Dawgs Escape With SEC Title

Georgia rallied from 11 points down to edge the Auburn Tigers 24-21 on Saturday.

Auburn, Ala.--Tommy Tuberville said Georgia deserved credit for winning its first SEC East title on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium, but the Auburn coach must know it was a game his Tigers could have won.

The frustration factor for Auburn was incredibly high as the Tigers' defense made stand after stand to preserve a three-point lead in the fourth quarter, but Auburn's offense couldn't make a play. Finally, with a 1:25 left on a fourth down and 15 play from the Tiger 19 yard line, the Auburn defense cracked.

Georgia sophomore quarterback David Greene threw a lob pass into the end zone. Michael Johnson, his favorite target of the game, pushed off Auburn cornerback Horace Willis to get some space to catch the ball and that was what he did.

The big play put the Bulldogs up 24-21 and Georgia was able to hold on to preserve the victory against an Auburn offense that lost its touch in the second half after pushing the Bulldogs around in the first two quarters.

An ankle injury to tailback Ronnie Brown, who rumbled for 105 yards in the first half, slowed the offense. He tried to play in the second half, but got little done.

Ronnie Brown is shown on the run.

What also hurt was the loss of big blocking fullback Brandon Johnson, who was carried off the field with 6:49 left in the third quarter with an ankle injury. The running game , and the entire offense, faltered after that and Georgia was able to overcome a 21-10 deficit to take the victory. "We lost our fullback in the second half and we couldn't block anybody after that," Tuberville said. "We are more of a fullback oriented team. When we lost Brandon Johnson they dominated the line of scrimmage and we couldn't get the extra block."

The Auburn defense played admirably in the second half as it tried to carry a heavy load with the offense struggling and the punting game really struggling as Damon Duval was hitting low line drives that were not going very far.

Georgia improved to 10-1 on the season and 7-1 in the SEC. Auburn fell to 7-4 overall and 4-3 in the SEC and made its chances of winning the SEC West a longshot with one game left at Alabama next week. "They (Georgia) are going to Atlanta and we have got to have a lot of, lot of luck to get there," Tuberville said.

Auburn survived and prospered in the first half despite three turnovers on a pair of intercepted passes by Georgia's Sean Jones and a fumbled punt return by Roderick Hood. The Bulldogs were able to turn the turnovers into just three points on a Billy Bennett field goal with 2:19 left in the first quarter to cut Auburn's lead to 7-3.

Auburn had scored on its second possession after a strong drive to open the game ended in a 58-yard interception return by Jones. On its second opportunity to score points, the Tigers did just that with Ronnie Brown hitting a hole in the middle of the Georgia defense on a third and inches call and he raced in to the end zone from 53 yards out after breaking an arm tackle attempt after he crossed the line of scrimmage.

Although there was plenty of action, the only other points of the half came on a 45-yard drive set up by Hood's 36-yard punt return.

Campbell had the key plays of the drive when he scrambled for 18 yards to the Georgia two after rushing for 17 to the UGA 17. On first and goal at the two, his bootleg pass to fullback Brandon Johnson was perfectly thrown and Auburn led 14-3 after Damon Duval made the PAT with 1:40 left on the fifth play of the possession.

Even more than the offense, the key for Auburn's first half success was the play of the defense. At the break, the Bulldogs had just 63 total yards on 27 plays while Auburn had the ball for 10 more plays and totaled 233 yards with 159 on the ground on 25 runs. Brown alone had 103 yards on 15 carries.

Georgia changed the momentum by taking the second half kickoff and driving 67 yards on 10 plays to cut the Auburn lead to 14-10.

Auburn matched that by moving 54 yards on nine plays to stretch the margin back to 11 points. Campbell raced in from 21 yards out on a quarterback draw. The Tigers had a short field to drive after Hood returned a short kickoff into the wind 19 yards.

Georgia then matched Auburn's touchdown by driving 89 yards in 10 plays when the Tigers looked like they had a chance to put even more distance between them and the Dawgs. After a sack by Reggie Torbor on Greene following a good play on kickoff coverage by Roshard Gilyard, Georgia faced second and 19 at their own two. Musa Smith took a handoff at left guard. There wasn't a hole there, but AU didn't get him on the ground and he bounced outside to the right on a 32-yard play to jump start another TD drive.

Reggie Torbor sacks David Greene at the two-yard line.

Offensive lineman Jon Stinchcomb got credit for the score when Greene fumbled the ball into the end zone on a keeper. That came with 2:02 left in the third quarter to cut the Auburn lead to 21-17.

The Auburn offense never seriously threatened to match that score. The Tigers went three and out on their next six possessions. They didn't get another first down until Campbell hit Robert Johnson on a 25-yard pass play after Georgia's go-ahead touchdown. That gave Auburn a first down at the UGA 47, but Auburn had two illegal procedure penalties, an incomplete pass, Campbell was sacked, he ran for seven yards and hit Tre Smith for 14 yards on fourth down when the Tigers needed 20 to keep the drive alive. Georgia ran out the final 19 seconds and ended its three-game losing streak to Auburn and earned its first ever trip to the SEC Championship Game.

With Mayo Sowell injured and out for the season and Roderick Hood, Karlos Dansby, Brown and Johnson all injured, the Tigers have some major regrouping to do before traveling to play Alabama next Saturday.

Tuberville said he liked the effort he got from his team. "Now we have got to turn around in a seven-day period and play another one like this, but I know this team will do that. Everybody who is associated with Auburn is proud of this football team because they laid it on the line."

Georgia coach Mark Richt said, "Our defense came through down after down today. We did a fantastic job at shutting Auburn down in the second half except for one drive."

Auburn offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino said, "Unfortunately, they took over the line of scrimmage. We lost Brandon and that hurt us a lot. That took us out of a lot of what we had going game plan-wise. We just didn't do a very good job in the fourth quarter."

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