Rapid Reaction: Georgia shuts down Auburn, sends Alabama to SEC title game
There were no more miracles for the opposing team in Athens.
Georgia played another close rivalry game between the hedges, but this time it was the home team that made enough plays down the stretch to seal a 13-7 victory over Auburn on Saturday evening.
The loss ended Auburn’s SEC West title chances and sends Alabama back to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.
The Bulldogs’ defense looked dominant in shutting down the Tigers’ explosive rushing offense, which was missing Kamryn Pettway. Georgia’s young offensive skill players continue to improve and played extremely well against a good SEC defense.
What it means
Georgia’s hopes at a division title have long been dashed, but the victory is significant for the Bulldogs’ confidence heading into next season. It’s been a rocky start for Smart at Georgia, but this win is a big step in the right direction.
For Auburn, this loss ended the Tigers’ SEC and slim College Football Playoff hopes.
What I liked
Auburn: There was a tremendous amount of variety in Auburn’s’ running plays on its first scoring drive of the game. The Tigers drove 80 yards in 15 plays and utilized a blend of inside runs, sweeps and runs out of the Wildcat formation. Kerryon Johnson took the snap in Wildcat and ran up the gut for a 3-yard score and 7-0 lead.
Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson had a big impact in the first half, especially in the latter parts of the second quarter. When Georgia tried to throw the ball, the defensive linemen were quickly in the backfield. Adams had two tackles for a loss and a sack, while Lawson added a sack and tackle for a loss of his own.
Georgia: Jacob Eason looked sharp throwing the ball downfield in the first quarter. His first deep pass, which was caught by Javon Wims for a 40-yard gain, was called back due to a holding penalty, but he found Riley Ridley on the Bulldogs’ next drive for a 57-yard play.
Maurice Smith’s interception on Auburn’s first possession of the second half gave the Bulldogs a much-needed spark. The former Alabama defensive back is no stranger to playing Auburn and he took it 35-yards to tie the game at seven early in the third quarter.
Georgia drove 50 yards in 13 plays to take a 10-7 lead behind a 45-yard field goal from Rodrigo Blankenship. The Bulldogs actually managed to get the ball down to the Tigers’ 24-yard line before a bad snap set them back. Eason, Ridley and Isaac Nauta were huge on the drive. A good sign for Georgia’s offensive youth movement.
The Bulldogs’ defense was absolute on Saturday. It was the best effort from a unit that has made incredible strides under Smart and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.
What I didn’t like
Auburn: The Tigers’ defensive backs were burned deep a few times in the first half, but Georgia was unable to take full advantage of those opportunities.
Sean White looked shaky coming out of halftime and missed a couple of easy throws before failing to see Maurice Smith sit down in the middle of his throwing lane. Smith easily intercepted White’s pass and erased Auburn’s seven-point lead.
Auburn completely moved away from running the football in the second half. White threw three straight passes on the Tigers’ first drive of the third quarter, which resulted in a pick-six, and another three straight passes on the first drive of the fourth quarter, which resulted in Auburn’s fourth-straight three-and-out.
White struggled all evening long and could not locate his receivers consistently. Without the threat of a passing game, Georgia was able to key in on the Tigers’ run game.
Georgia: Following Eason’s deep connection with Ridley, which put the Bulldogs at Auburn’s 15-yard line, Georgia called a trick play. Receiver Terry Godwin was pitched the ball and looked to be throwing the ball away, but it landed safely into the arms of Tigers’ safety Tray Matthews. Credit Georgia for trying to catch Auburn off guard, but it felt a little too risky for the moment and Auburn proceeded to score on the next drive.
The refs missed a big pass interference call early in the second quarter on Ridley that should have given the Bulldogs a first down in Auburn territory. The call wasn’t made and Georgia punted.
Georgia’s offensive line made some costly mistakes throughout the game. A holding penalty negated a big play on the Bulldogs’ first possession and false starts set the offense back on numerous downs. None may have been more costly than a low snap by center Brandon Kublanow on first down at Auburn’s 25-yard line. It resulted in a 13-yard loss and forced Georgia to attempt a long field goal instead of continuing towards the end zone.
Who’s the man: There’s no question that Maurice Smith’s third-quarter interception was the turning point on Saturday, but Eason turned the corner against Auburn. From the beginning, the freshman quarterback looked sharp and poised. Eason finished 20-of-31 for 208 yards, but his night could have been even better if it hadn’t been for a few costly mistakes by others.
Key Play: Maurice Smith’s interception return for a touchdown early in the third quarter gave Georgia the spark it needed. On a night when the Bulldogs’ offense could move the ball but not reach the end zone, that defensive touchdown proved to be the deciding factor.
What’s next: Auburn returns home for a 7:30 p.m. ET kickoff against Alabama A&M ahead of its showdown with No. 1 Alabama in the Iron Bowl. Georgia will meet Louisiana-Lafayette between the hedges for a noon kickoff.