NO BONES ‘BOUT IT: DEEP SOUTH’S OLDEST RIVALRY RENEWED

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NO BONES ‘BOUT IT: DEEP SOUTH’S OLDEST RIVALRY RENEWED

Georgia defensive back Rico McGraw (36) and defensive back Aaron Davis (35) celebrate during the Bulldogs’ game against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015. (Photo by John Kelley)
[su_spacer size=”20″] It was the worst of halves; it was the best of halves. It was, well…okay, that may be overstating it a bit. But on a beautiful, crisp, fall day in November on the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the Georgia Bulldogs, and the Auburn Tigers squared off in their 119th meeting in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. This game did not have national championship playoff implications. This game did not have any effect on who would win the SEC East or the SEC West. This game was not the prelude to a rematch in Atlanta as many pundits had predicted in the preseason. In fact, it was the first time that neither team was ranked in the Top-25 when facing one another in just under 20 years. This game was just a contest between two rival teams who have been searching for answers and searching for identities all season long. And when the final clock struck “triple zeroes”, there was no last-minute miracle for the Tigers and the Georgia Bulldogs took a “one game” lead in this storied matchup; a lead they have not held since 1986 (56 – 55 -8). It is still yet to be determined if all of the questions fans, coaches, and players have about their perspective squads were answered this day. But as the Bulldogs left the field victorious and headed back to Athens, their minds were not burdened with “what could have been” or “what if”. Rather, they gave themselves…nay, they earned themselves a momentary break from such an inquisition and found joy in simply winning.

Since there is no back without a front, bad without good, sorrow without joy, pain without pleasure, the examination of Georgia’s last SEC contest of 2015 will take a slight detour in deciphering what we saw, what we know, and what we hope for as we go forward.
[su_spacer size=”40″] THE NOT SO BAD:

The game probably could not have started off much worse for a visiting team that may have doubted itself. On the flip side, it probably could not have started off much better for the home team that may have doubted itself. Auburn took possession of the football on the opening drive and sent out game time decision quarterback Jeremy Johnson to lead the Tigers. Auburn did exactly what they wanted, when they wanted, and drove the length of the field on an 11-play, 75 yard drive, consuming 4:36 of clock, using 7 rushes and 4 for 4 on pass attempts, and were able to convert two 3rd downs to boot. Punching it in the end zone that quickly and that easily could have taken Georgia’s heart and will and buried it for the duration. But it didn’t. In fact, that would be the only time Auburn would find “pay dirt” on this day. Also, the first half was reminiscent of the defense’s inability to set the edge and contain Auburn’s running game as the Tigers rushed for 161 yards in the first half.

The Georgia Bulldogs’ offense was completely underwhelming, especially in the first half of the contest. The Bulldogs, ten games into the season, are still struggling to find themselves and understand what they do best and how to go about doing it. In fact, one statistic that is telling as to how much the Dawgs are struggling this season on the offensive side is they rank 2nd worst in the SEC in 3rd down conversions and are 117th nationally in that category out of 127 teams. So, Georgia decided to take on a “nothing to lose” mentality, especially early in the first half. After having scored zero points in the 1st quarter, Georgia started the 2nd quarter inside the “red zone”. The next sequences of events were as disheartening for the Dawgs as Auburn’s opening offensive possession. Georgia is averaging 15% lower than the national average on touchdowns inside their opponents 20, which is another reason for their offensive struggles. On 1st down from the 11, Sony Michel burst up the middle and got stopped just shy of the goal line. On 2nd down, Georgia opted to line up in the “I” but inexplicably has Lambert direct pitch back to Sony, who loses the handle. However, Georgia was able to fall on the loose ball and maintain possession. On 3rd down, Georgia ran virtually the same play again and got stuffed at the line. With 4th down looming from the 2-yard line, Lambert faked the handoff and with Malcolm Mitchell slanting from left to right, Lambert threw an errant pass behind Mitchell, and the Dawgs were turned away with no points.

Georgia also put the ball on the ground twice. But sometimes the ball bounces your way and sometimes it doesn’t. As much as you hate to see the ball on the turf, the Dawgs were able to recover both times, so it was not nearly as calamitous as it could have been.
[su_spacer size=”40″] THE PRETTY GOOD:

As much maligned as this “unit” may have been all season, the SPECIAL TEAMS came through in the clutch. Twenty points were all that were mustered by the Bulldogs all game long, but it was enough to preserve a victory. Six (6) points came off of field goals, two (2) points off extra points, and six (6) points came as a result of a dynamite 53-yard punt return. The two field goals were of the range of 40 yards and 38 yards respectively. The punt return was a result of not just great individual effort by the return man, but great blocking downfield and an understanding of when to and not to hit an opposing player so as to avoid a block in the back penalty.

Georgia’s offense, although struggling at times, has decided to be who they are as opposed to who they are not. The unit showed flashes from time to time but realized that they could “manage” the contest and help generate a win by controlling the clock and not turning the ball over. Georgia ran the ball by committee and came away with 145 yards rushing. Lambert spread the ball around to seven (7) different receivers and was 12 of 17 for 97 yards. Georgia also held the ball for almost 36 minutes of the game, controlling the ball, controlling the clock, and allowing its defense to stay fresh which proved to be crucial.

No. Auburn’s offense is not some juggernaut this season. But that should not take away from the development, determination, and domination Georgia’s defensive unit showed against the Tigers. Outside of the opening drive, Jeremy Pruitt’s charges made the decision to step up their game. And even though Georgia trailed at halftime, Auburn had been held to 24 pass yards in the first half, which was the fewest for the season in that category. Auburn averaged 8 yards per carry in the 1st half, but in the 2nd half, the Dawgs would have none of it. The defense found their “JUNKYARD” spirit, bowed their necks and held the Tigers to a mere 52 yards rushing the entire second half. Georgia also forced two key turnovers that led directly to six points for the Dawgs and a third turnover keeping Auburn out of the end zone.
[su_spacer size=”40″] THE REALLY UGLY:

Some of the offensive play calling was maddening, especially on 3rd and short and 4th and short. Georgia just has not figured out how to handle short yardage offense or red zone offense. Georgia almost blew an incredible defensive and special teams effort by being too conservative in instances where they should have been playing to win as opposed to playing not to lose.

The really ugly came early in the 4th quarter. With the game knotted at “10” a piece, Georgia had a sequence of offensive plays that would be one of Auburn’s best drives of the half. On 1st down, Georgia had the ball on Auburn’s 44 yard line. Deciding to take a deep shot, Malcolm Mitchell was inexplicably called for offensive pass interference, which pushed the Dawgs back 15 yards making it 1st and 25. This marked Georgia’s 1st penalty of the day, but wouldn’t be the last of this drive. On 2nd down, Georgia was flagged for a false start. Then, Georgia was flagged for a holding penalty. Next, Georgia received a delay of game infraction to push them even further back. By the time it was all over, the Dawgs were left with a 3rd down and 41. If not for a nice draw play to Brendan Douglas and a great punt by Brice Ramsey, the drive could have ended in disaster.
[su_spacer size=”40″] THROW ‘EM A BONE:

Malcolm Mitchell is one of those special kids you’re just glad went to your University. He plays hard. He catches, he blocks, and he leads by example. This was his last SEC game. He did everything you could ask for, and he is a “DGD”!
The ENTIRE SPECIAL TEAMS UNITS: Kickoff, kick return, punt, and punt return! No major breakdowns and they were the catalysts for the win.

Isaiah McKenzie showed his speed and skills and accounted for both of Georgia’s touchdowns.

Jenkins, Floyd, Carter, and Davis led the team in hurrying and harassing Auburn’s QB’s and forcing turnovers.

Malkom Parrish made a great interception, climbing the ladder and giving Georgia an opportunity to score in the 1st half.

Brice Ramsey is an NFL caliber punter! If QB isn’t in the cards for him, that’s okay. He has made BEER out of hops for sure! A 47-yard boomer helped flip the field for the Dawgs when they needed it badly.

NO BONES ‘BOUT IT:

The Georgia Bulldogs showed something in mid-November. No, they aren’t the most talented team overall in the SEC or the nation. No, they aren’t going to be playing for any championships. No, they aren’t happy about how this season has turned out up to this point. And no, they aren’t quitters! Georgia could have hung it up on this season and even on this particular game. They didn’t. They battled. They scraped. They clawed. They won. The offense is playing within itself and realizing that sometimes winning just means doing enough. They did. The defense continues to grow and develop, which is exactly what you want to see. THINK ABOUT THIS: With 6:41 seconds remaining in the 4th quarter, Georgia had more points in the half (17) than Auburn had total yards (15). Further, Georgia led the SEC in pass yards allowed per game (173.9) before the battle against the Tigers and held Auburn to a paltry 62 yards through the air. Special teams proved that they can be the deciding factor in a ball game, which hopefully will have the coaching staff continuing to re-evaluate how they handle that portion of the game. Georgia can continue to build on the momentum they have started in the month of November. The Dawgs can finish the season strong, continue to develop its youth, and build toward a brighter future. But on this particular day, these Bulldawgs should be given a moment to enjoy what lies in their wake, as opposed to what lies ahead. And there are “NO BONES ‘BOUT THAT”.
[su_spacer size=”60″]O BONES ‘BOUT THAT”.

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Greg is closing in on 10 years writing about and photographing UGA sports. While often wrong and/or out of focus, it has been a long, strange trip full of fun and new friends.