Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford continued to torment the Auburn defense like he did last year as a freshman who had his breakout game vs. the Tigers. He completed 11-19 passes for 237 yards and a score and calmly directed an offense that racked up 417 yards while the Tigers could manage just 216 on a Bulldog defense that had been suspect at times this season.
The Bulldogs, ranked 10th nationally, improved to 8-2 overall and 5-2 in the SEC, keeping alive their hopes for a berth in the SEC Championship Game.
Auburn dropped to 7-4 overall and 4-3 in the SEC. Tommy Tuberville's Tigers will have two weeks to regroup for the regular season finale vs. Alabama.
The victory delighted the home crowd that dressed in black and cheered the arrival of the Bulldogs, who were dressed in black jerseys for the first time in the modern era of Georgia football.
"We just couldn't get over the hump tonight," Tuberville said. "We fought back offensively. We got whupped pretty good on defense. We haven't given up that many points in I don't know how long. We didn't play very well.
"We didn't get our guys in the right position," Tuberville added. "They played hard. As coaches, we have to take responsibility for that. We didn't adjust to some plays they were running. We didn't tackle when we got them there."
Auburn rallied from a 17-3 first half deficit to tie the game in the third quarter. The Tigers pulled ahead 20-17 with 6:47 in the third quarter on a 33-yard field goal, but after that the Tiger defense couldn't stop the home team, which scored two third quarter touchdowns and two more in the fourth quarter.
"I thought that we looked confused out there at times," Tuberville said of the Auburn defense. "When you give up 45 points, you have been taken to the woodshed pretty good.
"Offensively, we were kind of hit and miss," Tuberville said. "It wasn't Brandon's best night. He will tell you that. We just ran into a wall in execution on third downs. Somehow we found a way, like we have all year long, to be able to stay in the ball game. then when the defense absolutely collapsed we couldn't slow them down. You have to give them credit. They came to play. They were motivated. They played with a lot of spirit and intensity.
"I thought we took a little bit out of them coming out in the third quarter," said Tuberville who added. "We just kind of collapsed on defense."
Georgia coach Mark Richt said, "Auburn scored 17 unanswered points and took the lead. Once they took the lead, a switch flipped on and we started getting after them finally. When (Sean) Bailey made that play, there was a sudden breakdown in defense that was enough to give us some wiggle room. Momentum shifted and it never went back."
Knowshown Moreno gashed the Auburn defense for 101 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries. Thomas Brown, back for the first time since an early season injury, added a big spark off the bench with 14 carries for 81 yards and one score.
Ben Tate led the Tigers in rushing with 58 yards on 13 carries and Brad Lester added 45 yards on 16 runs. Brandon Cox hit 14-30 passes for 133 yards and one TD and was picked four times by the UGA defense, the same number of interceptions in last year's Auburn loss to the Bulldogs.
The start of the game couldn't have gone much worse for the Tigers as Auburn opened its first possession from its own 20 after a kickoff into the end zone from Brandon Coutu.
On Auburn's first play, Brandon Cox was intercepted by Kelin Johnson and the Bulldogs took over on the AU 41 following a 15-yard penalty for a late hit on Cox.
The Bulldogs kept the football for 10 plays, moving to the Auburn 15 before settling for a 32-yard field goal by Coutu with 11:28 left in the quarter on fourth and six.
The Tigers kept the ball 12 plays on their second opportunity, moving from their own 27 to the Georgia five before settling for a 22-yard field goal by Byrum to tie the game with 4:46 left in the opening quarter.
The big plays on the drive were a 16-yard to Rodgeriqus Smith and an 11-yard run by Brad Lester.
Georgia didn't wait long to retake the lead. After starting at their on 27, the Bulldogs converted a third and 11 situation with a 15-yard screen pass play to Knowshon Moreno.
Two plays later Stafford had lots of time to throw the football. He looked deep down the right sideline and found Mohamed Massaquoi running free behind safety Eric Brock. The pass was on target and after the 58-yard play the Bulldogs led 10-3 with 3:09 remaining in the opening quarter.
Georgia stretched the lead to 17-3 in the second quarter as Stafford was perfect on a fade route to Sean Bailey for 13 yards with 10:54 left in the period. That third down play finished a drive that covered 68 yards in 11 plays.
The Tigers desperately needed to answer that score and they did, but the possession got off to a shaky start when tight end Cole Bennett couldn't handle a short, high kickoff and that bounced out of bounds in front of the Georgia bench just before the coverage team could get on the football.
The Tigers started at their 35 and scored in eight plays with the help of UGA penalties. The touchdown came on an audible on first and goal at the seven when Ben Tate ran around left end for the score with 6:13 left before halftime.
The teams headed to their locker rooms at halftime with the Tigers still trailing 17-10, the first time this season they have been behind at intermission.
It didn't take the visitors long to even the score. On the second play of the third quarter Jerraud Powers intercepted a pass from Stafford, putting the Tigers in business at the Georgia 27.
Tray Blackmon tackles Thomas Brown.
Thanks to a penalty by Georgia on a third down roughing the passer play, the Tigers scored in four plays. The touchdown came on a dump pass from Cox to Mario Fannin, who outraced the lone defender and tight-roped the sideline for a score from 12 yards out.
After a good kickoff coverage hit by Merrill Johnson, the Tigers forced a three and out and a Georgia punt.
With Cox hitting two key passes to tight end Cole Bennett, the Tigers drove 45 yards on 11 plays before settling for a 33-yard field goal by Byrum to put the Tigers ahead 20-17 with 6:47 left in the third quarter.
Georgia struck back quickly, moving 68 yards for a score in just four plays. A 45-yard deep sideline route to Sean Bailey over Patrick Lee put the Bulldogs at the Auburn 26. On the next play, Thomas Brown sweep left end and was untouched on a cutback run for the score. That put the Bulldogs up 24-20 with 5:00 left in the third quarter.
Auburn's second turnover, another interception by Cox, cost the Tigers seven points. Kelin Johnson got the pick with 3:17 left in the quarter and UGA took over at the AU 48. Moreno scored on the final play of the period on first and goal from the four to put the home team ahead 31-20.
The Tigers still have plenty of time for a comeback, but that window of opportunity was slammed shut early in the fourth quarter. After a three and out for the Auburn offense, Georgia wasted little time in adding an insurance score. It took the Bulldogs just three plays to move 65 yards.
A 53-yard run at right end by Brown to the Georgia one set up a one-yard scoring play by fullback Brannan Southerland. That put the Bulldogs up 38-20 with 12:11 left in the game.
Auburn also turned the ball over on the next possession when Cox's receivers, who did not have a good game catching the ball, let him down after the Tigers started at their own 42 after a short kickoff.
Tight end Gabe McKenzie dropped a pass on first down. On second down, Cox's pass over the middle to Lester was mishandled by the tailback and the ball bounced high into the air for an easy interception with 11:55 to play. Georgia took over at its own 41.
The Bulldogs added insult to injury by driving for another score, moving nine plays for a touchdown with Brown scoring from a yard out with 6:48 left in the fourth quarter to make the final score 45-20.
The Tigers had a couple more chances to score. On fourth and three at the UGA 29, fullback Carl Stewart got behind the defense, but dropped a pass from Cox.
The Tigers got the ball back two plays later on a fumble, but turned it over again on Cox's fourth interception as he threw a desperation pass to the end zone under pressure on third and 10.
"This is a tough one to take," said senior noseguard Josh Thompson, who added. "We will bounce back and be ready to play against Alabama. You can count on that."