Auburn, Ala.--Preparing for a dose of the running game and some conservative looks from the Georgia Bulldogs with freshman quarterback Matthew Stafford at the helm, the Auburn Tigers instead walked into an ambush on their home field as the Stafford-led offense crushed the Tigers Saturday to bring Auburn's SEC and BCS chances to a startling halt.
Throwing the ball at will early against the Tigers, Stafford finished the day with 219 yards and one touchdown on 14-20 passing but it may have been the freshman's legs that made the biggest impact on the game. Running time and time again out of the shotgun zone-read, Stafford rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown on just seven carries to completely stifle Auburn's defensive effort. Defensive back Jerraud Powers says that Stafford's ability to run the football was something that took the Tigers by surprise.
"Stafford played well today," Powers says. "If his reads weren't there he just decided to tuck it and try to make a play for his team. That was killing us on third down because we really weren't expecting him to run as much as he did. I guess they saw that and put it in the gameplan. He did a good job of getting his yards on the third down conversions which hurt us in the long run.
"It's frustrating because sometimes you know what's coming and you still can't stop it," Powers adds. "That's the type of day we were having. We knew what to expect. We game planned on it all week. We just didn't come out and execute like we should. I just tip my hat to Georgia. They came in here with the mindset that they were going to win and they gave us a fight."
While Powers says that the Tigers were prepared for everything Georgia did on Saturday it was painfully obvious that whatever Auburn's plan was it didn't account for the mobility of Stafford. Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp says that while Georgia made some plays and his guys didn't the fact of the matter is that the plan wasn't good enough.
"We gave up the two deep balls early in the game that got us a little bit on our heels," Muschamp says. "We were going to make Stafford beat us and the kid made plays, made throws. They made all the throws down the field they needed to and in the second half they ran the ball.
"They ran the quarterback draw four times and got us in man coverage a couple of times. They got us displaced in our gaps one time. We gave them different looks on it. That's all they did in the second half…it was just a frustrating day. We could have played better and obviously didn't have a good plan for the kids."
Stafford runs the quarterback draw with Auburn's Tray Blackmon rushing up the field.
The problem area for the Tigers against Georgia was on third downs. Struggling at times this season to defend teams on third down, Auburn's problems came to a head Saturday as the Bulldogs converted on eight of 14 chances on third down. That enabled Georgia to dominate the plays and time of possession in the game, something Muschamp says was huge in the game.
"They made some throws early in the game," Muschamp says. "We were in man-free a couple of times and he made the right throws. Then the quarterback draws the second half. We gave him different looks, we max blitzed and did different things. He was always able to find a crease and a clear lane. We've just got to have a better plan for it."
" With Stafford having success early throwing the football down the field it made things easy for the Georgia offense as the Tigers tried to adjust on the run. It didn't work out as Georgia finished the day with 445 yards of total offense in the 37-15 victory. Muschamp says that the Bulldogs didn't do a lot of different things. In the end this game came down to making plays and Saturday that was all Stafford and Georgia.
"He did a good job of checking at the line of scrimmage on some different looks," Muschamp says. "Other than that there was nothing that was different than what they've been doing. They did a good job of executing and we didn't. We probably didn't have a good plan for the kids with what we tried to do. He made the right throws. We wanted to force him to win the game and he made some good throws."