It was a roller-coaster performance for Georgia’s defense.
For three quarters it was all buildup. The Bulldogs racked up 21 points on offense while their defense paved the way to what looked like their fourth shutout of the season.
But like a roller coaster, the buildup was followed by a drop of almost equal proportion. Georgia's drop came at the turn of the fourth quarter, and it was as heart-stopping and stomach-churning as any thrill ride. To start the closing frame, Auburn led a 12-play, 75-yard drive to cut the game to 21-7. Within two minutes, the Tigers had the ball back in their possession. Almost a minute after that, the roller coaster was at full-speed going downhill — 21-14.
“They got in a rhythm,” head coach Kirby Smart said. “I thought Bo [Nix] got a little more confident, we had a couple of busts, and when you combine those things, guys get hot.”
After another minute and its eighth three-and-out of the game, Georgia’s offense was off the field and the ball was again in the hands of the Auburn offense looking to continue that hot-streak.
“They had the momentum on their side,” Richard LeCounte said. “We had to stop the bleeding.”
On that drive, it looked like Auburn was going to deepen the wound in Georgia’s defense. The Tigers picked up a quick first down, then converted on a fourth-down soon after. But when faced with a fourth-and-two a few plays later, the Bulldogs sewed up the gash, er, the Tigers stitched it up themselves when Harold Joiner dropped an easy pass.
“The guy just missed the ball, he was wide-open,” Smart said. “I can’t say that we stopped them. We got them to fourth down and they gave us a gift.”
Georgia got the ball back on downs and quickly produced its ninth three-and-out on the night. With two minutes on the clock, it was do-or-die territory for both teams. The stakes were simple for Georgia. Either stop them or concede. Thankfully for Smart, the Bulldogs had the upper hand in the situation.
“They had to throw,” Smart said. “They had no timeouts; we got them to burn those. So we were able to be aggressive and play the pass. It’s harder to do that when they have the threat of the run like they did on the earlier drives.”
For the players, the situation was less complex than the strategy behind Smart’s thinking. It was as simple as the saying “Do or do not, there is no try.”
“As a unit, we came together and said what we were going to do — we’re going to stop this ball,” LeCounte said. “And we did.”
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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC