Last-second decision dooms Dawgs

ATHENS, Ga. — In 1992, Georgia wouldn't let Auburn quarterback <b>Stan White</b> off the ground for one more play. <br><br>Nine years later, Auburn returned the favor, stopping <b> Jasper Sanks</b> and Georgia at its 1-yard line as time expired in the Tigers' 24-17 victory Saturday.

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In the 1992 game at Auburn, the Tigers blamed the Bulldogs' defense for keeping White on the ground for too long. The memorable image from that 14-10 Georgia victory was of then-Georgia coach Ray Goff motioning as if to say "Stay down!''

This time, first-year Georgia coach Mark Richt laid all the blame on himself for calling the running play with 16 seconds left to play. A 22-yard pass from David Greene to Terrence Edwards gave Georgia a first down at the 1, but the Bulldogs did not have a timeout.

Given another opportunity, Richt would call for a fade pass, probably in the corner of the end zone. If incomplete, that possibly would have time for another pass and then, if necessary, a running pass.

Instead, with no time to consider the situation, Richt sent in the personnel for the running play to Sanks and then immediately began to second-guess his decision.

"Once it jumped out of my mouth, there really was no turning back on it,'' Richt said. "It just jumped out a little too quick. ... I was just praying we would knock it in so I wouldn't look so dumb.''

Added Richt: "I just took away at least one or two more opportunities to score.''

In a two-fullback set, Sanks ran left and tried to jump up, but Auburn immediately pushed him back and then fell on him.

"They made a good defensive stop,'' Sanks said. "We had a shot at it. We definitely had a shot at it.''

Said Auburn outside linebacker Karlos Dansby: "We weren't surprised. We knew coming into the game that was their go-to play. We had it scouted out. Everybody was ready for what was coming.''

While Auburn stopped Georgia's running game most of the day, the Bulldogs could not contain Auburn freshman Carnell "Cadillac'' Williams, who in his first start rushed for 167 yards and two touchdowns on a school-record 41 carries.

"No doubt, this is why I came here,'' Williams said. "I came to play in big-time games.''

But Williams wanted no part of a second overtime game in as many years between the two teams. Auburn beat Georgia 29-26 in overtime last year.

"I was on the sideline like ‘Gosh I'm dead, I'm tired,'' Williams said. "When they made the stop, whew, I thanked the Lord.''

Williams also rushed for 177 yards on 19 carries against Arkansas two weeks ago in a backup role. He is the first Auburn freshman to rush for 100 or more yards in back-to-back games since Darrell Williams in 1989.

"He's a warrior,'' said Richt of Williams.

Auburn (7-2 overall, 5-1 in the Southeastern Conference) can clinch the Western Division championship with a home win over Alabama next Saturday.

"Unbelievable,'' said Tigers coach Tommy Tuberville, now 3-0 against Georgia since moving to Auburn. "We have not talked about the Western Division as a group. Just coming over here was enough pressure.''

Georgia (5-3 overall, 4-3 in the SEC) faces a road game at Mississippi next week after losing to Auburn for the third straight year.

If Auburn's Alton Moore had not blocked Billy Bennett's field goal attempts of 44 yards in the second quarter and 38 yards in the third quarter, then Richt might not have had to call the play at the 1-yard line that he would immediately regret. Instead, Bennett might have been back on the field for a field-goal attempt that could have given Georgia a last-second win.

But Georgia had too many missed opportunities in the game to lay sole blame for the loss on the last play.

Three times in the game, Georgia assumed possession inside the Auburn 40, and each time it came away with no points:

  • In the second quarter, a 29-yard punt return by Damien Gary gave Georgia the ball at the Auburn 31. Four plays later, a 44-yard field goal attempt by Bennett was blocked by Moore.
  • Later in the second quarter, Auburn's Deandre Green fumbled when hit by Tim Wansley, and Jermaine Phillips recovered at the Auburn 21. On third down, Georgia gave the ball back when Kenny Bailey's halfback pass for LaBrone Mitchell was intercepted by Dansby.
  • In the third quarter, Wansley intercepted a Cobb pass intended for tight end Lorenzo Diamond and returned the ball to the Auburn 36. Georgia managed one first down on a pass to Edwards to the 19, but the drive stalled there and Moore again blocked a 38-yard field goal attempt by Bennett.

Before Georgia moved from the Auburn 45 to the 1 in the final minute, it had another opportunity in its previous possession. After driving from its 20 to the Auburn 9, Greene couldn't connect with freshman Fred Gibson on a fourth-down pass.

"We put our defense in a bad situation,'' said receiver Edwards, who led Georgia with six catches for 124 yards. "The offense just didn't come to play when we needed to in certain drives.''

But Georgia kept things interesting with some trickery, including a trick play in the second quarter where Greene faked a handoff to Musa Smith and then hid the ball against his hip for a couple seconds before throwing a 57-yard touchdown pass to Edwards. Greene also connected with Gibson for a 67-yard touchdown pass and he even caught a pass back from Edwards for 8 yards.

The trickery made things interesting, but Georgia couldn't fool the Tigers at the 1 when the game was on the line.

"We showed everyone that we are not a fluke,'' Williams said.

Charles Odum can be reached at CEOdum@aol.com.


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