I blame Munson. We spent all week coming up with reasons how the Auburn game could go wrong – Georgia always plays down to their competition. It’s a rivalry game, so you can throw out the records. Auburn has 457 player from the state of Georgia, so they’ll play us better than they’ve played anyone all year. Remember what happened in 19 aught 7. Every time we’d see a pundit take this outcome for granted, we’d shake our heads and remind ourselves that they just don’t understand Georgia football or this series.
So the big news from Auburn Saturday night is that things went…exactly to plan. Auburn really isn’t all that good. Georgia really can get out in front of and put away a weaker opponent. The defense really is on to something. There wasn’t even the awkward start of the FAU or Ole Miss games to gripe about, and there wasn’t going to a repeat of the comedy of errors that let Tennessee back in the game. From start to finish, it just went as it would have if you had let your most delusional Disney Dawg buddy draw up the script. Shutout? Check. Gurshall going for 100+ each? Check. Murray in complete control? Yep. The Auburn stands empty by the fourth quarter? Can’t blame them.
Though Auburn’s season means that Georgia shouldn’t and won’t move the meter much by dispatching the Tigers, Georgia fans can at least appreciate a job well done. The win might’ve been all but a sure thing, but the plan and execution on both sides of the ball showed that the team approached and prepared for the game with the right focus and the goal of a divisional title in mind. On the night that the Dawgs claimed a championship, they looked like a champion.
With such a complete win, there’s not much to dig into. Just a few notes…
- Welcome back, Gurshall. I was a little surprised to see that Marshall hadn’t had a carry for more than nine yards since the Tennessee game, but that explained why he had only run for a total 92 yards since. His third quarter 62-yard sprint put him back over the century mark and finished the scoring. But my favorite Marshall play came on the final drive of the first half: facing 3rd-and-20 after a sack, Marshall took a draw from the pistol and scurried for 21 yards to erase one of Auburn’s best defensive plays of the first half. I’m sure my section wasn’t the only one who had a few people referencing “third and Willie.”
- No stat is going to be the factor in a game that lopsided, but third downs say it as well as anything else. As Georgia build their lead in the first half, they were 5-of-6 on third downs. Auburn was just 1-of-6 on third downs in the first half. The Dawgs were only able to build a quick lead because the defense just did manage a three-and-out on Auburn’s first possession. A conversion there wouldn’t have done much to change the outcome, but Mason coming up a few inches short gave Georgia the opportunity to take control early.
- The receivers were challenged with the loss of two top contributors, but the unit stepped up at Auburn. King did #15 proud and had his best game since Kentucky – that touchdown catch was as good as it gets. Mitchell’s reputation is built on his athleticism, but his reliability is even more important. With a catch rate pushing 80%, Mitchell has become (or still is?) the guy you look to when you need a catch. I’m not surprised that Conley made some plays. Georgia’s other receivers didn’t record any catches, but this wasn’t going to be a pass-heavy game after Georgia established a lead.
- Murray didn’t spread it around as much as he did against Ole Miss, but, again, there weren’t that many catches to be had. A third of receptions still went to tight ends and backs, and there would have been at least two more without drops by Lynch and Hicks. Rome now has five catches over the past two games after recording only two receptions in the first eight games. Murray again showed a willingness to use his speed and get yards on the ground. We like that, but you see Murray get hit hard (on a standard pass play) and head to the bench, and you remember why he doesn’t and shouldn’t leave the pocket much.
- I’ve seen a bit of talk about leaving the defensive starters in so long. Yes, there’s the risk of injury, but that would be my only concern. If you have an opportunity for a shutout, I’m not going to complain about making a little extra effort to keep it going. But there’s a more important reason for leaving them in. If Georgia has a chance in the SEC championship game, it’s going to be a physical game every bit as demanding on the defense as the Florida game was. The defense needs to be conditioned to play at top form all four quarters, and it’s not helping them to sit. I expect we’ll see them play longer than we’d expect against Georgia Southern also. If you want to see an excellent defense not used to finishing games, look at Bama over the past two weeks.
- I can’t end without acknowledging the special teams. Yes, the return game was pretty much neutral. The kicking was outstanding. Morgan wasn’t challenged by range, but his placement was perfect on all extra points and a tricky short field goal from an extreme angle. He’s been solid on extra points over the past three games, and we hope that’s a sign that his earlier adventures are behind him. Barber has just been great lately. He (and we should include Erickson with his spot-on pooch punt) was on his game at Auburn as any element of the team. Kickoff coverage was as good as it’s been all year. It was the best performance of the season for Georgia’s most maligned unit.