However, that all changed Saturday afternoon in Athens as they limited the potent Georgia offense to just 17 points as the Tigers earned their fifth straight victory over the Bulldogs in Sanford Stadium with a seven-point win.
Making it especially satisfying was the way it happened. Needing a game-preserving goal-line stand to win the game in regulation, the defense rose up when it was needed, stopping Georgia from the two-yard line on the game's final play to seal the win.
"That was a big confidence boost for our defense, especially going into the end of the season," rover Rashaud Walker said. "It's all about what you do in November. We stopped them down there on the goal line, even though the time was running off, it was a big boost for us."
The Auburn defense gang-tackles Georgia fullback Verron Haynes.
Also a big boost was the play of senior defensive end Alton Moore. Playing like a man possessed, the 6-7 former All-State basketball player out of Baldwin County High School had perhaps the best game of his career Saturday. His determination and willpower from the defensive end spot set the tone for the defense the entire day. Perhaps no one play summed up his day better than his stop on a reverse late in the third quarter.
Following a Damon Duval field goal that put the Tigers up 17-14, the Bulldogs took over on their own 20-yard line following a touchback on the kickoff. On the first play from center, quarterback David Greene took the snap and gave the ball to his tailback, who handed to Terrance Edwards on a reverse. Instead of taking the Tigers by surprise, the play turned out to be a disaster for Georgia as Moore stuffed the play to put the Bulldogs in a tough second and long situation.
"Alton made a big play on that reverse," Lovett says. "That was one play, but they run a bunch of trick plays as you saw. That was one play we had worked a bunch on and it was just a matter of he was there and saw it and played it well…I'm very happy with his play. We got pressure from both he and Javor (Mills) coming off the edge. That really helped make the quarterback step up and search a little bit or take something off his throws when he's going outside."
In addition to his plays on the outside, Moore also changed the game in the special teams department with two blocked field goals, the second of which allowed the Tigers to remain tied with the Bulldogs at 14 in the third quarter. By keeping the crowd out of the game, Moore's blocks kept Georgia from really ever breaking away with the game. He said the blocks were more than just being in the right place at the right time.
"I had been watching film on them all week, I've been seeing everyone get close because he (Billy Bennett) doesn't get it that high," Moore said. "I'm already about 6-7 or 6-8 and I can jump a little bit so I knew I had a chance. I knew if he kicked it from far we were going to call block middle and I had a chance to go up there and get it."
Moore and Dontarrious Thomas go up for the block but it would be Moore that would get the ball.
Moore also has a special perspective on the final play of the game, one that he said the Tigers knew was coming. Although the play went to the opposite side from where he was lining up, he noted that the defense had a pretty good idea of what to expect when the Bulldogs came to the line of scrimmage.
"We saw that play," he said. "We've seen that play in the Florida game and we knew if they had a chance to get down around the 5 or the 10 yard line, that was their formation. We worked on that at least 20 to 25 minutes a day, just that formation there. When they came with it, we were looking for it. We knew the side they were running to because they put the three backs to that side so we just overloaded that side and it worked."
Perhaps no other player will enjoy this victory more than senior linebacker Tavarreus Pounds. Riddled with injuries for much of his playing career as a Tiger, the Villa Rica, Ga., native said that he is proud of his team because of the way the Tigers left everything on the field Saturday.
"It's kind of hard to put into words," Pounds said. "It's just a great win. We gave a total team effort, we played for four quarters and never gave up. That's the big thing about it,. That's what I'm proud of and yet we did get the win and we just upped our chances for going to the SEC Championship."