By now we should understand that, for better or worse, this is Georgia’s team. The formula hasn’t changed much since the Missouri game. I expect that this was how the coaches hoped the Florida game would go. Georgia quickly ditched the Bauta experiment for a wildcat package, but the plan is the same: run, manage, defend, win. It’s worked in three out of four games.
Greyson Lambert’s final pass attempt was a failed screen to Michel right after that weak pass interference call on Malcolm Mitchell. These were the second and third plays of the fourth quarter. I saw some fans complaining about the conservative playcalling after Jenkins forced the fumble, but it was evident that there was no way the coaches were going to risk a pass, especially with a lead and a reasonable chance to extend that lead to ten points. For the second straight week we heard talk of two quarterbacks seeing action, but again when faced with a close game and a defense performing well, the coaches stayed the course and trusted Lambert just enough to see things through.
Auburn lacked that patience, and it cost them. Though the Tigers struggled to pass the ball in the first half, they were at least competent moving the ball on the ground. Only one of their first half drives failed to reach midfield. Their quarterback shuffle in the third quarter was intended to spark the passing game, but it took away the one thing they were doing well. By the time Jeremy Johnson returned, Auburn was playing from behind without any momentum.
That second half quarterback experiment was red meat held in front of Georgia’s defensive front. It’s been an up-and-down season for the heralded outside linebackers – some injuries, some position uncertainty, and some things we’ll probably never hear about. But as a unit, this was possibly their best game of the season. There have been better individual moments – Jenkins at Vandy, Floyd against Missouri. Floyd, Jenkins, and Carter all performed well at Auburn. Carter’s forced fumble was nearly a carbon copy of Jarvis Jones’ game-saving play against Florida in 2012.
That same defense had a rough start but found a way to keep Georgia in the game. Georgia couldn’t possibly survive a high-scoring game, but it looked as if things were headed that way after Auburn scored with relative ease on their opening drive. It was the first touchdown the defense has allowed in the first quarter all season. The defense, aided by a fantastic acrobatic interception by Parrish, kept Auburn from tacking on more points while the offense sputtered along. Holding the Tigers to three just before halftime proved to be significant. Climbing back from 14-3 would have changed Georgia’s approach to offense in the second half (and might have even resulted in the quarterback shuffle we saw from Auburn.)
It was that ability to plug away that stood out. The team remained tough and determined. There weren’t the second quarter implosions that changed the Alabama, Tennessee, and Florida games. The defense did enough, the offense and special teams avoided mistakes, and finally Georgia was able to flip the game in the third quarter.
I’m still impressed by the number of things that went Georgia’s way in this game.
- Auburn had only lost two fumbles entering the game. They doubled that on Saturday.
- Auburn also enjoyed a much better turnover margin on the season than Georgia, and they had widened that margin recently after a poor start. Jeremy Pruitt’s defense has now scored six takeaways in two seasons against Auburn. This year’s three weren’t flukey bobbled snaps – Parrish’s INT, Jenkins’ sack, and Carter’s strip were all turnovers created by outstanding individual plays.
- According to Mark Richt in his Tuesday press conference, “only four punts (had) been returned on (Auburn) all year. They’re doing a super job on placing the ball in the right spot as far as their punter and their kicker and also doing a great job of covering those kicks.” McKenzie had just enough of an opening to set up a return, and he made the most of it.
- Lambert, not known for his running, converted a 3rd-and-3 with a 13-yard scramble that kept alive Georgia’s only offensive touchdown drive. Lambert earlier took a sack on a 3rd-and-1 play-action pass, but this bit of improvisation prevented another third down disaster right after Georgia was forced to use a timeout.
- Georgia had the better game on special teams. Davis’s fumble on the first kickoff had things off to a rocky start, but that was the end of the special teams drama. Morgan’s kicks were true. Kickoffs didn’t reach the endzone, but they were covered well with only one returned beyond the 25. Punting was consistent and pinned Auburn deep a few times.
Mark Richt has now won 10 out of his 15 games against Auburn and 8 out of the last 10. For a contested rivalry that’s been as even as this one for over a century, that kind of advantage for Richt over Auburn is one of his top accomplishments.
- The most puzzling coaching decision of the game was Auburn bringing zero pressure against Ramsey’s punt from the endzone. This was Ramsey’s first punt in these circumstances since he took over, and Auburn chose to not put any heat on him. Perhaps they were hoping for their own big return, and they did end up with decent field position, but there wasn’t much of a downside to going all-out for a block there. The payoff would have been points or at least a much shorter field and valuable time saved.
- Georgia’s decision to stick with Ramsey in that situation was itself an interesting call. Barber of course has much more experience with punting from any spot on the field, but Barber also has some bad experiences with punts from the endzone (Bama this year, Tennessee 2013). Ramsey did well, pressure or not.
- The LSU-style quick toss in close quarters (like the one Michel fumbled on second down at the goal line) isn’t a bad call per se, but I do question it when the recipient of the toss has one good hand and a cast on the other. Do you really gain that much over a straight handoff?
- Is the shotgun with one yard to go just an admission of defeat?
- The offense actually moved the ball at the beginning of the game. They left points on the board at the goal line and missed another opportunity that Morgan salvaged with a field goal, but Georgia controlled possession after Auburn’s initial score. The plays that stalled those drives though were dreadful.
- I’m glad to see it get mention on other sites – Douglas’ run on 3rd-and-forever seemed futile, but how important did that field position end up being?