The late Bill Stanfill and the late Erk Russell had to be looking down smiling at this one as those Bulldogs on Saturday in Sanford Stadium closely resembled many of Georgia’s great defensive units that Stanfill played on and Russell mentored in the late 1960s.
After allowing the 8th-ranked Auburn Tigers an 80-yard touchdown drive near the end of the first quarter, Kirby Smart and Mel Tucker’s Bulldog defenders blanked the powerful Auburn rushing attack the rest of the way while also frustrating Tiger quarterback Sean White’s passing efforts as Georgia pulled off the 13-7 upset.
An Auburn running game that came in leading the SEC with right at a 300 yards-per-game average was limited to a measly 127 yards on 32 carries by the gang-tackling Bulldogs. White was checked to 37 yards passing on eight of 22 attempts and the one interception he threw was turned into a 34-yard pick-six touchdown by Georgia senior defensive back Maurice Smith, the graduate transfer from Alabama. Smith’s score came on Auburn’s first possession of the second half and enabled the Bulldogs to tie the game at 7-7.
Rodrigo Blankenship, for the second consecutive week, then came through with the winning points for Georgia, booting fourth-quarter field goals of 45 and 21 yards.
In a splendid second-half performance, the Georgia defense didn’t allow the Tigers – who admittedly were handicapped offensively with leading rusher Kamryn Pettway sidelined with a leg injury – a single additional first down and forced the Auburn offense into six three-and-outs. And too, a Tiger team that was averaging 34 points per game, was held to the lone touchdown in the first quarter.
For Georgia, which improved to 6-4 (4-4 in SEC) and became bowl eligible with the sixth win, it was the Bulldogs’ ninth victory in the last 11 meetings with rival Auburn and set the stage for Kirby Smart’s first UGA team to possibly finish the regular season at 8-4 … if the Bulldogs can close out with wins over UL-Lafayette and state rival Georgia Tech, both games to be hosted between the hedges.
For Georgia, the STATS THAT MATTER this week look pretty indeed.
Plays of 20 plus yards, offense and defense
In the first half, freshman quarterback Jacob Eason had 57 and 22-yard passes to fellow freshman Riley Ridley and another 40-yard completion to Javon Wims erased due to a holding penalty. Auburn got a 21-yard run from Kerryon Johnson. Eason, passing for 208 yards on 20-of-31 completions, then teamed up with Isaiah McKenzie for a 26-yard completion in the fourth quarter.
Two of these kept the Bulldogs from getting on the scoreboard in the first half. First, Eason’s 40-yard strike to Wims, to the Auburn 17, was brought back when tackle Tyler Catalina was called for holding. Then, after a 57-yard completion to Ridley to the Tiger 15, two plays later Terry Godwin’s ill-advised pass into the end zone was intercepted by former UGA safety Tray Matthews, who was the only player near the football. Several false starts hampered Georgia would-be drives, and a low snap to Eason by center Brandon Kublanow late in the third quarter made for a 14-yard loss for the offense. Luckily, an alert Nick Chubb scrambled back beat several Kentucky defenders to recover the loose ball.
Special teams wins vs. miscues
The Bulldogs had excellent kick coverage in the victory; Blankenship had his two clutch field goals but also missed a long one from 49 yards out, and McKenzie reeled off his 20-yard punt return in the final quarter. Brice Ramsey, now the Georgia punter after freshman Marshall Long was lost for the season after sustaining a kneecap injury in practice this past week, had several shaky punts (33.7 average on six kicks) but did punt the Tigers dead inside their own 20 three times.
Several times, on Auburn’s 80-yard touchdown drive in the opening period, the Bulldog defenders seemingly had Tiger running back Kerryon Johnson trapped for no gain, only to allow Johnson to escape their grasp, get to the outside and pick up vital first downs. But in the second half the Bulldogs made outstanding adjustments and limited Johnson to just 25 yards rushing, after he had run for 74 in the opening half.
Yards after contact
Both Chubb and Sony Michel broke tackles in this game, with their effort turning 3-yard gains into runs of seven yards or more. Chubb, running against Auburn’s rugged defensive front, ran particularly strong on the Bulldogs’ late drive which started at the Georgia 31 and ate up nearly seven minutes of the clock while leading to Blankenship’s 21-yard field goal with just 2:25 remaining. Chubb finished the night with a hard-earned 101 yards on 23 carries while Michel added 55 on 10 trips.
The only Georgia turnover in the first half was a costly one as Godwin’s shaky pass into the end zone from the Auburn 15 was easily picked off by Matthews, thus killing the Bulldogs’ best scoring opportunity over the first two quarters. But the Bulldogs then had the big interception of their own, with Smith’s pick-six of 34 yards tying the game early in the third. Neither team, surprisingly, lost a fumble in this hard-hitting affair.
Red Zone (offense/defense)
All defense in this one as the Bulldogs were 1-for-3 scoring inside the red zone (Blankenship’s 21-yard field goal) and the Tigers notched a 3-yard touchdown run by Johnson on their only trip inside the Bulldogs’ 20.
Third down conversions
Not much to talk about here either for the two teams’ offenses. Georgia was 7-of-17 on third down conversions while the tenacious Bulldog defense allowed the Tigers to convert only 2-of-12 third down opportunities.
Run/pass attempts (total plays)
The Bulldogs ran a total of 76 plays for 343 yards of offense (135 net rushing) while Auburn ran only 54 total plays for just 164 yards of offense. Thus, Georgia thoroughly dominated time of possession, holding the ball 39:09 minutes to Auburn’s 20:51.