smiles to full-on "your safeties suck!" attacks.

This is the rivalry of "look at the sugar falling out of the sky," of Auburn ending Georgia's run of SEC titles in 1983, of Between the Hoses, of the first overtime game in SEC history, of Greene to Johnson, and of Cox to Aromashodu.

And Les Miles wants to end this game because he doesn't like playing Florida every year. (Or, if you prefer, cue up the Walter White voice: "and you want to take that away from me.")  Auburn-Georgia still exists even in an era of SEC expansion because the league requires each team to have one annual game against a cross-divisional rival. Thus, Auburn and Georgia play every year, adding another chapter to the oldest rivalry in the Deep South.

What gave the game on Saturday a little extra oomph was the historical context. Georgia and Auburn fans have been watching these teams play in November for decades. When the Tigers pulled off a miracle, the memory fit nicely into the mental files of supporters throughout the region, right next to the other famous finishes of the series. Georgia-Arkansas or Auburn-Kentucky just wouldn't be the same.

If there can be a silver lining for battered Georgia fans, it's that in a just world, the epic 2013 Georgia-Auburn game will be a reason to keep this rivalry as an annual event.

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Full Week 13 TV schedule, including five ranked games

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TWIS: Georgia fans react to Auburn’s insane Hail Mary

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