Where was that team in Jacksonville?
Yeah, I know, Todd Gurley was on suspension back then, but that’s not the team I’m talking about. As dominating and impressive as Georgia’s running game was in Saturday night’s 34-7 beatdown of Auburn, it was the play of Jeremy Pruitt’s defense that told the biggest story.
A defense that two weeks ago against Florida seemed incapable of stopping the run held both the Tigers’ formidable read-option rushing attack and its explosive passing game in check for all but the opening drive. The side-to-side play of Georgia’s linebackers was particularly impressive as the Dogs held the Tigers to a season-low 7 points, the fewest overall in Gus Malzahn’s two years at Auburn.
Until they got to Athens, Auburn had averaged 38.7 points and 506.9 yards per game this season. The Dogs gave up a paltry 292 yards Saturday night.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, with the tandem of Gurley and freshman Nick Chubb, Georgia outrushed Auburn, with 289 yards to the Tigers’ 150.
Gurley, who left the game late in the fourth quarter with a knee injury, looked a little bit rusty at times (hitting holes a tad slower, not bouncing some plays outside like he normally does) and yet still was superb, racking up 138 yards on 29 carries before going out.
As for Chubb, the kid just gets better each week. Running with an obvious urgency, he broke numerous tackles and wound up the night with 19 carries for 144 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the 12th Bulldog in school history to reach 1,000 yards rushing in a season (with 1,039 yards so far).
In perhaps the key play of the game, Chubb was given the ball on 4th-and-1 at the Auburn 9-yard line (after Mark Richt originally sent the field goal unit out on the field and then called timeout to reconsider) and made that yard and more, scoring to break what was at the time a 7-7 tie.
Georgia didn’t look back from that point on. With the defense doing the old bend-but-don’t break to perfection, the offense stepped up its game, looking particularly impressive on an 11-play, 98-yard fourth-quarter touchdown drive that ended the night’s scoring.
I don’t think anyone could have predicted a 34-7 Georgia win in a game widely expected to be a shootout, but what’s amazing is that it could have been worse had Georgia not been plagued by yellow flags and dropped passes. The Dogs came out with Mike Bobo calling an aggressive game that even included a fake punt, but for a while they couldn’t seem to get a break.
Gurley’s official return was a kickoff return of 100-plus yards for what looked like a TD, but a flag called it back. A pass by punter Adam Erickson on the fake should have given Georgia the ball inside Auburn’s 5-yard line but a very debatable ineligible receiver call negated it. And among a bunch of passes dropped by Bulldog receivers Saturday night, perhaps the most painful was a sure touchdown lost when Isaiah McKenzie couldn’t hang on to a perfectly thrown ball from Hutson Mason.
The fact that Georgia won in such commanding fashion despite all those bad breaks is testament to the tremendous heart this team has shown most of the season.
All in all, on a frigid night in Athens that somehow didn’t feel as cold thanks to the energy generated by the very loud and more or less blacked-out crowd, Georgia notched a win over a Top 10 team with as impressive a performance as I’ve seen by a Bulldog team in a very long time.
Richt summed up the experience pretty well: “It was a great night. The fans were spectacular, the students were ready, the Dog Walk was everything we hoped for, the band was great, and it took everybody to have this kind of performance. We were hoping we could be energized by our fans and that we could energize our fans by our play, and that’s what happened. … There’s just something electric about a home game under the lights in November. We made memories together. That’s about as much fun as I’ve had as coach at Georgia, and it’s because of our fans and the players involved.”
A fun night indeed, Coach.
Feel free to share your own views of Georgia’s big win over Auburn.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg
Bill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.