Age and treachery overcame youth and skill once again Saturday night, as Georgia Tech's experienced and crafty defense rattled Auburn's callow quarterback into four interceptions, sealing a 23-14 win under a midnight sky.
In his first game as a starter, Auburn's Brandon Cox at times ran the short-passing offense well. He was credited for two TD passes, after Tech defenders missed arm tackles to turn short Auburn gains into long touchdowns. Cox finished 22 of 44 for 342 yards.
But in the second half, relentless pressure from Tech blitzers and defensive linemen made Cox look like the rookie he is. Defensive end Eric Henderson sacked him twice, and tackle Joe Anoai's hit caused a floating duck that KaMichael Hall gathered in.
Tech's defense chased Cox like a mother after a fractious toddler, gathering up his errant throws like flung rattles. Auburn's last five possessions ended in turnovers, four interceptions and a forced fumble, before the Jackets burped the Tiger backfield and tucked them into their cribs, long after most people's bedtimes.
Auburn's flashy tailback Tre Smith had a few nice carries, including a 21-yarder, but Auburn gained only 50 yards net on the ground. Tech has held opponents under 100 yards rushing in 20 of the 39 games it has played under defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta.
Solid in every part of the game other than kick coverage and open-field tackling by its defensive backs, Tech jumped on Auburn from the opening snap, playing with such confident authority that spectators wondered which team had the 15-game winning streak.
Tech's first two drives marched along as methodically as kudzu growing. Tech quarterback Reggie Ball hit 9 of his first 12 passes.
Ball had one of his best games since beating Auburn two years ago as a precocious freshman. For the game, Ball completed only 17 of 36 passes for 174 yards, and gave up an interception on a jump-ball throw on the sideline, but many of his incompletions were intentional throwaways while avoiding Auburn's brisk pass rush.
Ball ran for 18 yards, and got the ball to the right people, helping P. J. Daniels terrorize Auburn's linebackers for 111 yards and a touchdown on only 23 carries.
Calvin Johnson was quietly spectacular, catching four passes for 60 yards and a brilliant 35-yard fade route for Tech's first touchdown. But less heralded receivers stepped up, particularly sophomore Pat Clark, who caught six short passes and looks like Ball's new favorite possession receiver.
Auburn's vaunted offensive line was hardly a factor, while Tech's young, cobbled-together unit looked like they'd been playing together for years. Tech punter Ben Arndt kicked like a Rockette, averaging 41.6 yards per punt while dropping two pooch kicks inside the 10.
Sophomore kicker Travis Bell continued to look like an automatic field goal machine, hitting three short attempts, bringing his career percentage up to 90.
Tech's win was its first in Jordan-Hare Stadium since 1978, when sideburns and bellbottoms were in fashion the first time. Now that the Tigers have been ranked but upset in their last two games against the Jackets, it may be a long time before Auburn decides it wants a shot at payback.