Battle's huge day guides Dawgs' upset

AUBURN – Saturday's halftime score might as well have read Tra Battle 17, Auburn 7.

The Georgia safety's three first-half interceptions resulted in two touchdowns and a field goal, highlighting a defensive effort by the maligned Bulldog defense that was nothing short of dominant.

The result was a 37-15 Georgia win that crushed fifth-ranked Auburn's BCS hopes and shocked the 87,451 rain-soaked fans in attendance at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

"Sometimes you're in the right place at the right time," said Battle, who tied the school record for interceptions in a game shared by Terry Hoage, Jeff Hipp and Joe Jackura. "I read the first two picks, but the last one, I was just in the right place at the right time."

Battle returned one Brandon Cox interception for a 30-yard touchdown and set up a Gordon Ely-Kelso field goal with the second. He caught the third one off a deflection by defensive end Charles Johnson and returned it to Auburn's 20, setting up a 14-yard Kregg Lumpkin touchdown catch.

"It was my first play in because I was so tired from playing special teams and playing defense, I had to put CJ Byrd in for me," Battle said of the third interception. "I came in for one play and it was a pick."

That helped ignite a Georgia offense that came in ranked 85th in the nation in total offense.

"That was unbelievable," Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "I've really never seen anything like that – somebody coming out and getting three picks and doing a great job returning all of them."

It wasn't a perfect outing for the former walk-on safety. He was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for diving into the end zone on his touchdown return, forcing Georgia to kick off from its own 20 and leading to a big return from Auburn's Tristan Davis. And he whiffed on a tackle attempt later on that drive, as Auburn's Brad Lester ran past him for the Tigers' lone touchdown of the first half.

But Battle was the key figure in a first half where Georgia outgained Auburn 236-79, the type of smothering defensive effort Georgia fans have been waiting for the Bulldogs to repeat since back-to-back shutouts over South Carolina and UAB early in the season.

"For once we gave (the offense) some good field position," defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said. "The tide was turned."

That wasn't the only way the tide had turned. Georgia's sometimes porous pass defense had by far its best outing of the year. Paul Oliver added a third-quarter interception to give the Bulldogs four for the game, and Cox finished 4-for-12 for a paltry 35 yards.

The entire defense can share the credit. But the bulk of it belongs to Battle, who found himself at the right place in three of the most beneficial times.

"He was there and when the opportunity presented itself, he went and got it," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "That just kept the momentum rolling for us."

And the Bulldogs' once-gloomy season now seems a lot rosier because of it.


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