AUBURN – Following Auburn's 27-10 loss at the hands of the Texas A&M Aggies, the Tigers have arguably their biggest challenge of the year this week in the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs.
“Obviously, you never like to lose games, particularly when you don't feel like you played your best, but there were a lot of things that I liked, especially from the defense," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "I thought they played extremely hard, and short-handed. Really, we easily could've probably held those guys to around 13 points."
Penalties were a persistent issue for Auburn on Saturday, and Freeze took note of that during his weekly press conference on Monday.
“Well, there's four of them that I didn't like, and I've turned them in," Freeze said. "I don't see them. Then there's three that - two were intentional to try to back us up to punt and give Oscar (Chapman) a little more room to try to pin them deep. The false start can't happen. We had one of those. I'm trying to remember what the others were.
"There was a holding call on a pass play that was probably legit," he added. "So, I mean, it was a mixed bag. You can't have 10 penalties though, for whatever reason."
Quarterback play was not particularly good on Saturday, but Freeze said the blame does not solely lie on them.
“Well certainly with more consistent play, but there are times I feel like where we’ve let both Payton (Thorne) and Robby (Ashford) or Holden (Geriner) down," Freeze said. "Because of all the other components that go into the passing game, that is where I’m determined to help get fixed this week before you give some final grade on quarterback play."
He continued, "When Robby came in, I thought he made two really nice throws on two deep balls and I thought the routes were not run correctly. I know the quarterbacks and coaches get the blame. The coaches, we deserve it and the quarterbacks don’t always deserve it."
It is a rivalry week for Auburn, and SEC rivalries are nothing new to Freeze.
“Well, I don’t want to quote something that is inaccurate," Freeze said. It’s the oldest rivalry in the South for sure. I don’t know about nationally. Am I saying that correctly? I don’t sense that it has the hatred that is in some other rivalries I’ve been a part of. Nonetheless, I think its intense. I’ll find out. I’m not big on hate."
"I’m big on that this game means so much to so many people so we should compete in a way out of love for our people," he added. "Not necessarily for hate to other people. That’s kind of the way I operate. I hope we compete because we love Auburn and it means something to the Auburn people to compete against Georgia. That’ll be my approach. Love is a great motivator for me."
This weekend will be important for the future of the program from a recruiting standpoint.
"I do not know if we will have enough tickets for all of the recruits that want to come," Freeze said. "I am glad I am not having to deal with that. Recruiting staff is working diligently. We have official visits; we have top kids here unofficially. It will be all-hands-on-deck, Auburn putting their best foot forward, which I know we will. Our people are incredible. Our place is incredible to watch a game. Now we have to make sure they see what Auburn is really about."
Freeze will be going up against one of the best coaches in college football this weekend, and he understands the challenge that lies ahead.
"I played Kirby his first year (at Georgia) when I was still at Ole Miss," Freeze said. "I know kind of what he inherited because I coached in that game. I know what the outcome was. It is a great testament to his vision, his work ethic, his staff, his administration being patient to have the year he needed to, to recruit. The dividends are paying off greatly. They are one of the gold standards in college football right now."
"They are recruiting a top-three class every single year. That is hard to compete with and they are well coached. You have to give them credit. I know it’s a rivalry game, but the truth is the truth. He has built a dang good football program there. It means a lot of things. It means he has the support from the administration and the fans," he added.
Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. CT, and CBS will carry the broadcast.
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