One week after clinching a spot in the SEC Championship game, the Georgia Bulldogs built on their momentum Saturday night with a 27-10 win over Auburn at Sanford Stadium.
Georgia trailed narrowly for much of the first half before scoring two touchdowns in the final three minutes of the second quarter for a 20-10 lead. Then, after a scoreless third quarter by both teams, a 77-yard touchdown run by tailback D’Andre Swift gave the Bulldogs a commanding 17-point early in the fourth quarter, completing the game’s scoring.
“I just had to make one man miss,” Swift said, crediting the blocking on the play by wide receiver Jeremiah Holloman and the offensive line.
“This is a great win, a very significant win,” Swift added. “We knew what was at stake. We didn’t want them to mess up our future. So we just had to come out here and play Georgia football, which we did.”
The win -- Georgia’s third in a row over a ranked opponent -- improved the No. 5-ranked Bulldogs’ record to 9-1 (7-1 SEC) and kept them on track for a College Football Playoff berth if they win their two remaining regular-season games and upset No. 1-ranked Alabama in the SEC Championship game Dec. 1.
Georgia piled up 516 yards of total offense to Auburn’s 274 yards. The Bulldogs had 303 yards rushing, led by Swift’s 186 yards on 17 carries, while limiting Auburn to 102 yards rushing.
Another key statistic: Georgia was 8-for-14 on third-down conversions, while Auburn was only 3-for-11.
“I thought that was the difference in the game,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said.
The win was Georgia’s second over Auburn in three meetings over a period of 12 months. Last season, the Bulldogs lost a regular-season game at Auburn, then defeated the Tigers in an SEC title game rematch.
“They’ve got a complete team,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said of Georgia late Saturday night. “They outplayed us in all three phases.”
Playing their first home game in more than a month, the Bulldogs led 20-10 at halftime despite twice settling for field goals after having first-and-goal inside the 5-yard line.
The Bulldogs’ first score, a 25-yard Rodrigo Blankenship field goal with 7:01 left in the first quarter, came four plays after a pass-interference penalty against Auburn gave Georgia a first-and-goal at the 2-yard line. The next three plays: loss of 2, loss of 4, incomplete pass. Then Blankenship made it 3-0.
Auburn claimed a 7-3 lead with 4-1/2 minutes left in the first quarter when a 9-yard pass from running back JaTarvious Whitlow to tight end John Samuel Shenker completed an eight-play, 75-yard drive.
Early in the second quarter, Georgia again settled for a field goal despite having first-and-goal twice on the drive.
A first down at the Auburn 10-yard line led to a sack of Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm on third down, but a targeting penalty against Auburn on the play gave the Bulldogs another first down at the 4. A 3-yard run by Swift moved the ball to the 1-yard line, but the Bulldogs came away from the drive with only a 20-yard Blankenship field goal, inching within 7-6 with 8:15 left in the half.
Similarly, Auburn settled for a 27-yard Anders Carlson field goal on its next possession after reaching Georgia’s 4-yard line to stretch its lead to 10-6 midway through the second quarter.
But Georgia held the Tigers scoreless the rest of the game.
“Right before the half,” Malzahn said, “I think the momentum of the game changed.”
Georgia scored its first touchdown on a 14-yard pass from Fromm to Tyler Simmons with 2:47 left in the half, completing a 59-yard drive that included a key 14-yard run by tailback Brian Herrien to the Auburn 20. That drive gave the Bulldogs their first lead of the game at 13-10.
“Of course it feels good for me to get in the end zone,” Simmons said. “But it felt best for the team to get some momentum going.”
Even more significantly, the Bulldogs added seven more points in the dwindling seconds of the half. The Bulldogs scored a touchdown on 4th-and-3 via a 38-yard pass from Fromm to Terry Godwin, opting against a 55-yard field-goal attempt with 21 seconds remaining before halftime.
“Just thought it was the right thing (to do),” Smart said. “... You’ve got to have confidence in your players. You’ve got to show confidence in your offense. I felt like at that time we needed to score points. ... We hit a big play. (Godwin) did a tremendous job. It was a great route.”
That marked the fourth game this season in which Georgia has scored a touchdown with less than two minutes to go in the first half.
Georgia had more than a 2-to-1 advantage over Auburn in possession time during the first half -- 20:02 to 09:58 -- and outgained the Tigers in total yards 266-149.
After the scoreless third quarter, Swift’s 77-yard touchdown run stretched the Bulldogs’ lead to 27-10, which proved to be the final score, with just under 14 minutes to play.
You wouldn’t know it from that run, but Swift insisted after the game that he is still battling injuries and not at 100 percent efficiency.
"I'm definitely getting better," Swift said. "I'm a seven or eight (out of 10). My foot's still messed up from LSU; my groin is a little dinged up."
After Swift’s score, Georgia forced an Auburn punt and got the ball back with 12:04 to play. The Bulldogs kept it until only 3:20 remained, a 13-play drive ending on an incomplete pass by Blankenship on a fake field goal.
Georgia will finish its regular season with two non-conference games, both in Athens -- Nov. 17 against Massachusetts and Nov. 24 against Georgia Tech.
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