Rodney Garner has quite the extensive knowledge of personnel for this Saturday's Auburn-Georgia game.
Auburn's defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator spent the past 15 seasons holding those same roles at Georgia. Garner coached at Tennessee before leaving for Georgia, so he's actually facing his two former schools in two consecutive weeks.
This past weekend went well for Garner, as the turnaround Tigers improved to 9-1 by roaring past the Volunteers 55-23 at Neyland Stadium.
"When I left Auburn 18 years ago, I came to Tennessee and spent two really good years in Knoxville," Garner told the Auburn Radio Network after Saturday's game. "Obviously I spent 15 years in Athens, and both of those schools were good to me and my family, but it's been awesome to be able to come home and to come home at a time when Auburn is getting itself back to the status that Auburn belongs.
"Hopefully we're playing a small part in that transformation."
Auburn and Georgia have played 116 times, and the series is deadlocked at 54-54-8. Saturday's game at Jordan-Hare Stadium will be televised by CBS at 3:30 p.m.
Garner was the only assistant Mark Richt retained when Richt was named Georgia's head coach in December 2000. Richt faced former assistants Brian VanGorder and Willie Martinez in last year's game against Auburn, which the Bulldogs won handily, and he faced Martinez and John Jancek earlier this year at Tennessee.
This Saturday, however, will represent the first time Richt has faced a former assistant within several months of that assistant leaving. Richt's teleconference Sunday had to be canceled due to the teleconferencing system being down, but Richt had nothing but praise for Garner last December following his departure.
"He was the first assistant I hired when I came to Georgia, and it turned out to be a great decision," Richt said. "He's a tremendous ball coach, recruiter and mentor, and he's a great example of what a good father and husband should be. He's been a blessing to my life as well."
Garner, an All-SEC guard for Auburn in 1988, returned to his alma mater after being a part of 117 victories, two league championships and five SEC East titles with the Bulldogs. He came back to a program that had gone 3-9 in Gene Chizik's fourth and final season, the school's worst mark in 60 years.
Auburn has performed the nation's greatest rebound this season with its No. 7 ranking, and the biggest reason is the successful ground game under Gus Malzahn's up-tempo spread system. Yet the defense under coordinator Ellis Johnson is doing its share on a smaller scale, as the Tigers are allowing 20.4 points per game after allowing 28.3 a year ago.
More importantly, the Tigers are giving up just three points a game in the fourth quarter.
"Obviously in this league, you need to be a dominant team in the fourth quarter," Garner said. "As a coach, you would like to be dominant in the first three quarters, too, and be a complete defense without that bend-but-not-break mentality. We really want to get away from that and to change our mindset to become more dominating and more physical."
Garner's arrival at Auburn was quickly followed by the Tigers signing the touted defensive line trio of Montravius Adams, Elijah Daniel and Carl Lawson. Those three freshmen have combined this season on 10.5 tackles for loss and six sacks.
Senior defensive end Dee Ford leads the Tigers with 10.5 tackles for loss and has seven of the team's 23 sacks. Auburn had just 22 sacks all of last season.
Garner said it was important for his players to go up against Tennessee's quality offensive line, adding that it would be similar to what his Tigers will be facing Saturday and on Nov. 30, when Auburn hosts Alabama. Though many years have passed since he was last at Auburn, Garner has not forgotten the meaning of the last two games.
"When I played at Auburn, the Georgia game and the Alabama game were very important," he said. "That was stressed to us on the first day we arrived on campus."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...