The Georgia Bulldogs traveled to The Plains on Saturday afternoon to take on the Auburn Tigers. Neither team is in contention to represent its division in Atlanta, and each team has had to overcome the burden of injuries this season to important players. The two prideful programs were still motivated to play Saturday as evidenced by the physicality on display. The tackling was audible; however, poor offensive execution eclipsed the effort resulting in Auburn leading at the half 10 to 3.
Georgia's offense shot itself in the foot a bit more than Auburn in the first half. That statement is probably no better encapsulated than the 'Dawgs having the ball on Auburn's goal-line with downs to spare, and not being able to walk away from the possession with a touchdown. Sony Michel recovered his own fumble on an inside pitch when he had some daylight, and later a play-action pass on a slant route to Malcom Mitchell was thrown behind him. Meanwhile, Georgia luckily recovered another of its own fumbles on a kick-off return, and also settled for a field goal on a later possession after Greyson Lambert took an 11 yard sack on 3rd-and-1.
Auburn had a few miscues itself. Jeremy Johnson, starting for the second week in a row, threw his seventh interception of the season when he overthrew an open receiver in Georgia territory. On Auburn's last possession of the half, the Tigers made it into scoring position before a a series of negative plays forced the Tigers to kick a field goal—a school record 13 in a row for Daniel Carlson.
After those fireworks, Georgia wisely took a knee, and the teams departed for their respective locker rooms. At the half, Auburn had 160 yards rushing but only 10 points to show for it, while Georgia's only points came as the result of a turnover despite 18:00 minutes of offensive possession.
The second half played out differently. Georgia found success running the ball after its first two possessions. The third quarter touchdown came as a result of Sony Michel breaking tackles, Grayson Lambert scrambling, and an Auburn facemask penalty. Slot receiver Isaiah McKenzie punctuated the successful drive with a jet sweep. Georgia had success moving the ball on its subsequent possession too, but a series of penalties set up a 3rd-and-41 that stalled a consecutive promising drive.
Meanwhile, Georgia's defense clamped down on the Tiger's offense. Auburn seemed intent on playing quarterback Sean White, who not only seemed injured to the point of stationary but was completely out of rhythm. Why Auburn went away from an offensive gameplan that had success running the ball behind Johnson and running back Peyton Barber in the first half is a mystery. Georgia's defense allowed no quarter, and the stationary quarterback under center added fuel to the 'Dawg's fire.
By the time McKenzie returned a punt early in the fourth quarter to extend Georgia's lead to 17-10 the game felt like a slow-motion fall towards its inevitable conclusion. Auburn reinserted Johnson at quarterback when the lead had grown to 20-10, and he then promptly led the Tiger offense beyond midfield for the first time in the second half. The Tigers made it to the goal line, but a Ricardo Louis fumble resulted in a Georgia take-away at the one yard line. The best drive of the second half for Auburn ended in jaw-dropping turnover.
And that was pretty much that. Auburn tacked on a field goal (Carlson's 14th consecutive) after their next possession, but failed an onside kick at 1:14 in the fourth quarter.
Auburn moves to 5-5 and stays last in the SEC West. Despite the record, three of Auburn's five losses came in one-score games, and the Tiger defense appears to be improving week-to-week. That side of the ball didn't lose the game for the Tigers today. That dishonor probably goes to the coaching decision to play Sean White at the beginning of the second half seemingly in an attempt to jump start a passing game when there previously weren't issues running the ball.
Georgia meanwhile moves to 7-3 and could likely finish 9-3 again this season. That would be an accomplishment. Hear me out: I understand there are swaths of the 'Dawg faithful who don't approve of the job offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has done this season, but let's be honest, this offense is limited.
The two fewer touchdowns scored per game drop-off following Nick Chubb's injury demonstrates how few other weapons the 'Dawgs have on that side of the ball. Sony Michel is another weapon, but he needs complimentary weapons to be maximized. McKenzie is naturally limited as a slot receiver despite Schottenheimer attempting to use him on jet sweeps. Malcolm Mitchell is a fine receiver but is not a game-breaker, and Lambert is inconsistent. The offensive line has been shuffled all season. The fact Georgia is running the "WildDawg" formation further underscores the systemic issues.
Georgia's team is anachronistic in that it's identity is running the ball, and playing good defense and special teams. Turns out in today's modern game, that is probably enough to win nine regular season games. All that despite losing a Heisman front-runner.