Georgia rules SEC East again with win over Auburn, but the job is far from finished
When Jake Fromm connected with Eli Wolf from 5 yards out to give Georgia a 21-0 lead over Auburn with 13 seconds left in the 3rd quarter, you couldn’t be blamed for thinking that the game was over.
The Dawgs had held the Tigers to 171 yards of total offense and just over 3 yards per play at that point. Their rushing defense, which had only given up 49 yards through 3 quarters, meant that the Tigers had to go through the air in hopes of making headway.
Then the 4th quarter happened.
With 10 minutes left, Eli Stove put the Tigers on the board on a 3-yard TD catch. They got the ball back after forcing a Georgia 3-and-out, and 3 minutes later, Bo Nix punched it in from 2 yards out to end a 5-play, 57-yard drive that lasted all of 68 seconds.
Georgia 21, Auburn 14 with 7 minutes remaining, and the Dawgs’ run of allowing 0 rushing touchdowns this season was finished. And, if they weren’t careful, their College Football Playoff hopes would be, too.
But the Georgia defense had the last laugh in the form of 2 late-game stops, capped by a sack of Nix by Travon Walker on Auburn’s final play. The Bulldogs could breathe a sigh of relief, their streak of SEC East titles now up to 3 and a trip to the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 7 secured.
Step 1 accomplished. Step 2: Get to Mercedes-Benz Stadium without another loss and keep yourself in the Playoff hunt.
And if Step 2 is to be checked off the list, there are still questions to be answered. As in, what happened in the 4th quarter? Did the Dawgs let their foot off the gas pedal with their defense turning in another elite performance through 3 quarters? Auburn outgained Georgia 158-2 in the 4th quarter alone, with the Bulldogs ending up punting the football 3 times.
It clearly wasn’t what Kirby Smart envisioned with his team up by 3 touchdowns with 45 minutes in the books.
“We made a statement that we didn’t stop them on the last 2 or 3 drives,” Smart said after the game. “I mean, you have to finish teams off. Played really well early, lost our composure and didn’t finish the way we needed to.”
Normally, that hasn’t been an issue as Georgia has been able to pull away from teams late or shut them down defensively. That didn’t happen Saturday, 1 of only 2 games where the Dawgs have allowed more than 10 points in the 2nd half of a game.
Meanwhile, the Georgia offense was far from its best. To be fair, though, this was an Auburn defense that held high-powered LSU to 23 points in October, its lowest output so far this season and the only time it’s been held under 36 points.
Jake Fromm ended the day with 3 touchdown passes, but outside of a 51-yard bomb to Dominick Blaylock in the 1st quarter to open the scoring, he was a pedestrian 12-of-27 for 60 yards. Lawrence Cager and George Pickens, coming off monster games against Missouri a week ago, combined for 2 catches, 17 yards and just 5 targets. Nine Georgia drives ended in 3-and-outs as Jake Carmada finished the night with 11 punts.
— Rodrigo Blankenship (@RodTheKicker3) November 17, 2019
That highlights the performance of a Bulldogs defense that forced 7 punts and a fumble over 3 quarters of football. It ended up being far from the wire-to-wire performance Georgia put together against Missouri, but for much of this game, Auburn — thanks in part to Gus Malzahn’s coaching — had no answers and was one-dimensional in its offensive approach. It was, as the CBS broadcast called it, a rock fight.
Questions and concerns aside, it’s a win for Georgia that nearly wasn’t. But it’s a win with the division now wrapped up.
And now the focus shifts to Senior Day against Texas A&M next Saturday, where an Aggies team that has lost to only Clemson, Alabama and Auburn will be waiting to try to shake up the Playoff picture. Then it’s off to Bobby Dodd Stadium and a rebuilding Georgia Tech program that found itself on the wrong end of a 45-0 thumping against Virginia Tech on Saturday.
It’s a 2-game stretch that the Dawgs hope they come out of unscathed. But Dec. 7 is still a long, long way off. And in the world of college football, anything can happen.