Auburn, Ala.--Three turnovers, a special teams breakdown and not much of a passing attack spoiled a good defensive performance as the Auburn Tigers dropped a 20-13 SEC football game to the visiting Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday.
The Tigers lost two fumbles and threw an interception and Georgia moved ahead in the fourth quarter on a 53-yard punt return by Isaiah McKenzie to take its first lead of the game.
Meanwhile, Auburn’s second half offense was a mess as the as the Tigers fell to 5-5 for the season and 2-5 in the SEC. Georgia improved to 7-3 overall and 5-3 in the league.
For the game the Tigers managed just 275 yards on 64 plays. Jeremy Johnson hit 14-22 passes for 61 yards and one interception. Sean White was ineffective in relief, completing just 1-5 passes and fumbling the football that led to a field goal that stretched UGA’s lead to 20-10 with 6:49 to play.
The 10-point deficit proved to be too much to overcome for an offense that struggled in the third and fourth quarters gaining a total of just 90 yards in those periods.
The Tigers squandered their one good drive of the second half when they got the football at their own 27 with 6:41 to play. They moved 72 yards in 12 plays before Ricardo Louis fumbled away the football at the one-yard line with 3:22 to play.
The Tigers forced a punt and got the ball back with 2:56 to play, but burned all three of their timeouts in the process.
After getting a first down the Tigers stalled at the 21-yard line and kicked a 38-yard field goal to cut the margin to 20-13 with 1:14 on the clock. However, the Bulldogs recovered Daniel Carlson’s on-side kick and Auburn was finished.
The Tigers had good success running the football in the first half, especially with Jovon Robinson, who averaged 7.8 yards per carry for the game. However, he only got 12 touches with just four coming after halftime.
Asked why the Tigers didn’t get the football more to their hot runner in the second half, Coach Gus Malzahn said, “We got some big first downs and some rhythm and some pace (in the first half). In the second half we didn’t do a very good job of getting that initial first down. That is when we are at our best.
“I think we got one first down in the third quarter and just a few in the fourth quarter,” Malzahn said. “We just never got in that rhythm like we needed to be.”
As the Tigers lost their 10-3 halftime lead until they trailed 20-10 in the fourth quarter, Robinson carried the ball four times for 17 yards. On the other 15 plays the Tigers had a negative two yards.
The Tigers finished the game with just 275 yards of total offense, but that was more than the Bulldogs managed on Saturday. UGA finished with 243 yards with 146 coming on the ground on 45 carries, an average of just 3.2 yards per rush.
“We feel like we are getting better as a defense each and every day,” said senior linebacker Kris Frost, who noted he took the loss especially hard because he won’t have another chance to beat Auburn’s oldest rival.
Asked why he thinks the defense is improving, Frost said, “We are getting better on a mental level as well as on a physical level at practice.”
Frost led the Tigers in tackles with nine, two more than Blake Countess and Stephen Roberts. Roberts got the start at safety with Tray Matthews unable to play for a second straight week due to an ankle injury.
Malzahn said the plan was to use both Jeremy Johnson and White at QB. Johnson saw most of the action, but only threw one deep ball to challenge the UGA secondary. Trying to spark the passing game, White made his first appearance in the third quarter.
The redshirt freshman quarterback said he couldn’t put a percentage on how close he was to full speed, but said he was certain the turnovers were costly, including his fumble on a sack. “We didn’t protect the ball as well as we should,”?he said. “With me I have got to hold on the ball when I get sacked.”
Johnson said the game plan was for him to share playing time with White. Asked what was wrong with the offense, the junior said, “They just won. It’s a disappointing loss. They just came out with the victory. We have just got to get better.”
Jeremy Johnson ran the ball seven times for 31 yards.
Auburn won the opening toss and took the football. It proved to be a good decision with the Tigers driving the football 75 yards on 11 plays with a mixture of short, quick passes and runs.
Freshman Kerryon Johnson, who was lined up in the wildcat formation, took the snap and scored at left guard from seven yards out on a second down and goal to go play.
Georgia had the next scoring threat. The Bulldogs converted a fourth down and four at the Auburn 36, but threw an incomplete pass on fourth and less than a yard to go at the Auburn two-yard line.
The Tigers took over with 12:39 left in the second quarter and quickly moved the ball off the goal line with a 33-yard run by Robinson. Auburn gave the ball back to the Bulldogs when Jeremy Johnson overthrew a third down pass to Tony Stevens that was intercepted at the UGA 40 by cornerback Malkcom Parrish.
The Bulldogs turned that into points as Marshall Morgan made a 40-yard field goal with four minutes left before halftime. Georgia had to settle for three points after losing 11 yards on third down and short when Cassanova McKinzy sacked Greyson Lambert.
Auburn responded with a field goal of its own, a 42-yarder by Daniel Carlson with 34 seconds left in the half to make the score 10-3. It was the sophomore’s 13th consecutive field goal without a miss, which broke the school record.
Halftime Numbers: The Tigers kept the football for 30 plays and gained 185 yards with 161 on the ground. Robinson ran the ball eight times for 76 yards, Peyton Barber had five carries for 40 yards. Jeremy Johnson ran the ball four times for 32 yards and competed 7-11 passes for 24 yards.
Georgia gained 127 yards on 31 first half plays with 60 yards on 20 carries while Greyson Lambert completed 8-11 passes for 67 yards.
The Bulldogs tied the game late in the third quarter with a drive that covered 67 yards on nine plays. McKenzie scored on a four-yard run around left in to make the score 10-10.
With 9:28 left in the fourth period McKenzie put the Bulldogs ahead with his punt return. The lead jumped to 20-10 with 6:49 after Georgia cashed in White’s fumble for three points on a 38-yard field goal.
Auburn finished the game with 213 rushing yards with Peyton Barber gaining 72 on 13 carries. Malzahn said the game plan was to run the ball heavily in the second half, but the Tigers only rushed it 18 times total in the third and fourth quarter.
Barber said he would have liked to run it more, but added, “I respect the coaches’ decisions. Whatever they call I am down to do.”
The Tigers return to action at 3 p.m. next Saturday as the Idaho Vandals visit Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Asked what he told his team after the loss, Malzahn said, “It was just to show your class and your character. This is a tough one. We have to rebound and win next week. That is what is on our mind. There is no doubt in my mind that our guys will come ready.”
Stat of the Game: Auburn's two lost fumbles matched their total for lost fumbles in the first nine games.