The Georgia Bulldogs were competent when they had the football and the Auburn Tigers were not. The result was a 26-7 victory for the home team that kept the Bulldogs alive in the three-team race for the SEC East title. Meanwhile, Auburn dropped to 6-5 and has a week to regroup from an embarrassing loss to the Bulldogs as the Tigers lost on UGA turf for the first time since 1991.
"We had some opportunities and we didn't take advantage of them," said Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville. "Obviously, they have got a good football team. Their front dominated us the first half. We couldn't get anything going. We put our defense in a bind. I thought our defense played outstanding except for a couple of plays. When you are out on the field that much with a high-powered offense like they have got, you have opportunities to make mistakes.
"We played hard," Tuberville added. "The kicking game is still a mystery. Offensively, you have got to score points. We got down and didn't take advantage of some opportunities."
Auburn trailed 13-0 at halftime and looked ugly on offense in doing it. The Tigers had just 54 net yards on 24 plays going into the locker room for the break. The Tigers hadn't converted a single third down play and wouldn't until early in the fourth quarter on a pass to Cooper Wallace. For the game Auburn converted just 4-14. Georgia wasn't great at 7-17, but QB David Greene and his teammates made enough plays to win when the game was on the line.
Cooper Wallace runs for Auburn's first third down conversion on a pass in the fourth quarter.
"Third down was big, especially early," said Auburn offensive coordinator Hugh Nall. "We just didn't convert enough. That was a concern coming into the game. It happened to us in the second quarter last week and that was a big emphasis we had worked on last week to convert on third downs."
Tuberville noted that at halftime the Tigers had not made a first down the entire first two quarters in third down situations. "We were 0-7 on third down conversions," he noted. "That usually spells disaster.
"We couldn't control the ball. Even if you don't score points you have got to control the football a little bit to keep your defense off the field. They get tired as the game goes on."
Georgia scored on its first possession, moving 36 yards on 14 plays after the Tigers had a quick three and out. Georgia managed to move to first and goal at the Tiger eight, but a third down sack by Demarco McNeil ended the TD threat and Billy Bennett kicked a 47-yard field goal.
The Bulldogs made it 6-0 by driving 65 yards on 10 plays on their second possession. Auburn let Green and the Bulldogs off the hook on third and goal from the one-yard line when Junior Rosegreen dropped a would-be interception. Bennett then made an 18-yard field goal with 14:51 left in the first half.
The officials, who made some shaky calls early, made a truly pitiful one on the next play. Devin Aromashodu returned the kickoff to the Georgia 46, but lost the ball after he had hit the ground. "There was no doubt about it," he said. "I had a knee down and the ground caused the fumble."
That played negated Auburn's first good field position of the game. The defense forced a three and out, but the Auburn offense couldn't get anything started on its next two possessions. Georgia took advantage of good field position at its own 41 to move 59 yards in just three plays. A reverse pass from Michael Johnson to Fred Gibson covered 40 yards to start the drive. Greene then hit Johnson on a perfectly thrown sideline route, beating the coverage of cornerback Kevin Hobbs.
Georgia held a huge 221-54 total offense lead at the break and led 331-259 for the game. AU moved the ball better in the second half, but couldn't cash in. A perfect example was Auburn's first series of the third quarter. Starting at the UGA 48, Carnell Williams made runs of seven and 13 to get a drive started, but the Tigers stalled on fourth and sixth at the UGA. Philip Yost then missed a chip shot field goal wide right.
Georgia took over at the 20 and put big pressure on the Tigers by keeping the ball 12 plays before scoring on a third a goal run by Kregg Lumpkin from 16 yards out.
Auburn's last chance to win the football game was a prime example of how frustrating it got for the visitors. The Tigers drove deep into Georgia territory with a chance to cut the lead to 19-7. On first and goal at the five, Williams got two yards and then one. Facing third and three, the Tigers went to a passing formation with Jason Campbell in the shotgun. His pass was deflected to Odell Thurman, who ran 99 yards the other way to give Georgia a 26-0 lead. "I never thought I would get a break like that," Thurman said. "Ninety-nine yards never seemed to long in my life." The score came with 11:07 left in the game.
The Tigers turned the ball over on their next possession as Anthony Mix lost a fumble. Auburn got the ball back with 7:31 and managed to avoid the shutout by driving 59 yards on 10 plays, but it was way too little, way too late. Campbell scored on a third and goal play from the six when he scrambled in at left end on a passing play.
"It was just a real solid performance by our team," said Georgia coach Mark Richt. "They were sort of down and out after the Florida game and we just needed to come out there and have some fun. They had about four good days off and we had a great week of practice this week. The open date gave everyone a chance to re-energize."
For Auburn, there is one more date on the schedule this coming Saturday when Alabama visits Jordan-Hare Stadium. Senior defensive tackle Spencer Johnson said as much as the loss to the Bulldogs has hurt him and the other seniors, he says the Tigers will bounce back vs. the Crimson Tide. "If you can't get up for the Alabama game you don't need to be playing for Auburn," he said.
The Tigers will use their practice time to try to repair their running attack that managed just 81 yards on 25 carries. Williams was held to just 45 yards on 12 carries and Ronnie Brown netted just 15 yards on five carries.
Auburn's coaches said the game plan was to attack the nation's second-ranked defense with the passing game. Although Campbell hit 20-33 passes for 178 yards, time after time the QB and his teammates couldn't make the big third down play as they fell to 4-3 in the SEC while Georgia improved to 5-2 in the SEC and 8-2 overall.