Dawgs blackout Auburn

ATHENS – Could Mark Richt be an honest-to-goodness, black hat-wearing bad guy?

Georgia's head coach is recasting his image in that mold of late. For his most recent move, Richt dressed himself and his Bulldogs in black for the first time in modern school history and bullied Auburn on the way to a 45-20 win in Sanford Stadium.

"I told them in the locker room before the game, ‘Hey men you've been wanting these black jerseys forever,'" Richt said. "‘I've got my neck sticking out here a little bit. If you ever want to wear them again, you better win.'"

Boy did they, and in outlaw fashion.

The No. 10 Bulldogs accumulated a season-high 98 yards worth of penalties for everything from late hits to excessive strutting, but overcame them all by intercepting Auburn quarterback Brandon Cox four times and mocking the SEC's No. 1 scoring defense with 417 yards and an historic pile of points.

The Bulldogs topped 40 points for the third straight game, marking the first time they have done that since 1942, and they had their highest output in a regulation game against Auburn since 1951. (The Bulldogs scored 56 points in a four-overtime game in 1996.)

"It doesn't even feel like we put that many points up, but you look at the scoreboard at the end of the game and it's in the 40s," said quarterback Matthew Stafford, who was 11-of-19 for 237 yards and a touchdown. "That's awesome."

For the No. 18 Tigers, the milestones were all bad. Auburn hadn't given up so many points in a regulation game since the first game of the 1992 season. Georgia has now scored 112 points in its last three games against the Tigers.

"They've got our number pretty good," Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville said. "When you give up 45 points, you've been taken to the woodshed pretty good."

A sellout Sanford Stadium crowd of 92,746 played along with their team's costume party by responding to Richt's request to wear black themselves for what the team billed as a "blackout" game. All week long Richt refused to dispel the rumor that his team would follow suit and spurn its traditional home red jerseys.

He milked the drama to the last minute Saturday, sending his game captains on the field in red jerseys before letting the rest of the team pour out in black tops, silver britches and red helmets. Eighty-six-year-old Georgia historian Dan Magill said the jerseys were a first in his lifetime.

Even Richt got into the spirit, changing just before the game from his traditional game day khaki pants to an all-black ensemble he called "my Johnny Cash look."

"I knew I'd catch all kind of grief if we lost this one," he said. "I did it because I was just like, ‘Let's go have a little fun. How harmful can this be?' It wasn't a bad look."

The AC/DC rock song "Back in Black" blared through the stadium's speakers until just before the opening kickoff, and the Bulldogs (8-2, 5-2 SEC) took over from there.

Senior safety Kelin Johnson intercepted Cox's first pass, and the Bulldogs led 17-3 at the end of the first quarter.

The Tigers (7-4, 4-3) mounted a rally midway through the game and took a 20-17 lead on a 33-yard Wes Byrum field goal with 6:47 left in the third quarter, but the Bad Boy Bulldogs showed up again after that score.

On the ensuing drive, the offense went back to its downfield passing game and moved 68 yards on four plays to take a 24-20 lead with 5:00 left in the third. That started a run of four consecutive touchdown drives as freshman Knowshon Moreno rushed for 101 yards and senior Thomas Brown added 81.

"Somehow we found a way like we have all year long … to stay in the ball game," Tuberville said, "and then the defense absolutely collapsed."

It must have looked all too familiar to Tigers defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, a former Georgia safety. In each of Muschamp's previous two seasons at Auburn, the Bulldogs have posted the most points given up by the Tigers, and they did it again Saturday.

Auburn came into the game allowing 14.5 points per game and had surrendered 30 points only once (against LSU), but Georgia hit 11 plays of 15 or more yards.

"I think the difference was the big plays," Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "We were able to make plays to change field position, change momentum."

Wide receiver Sean Bailey led the way with a career-high 96 yards on four catches, including what his coaches called the play of the game, a 45-yard grab on the drive after Auburn took its only lead. The play was a suggestion from Richt to Bobo, who had all but abandoned the deep passing game when Auburn switched to a cover two defense after the first quarter.

"Offensively, we were getting nothing done and trying to think of what do we do next," Richt said. "Sometimes when nothing is working, you just launch it out there and hope something good happens, and I think that's what happened."

"Tonight was a tragic loss," Auburn senior linebacker Quentin Groves said. "Once we scored and went up on them, myself and everybody on our team thought we had them and would win, but they responded and kept going to Sean Bailey deep, and we couldn't stop it."

Georgia's defense made Cox's life miserable for the second straight year. The Tigers' senior has thrown eight interceptions in his last two games against the Bulldogs and his team had a season-low 216 yards.

"I think we're playing like our hair is on fire, just getting after it," Bulldogs defensive lineman Jeff Owens said. "I think we are playing tremendously well on defense, on both sides of the ball as a matter of fact."

Richt knows there will be talk of wearing the black jerseys again next week when the Bulldogs play Kentucky in Sanford Stadium, but he doubts that will happen, he said.

"Them coming out in black is something that Coach Richt did to get his team fired up and they responded," Groves said. "It's not a fashion show, but they sure did look good in them."


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