Georgia's big second half gets a win at Auburn, and a reprieve from criticism
When Georgia has been bad this season, the Bulldogs been very, very bad. Especially on offense. It’s kept the frustration level pretty high among the Bulldog faithful.
The first half of Saturday’s game with Auburn looked very familiar. Georgia was sleep-walking through the first two quarters, scoring only three points and setting the stage for all that would come with a bad loss, the howls for coaching changes at the top of the list.
But then things changed, and quickly. UGA dominated the second half of the game and ultimately walked out of Auburn with a 20-13 win, their eighth victory in the past 10 tries against the Tigers.
Any number of ways exist to dismiss what happened. Auburn’s offense is a sad, sorry mess on its own, and a narrow win over this particular AU team hardly exonerates coach Mark Richt and his staff for another disappointing season.
Still, let’s say this for UGA. They hung in there. The defense didn’t give up a cheap score, the kicking game was sound and the offense did enough. Finally. They hung in there, and they’re still on track for a 10-win season.
• Special teams: The obvious heroes of the game were the guys on UGA’s special teams, which kept Auburn pinned for most of the game, provided the deciding points of the game — Isaiah McKenzie’s punt return and Marshall Morgan’s field goal — and then finished the game with a solid play on Auburn’s final onside kick. McKenzie’s punt return will lead most of the highlights, if only because at the moment it happened, UGA’s offense looked stuck in mud and that play took all the pressure off.
• Struggling offense: Good feelings about special teams aside, UGA’s offensive line spent most of the day looking feeble and inadequate against Auburn. Georgia drove it 67 yards for the tying score – which wouldn’t have happened without a timely facemask penalty – but otherwise didn’t put together a possession longer than 37 yards the rest of the game. Most damning, when UGA recovered Sean White’s fumble and had the chance to put the game away, they went backward 4 yards and needed Morgan to bail them out.
• Stifling defense: For whatever drama he apparently causes behind the scenes, Jeremy Pruitt’s defense performed about as well Saturday as it is capable of performing. Auburn drove 75 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown on the opening possession, but gained only 200 yards the rest of the day. And when their kicking game finally gave them the lead, the defense responded by forcing two Auburn turnovers on consecutive possessions.
Offense: (C-minus) — Probably the most frustrating thing has to be the Bulldogs’ continual inability to convert on third down (5-of-14 for the game). They weren’t unmanageable third downs, either, and Auburn’s defense isn’t exactly the ’85 Bears. Georgia did just enough to win, so we’ll let them pass.
Defense: (A) — When Kerryon Johnson scored the game’s first touchdown, I actually made a note saying “UGA has quit … this is gonna get ugly.” It never did.
Special Teams: (A) — For all the reasons mentioned above. Bonus points for Morgan’s last field goal, which was super clutch.
Coaching: (B-minus) — Every question before and after this game centers around Richt, and whether this victory is enough to save his job. For whatever it’s worth, Georgia — in spite of all its travails — is on track to win 10 games this season (with a bowl win), and still owns the majority of its chief rivals (Tennessee, Auburn, Georgia Tech). But on the flip side, they still haven’t won the SEC since 2005, still haven’t won a national championship, and haven’t won a “big game” since they ambushed Florida in 2007.
• Isaiah McKenzie: 4 carries, 26 yards, TD; 2 catches, 15 yards; 1 return, 53 yards, TD
• Sony Michel: 26 carries, 81 yards
• Jake Ganus: 7 tackles, 4 TFL
• Keith Marshall did not play in Saturday’s game. Afterward, Richt said he could not participate due to knee and ankle injuries.
• Right guard Greg Pyke injured his knee in the second half and did not return. Richt said he did not have a status update on Pyke after the game.