Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett has been stealing the limelight away from the Georgia defense, and the unit isn’t getting very much praise for their accomplishments over the last two weeks.
Georgia (2-0, 2-0 SEC) put on another stout performance Saturday night against Auburn where they did for most of the game without senior safety Richard LeCounte. He was ejected for a targeting penalty early with less than four minutes to go in the first half.
Still, the Bulldogs didn’t allow a touchdown and kept Auburn quarterback Bo Nix on the run all night long. Auburn could never really get things going on offense, and it showed as Georgia kept pounding away at their offensive line.
“I thought it hurt both defenses not having the signal caller and leader in the back end with them losing Smoke (Monday) and us losing Richard (LeCounte),” said Georgia head coach Kirby Smart after the game. “It affected both of us but I did think we played really physical tonight and I think when you play Auburn, that’s where it starts, the line of scrimmage and physicality. If you can’t run the ball and somebody else can run the ball, it makes it easier to be successful.”
Nix finished the night completing 21 of his 41 passes for 177 yards with an interception. The Tigers were held to just 216 yards of total offense with 39 of them being on the ground. Freshman Tank Bigsby led the Tigers with 31 yards on eight rush attempts. The LaGrange, Ga. native had Auburn’s second longest run of the night for nine yards.
“We knew that in the last two games, whoever won the rushing stat would win the game,” said Georgia linebacker Azeez Ojulari. “We had to make sure we held them down, stopped the run, and made them one dimensional.”
Senior inside linebacker Monty Rice led the team with seven total tackles and Ojulari finished with five stops, with three of them being tackles for loss. Lewis Cine, Tyrique Stevenson, Nakobe Dean, Quay Walker and Jordan Davis all had four tackles, respectively. It seemed like Ojulari and Adam Anderson were the ones constantly getting into the backfield all night.
“First of all, give Georgia credit. A very good football team,” said Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn. “They won the line of scrimmage. We really got whipped on all three phases, we got out coached. You look at first downs, they averaged seven yards, I think we had two third down conversions. Once again, we just had trouble getting off the field. The big stat to me is the rushing yards. We only rushed 31 yards and then we got in a situation, got behind and had to throw it a lot. Had trouble protecting. Give them credit.”
Georgia did a fantastic job of limiting Auburn’s receivers as well. Seth Williams, who’s regarded as one of the best receivers in the conference, was limited to three catches for 34 yards. Georgia’s Tyson Campbell had Williams in check all night long. Anthony Schwartz led the Tigers in receptions with eight catches for 57 yards while Bigsby hauled in seven passes for 68 yards.
“I thought they did a good job. I thought we made some plays on 50/50 balls and then we lost some 50/50 ball,” Smart said. “But when you play against a quarterback like Bo (Nix) and skill level like Seth (Williams) and (Anthony) Schwartz and some of those guys, it makes it tough because eventually you’re going to be one on one.
Smart said that it all comes down to matchups.
“And that’s what football boils down to, is who can win that one-on-one matchup,” he continued. “And if you lose some of those, maybe the game is different. And if you win more than you lose, you’re usually going to come out ahead. And Bo made some unbelievable throws and some unbelievable scrambles to keep them alive. I thought he did some really good things, but I was proud of our secondary and the way they played.”
Nix’s lone interception was picked off by senior Mark Webb, which was his first career interception. At that point, the game was pretty much over as the Bulldogs ran the ball down Auburn’s throat.
“Any time you find yourself down 21 points that quickly in a game is not a good way to start,” Nix said. “We just tried to come out in the second half and throw all our bullets at them. We threw the ball around a little bit. We had some successful drives and then we just stalled.”
Still, Smart sets the bar high because he’s a defensive-minded coach.
“I don’t know. I don’t think we finished well. I think we had, I don’t know, I’d be guessing, four or five missed sacks, just couldn’t get him on the ground. I think that’s a credit to his athleticism because we’ve got some pretty good athletes out there that couldn’t get him on the ground. But I was pleased with the way we finished, obviously six points and the production but we left a lot of third downs. We don’t usually give up a lot of third downs. We’ve been pretty good at getting off the field on third down and seven of 16 is not our… we don’t meet our goal. So we know that the first drive of the second half is not up to our standard.”
Here’s the video from Smart’s postgame press conference: