Take nothing away from Georgia's effort but Auburn's lack of focus and finish on defense was the story of the game. True freshman quarterback Matthew Stafford was terrific in his first career game at Jordan-Hare Stadium as he made Auburn pay both throwing and running the football. Auburn senior linebacker Will Herring says that this game rests solely on the players playing the game and not the coaches on the sidelines.
"Defensively we felt like we had a great week of practice, a great week of preparation," Herring says. "I think our coaches did a great job of putting us in the right spots. We just didn't make plays when we had chances to."
Herring wraps up a Georgia ball carrier on Saturday. He led the way with nine tackles on the day.
Perhaps the biggest of those came in the second quarter with Auburn trying to hold the Bulldogs out of the end zone and keep within striking distance. Back in the game after the offense scored a touchdown to cut Georgia's lead to 23-7 late in the second quarter, Auburn's defense held the Bulldogs and forced a punt.
With the ball back and just under two minutes left in the half Auburn's offense took over possession on its own 26. Following a pass to Courtney Taylor for 10 yards quarterback Brandon Cox was sacked for a seven-yard loss. The next play Cox was intercepted by Tra Battle for the third time in the first 30 minutes, putting Auburn's defense back on the field.
Starting the drive at the Auburn 20 Stafford ran for six yards on first down before throwing incomplete on second down. That brought up a third and four for the Bulldogs. With a stop needed to preserve momentum, Auburn instead watched as Kregg Lumpkin caught a screen pass and slithered through the tackle of Herring for the first down and eventually the touchdown. Herring says that was one of the many instances in the game where the Tigers just didn't make the play when it was needed most.
"We gave up a few deep balls and we had a couple of guys get out of their gaps at times and we missed way too many tackles," Herring says. "I missed a tackle on third down and they ended up scoring on that play. It just comes down to individuals making plays. The intensity and effort, I think, was great on defense. We've just got to make plays."
Herring says the Tigers must now regroup in a hurry because there is still a lot to play for this season. Currently 9-2 Auburn will travel to Tuscaloosa next Saturday to face arch rival Alabama in the Iron Bowl. While there will be no BCS and likely no SEC implications in the game, Herring says that having the chance to finish with a victory over the Crimson Tide is incentive enough to be ready next week.
"We don't have time to hang our heads," Herring says. "This loss hurts and it's going to hurt all day. Coming Sunday we've got the biggest game of the year coming up this week against Alabama. We don't have a long time to sit on this. I'm proud of the guys and the way they fought. At halftime we could have hung our heads and rolled over but we kept fighting. I think that shows the character of this team.
"I have to give it to Georgia though, they came to play," Herring says. "They've had their share of adversity this year and we had some today. They've got a lot of character on that team to come out here in a hostile environment and play the way they did. It's going to be on us next week to go to Tuscaloosa and pick it up."