ATHENS — Stetson Bennett said the expectations for Georgia’s offense got out of hand after Week 1. It seemed all the offseason questions were answered once the Bulldogs hung 49 points on Oregon in the opener. They would be explosive on offense again. No more concerns about a lack of playmakers. No worries about Bennett still being The Man at quarterback.
Then the Bulldogs sputtered to 24 points in a close win at Missouri and everyone wondered what’s wrong. Bennett suspects there will be similar handwringing after Georgia’s offense didn’t get going for nearly three quarters Saturday against Auburn. Bennett wants the Bulldogs to stop listening to that kind of talk.
“I think we do let people tell us how we should feel about a 42-10 SEC victory against Auburn,” he said. “Like, enjoy it! We’ve got things to clean up, but that’s football. We’re not going to be perfect.
“We should want to be, but I don’t think we should kill ourselves if we aren’t.”
There will come a time when the Bulldogs need to be closer to perfect to win. That wasn’t necessary against Auburn. The Bulldogs are that much better than their rivals from the SEC West. Make it six consecutive victories for Georgia over Auburn, including four by a margin of 21 points or more.
Georgia’s defense never yielded. Passing wasn’t working early, so the Bulldogs kept pressing their advantage along the line of scrimmage. Then everything worked in the fourth quarter, when the Bulldogs scored on three consecutive possessions to put Auburn away.
The Bulldogs own Auburn, and they’re 6-0, 3-0 in the SEC. Bennett wants that to be the focus instead of talking about another slow start.
“I think we are getting too (much) like, ‘Argh, well, it wasn’t perfect’ and so then (we’re) miserable,” he said. “No! We played a good game. We’ve got a lot of things to get better at, but that’s all it is. We’re going to enjoy this one.”
There was a lot to like for the Bulldogs. Topping the list is the way they bullied Auburn into submission by running the ball. Georgia totaled 292 yards rushing (excluding one sack) and six touchdowns, the most since 2018 vs. UMass. Four Bulldogs had rushing TDs, led by Daijun Edwards’ three scores.
Said Bennett: “When you can beat somebody physically in the SEC, especially somebody as physical as Auburn, it sets a tone.
Georgia 42, Auburn 10
The way the Bulldogs finished more than made up for the way they started. They scored two touchdowns in the first half but punted four times and missed a field-goal try. Bennett said the Bulldogs were pressing because they wanted to make amends after struggling to score at Missouri.
Give the Tigers some credit for Georgia’s slow start. They have a good defense. But it’s not so good that Georgia should need to huff and puff to score. Penn State gained 477 yards and scored 41 points at Auburn’s place. Eventually, Georgia gave Auburn similar treatment.
“When we click, we roll,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “If we don’t get started, we tend to dry out.”
The Bulldogs rolled got on track once Bennett found his rhythm. He was 7-for-13 for 25 yards before halftime. Bennett missed Brock Bowers twice and Ladd McConkey once when they were open deep. After halftime, Bennett was 15-for-19 for 183 yards and ran 64 yards for a TD to begin the fourth quarter.
Bennett said his throwing shoulder was sore after the Missouri game. But he said he practiced all week and doesn’t blame the soreness for the missed throws.
“We all want so badly to be the best,” Bennett said. “Towards the end we started just having fun, just throwing and catching. Just beat your man and I’ll throw you the ball.”
The Tigers were focused on not letting Bennett beat them with deep passes early. They stuck close to Bennett’s targets on short throws and rallied to tackle pass catchers. The plan didn’t work because the Tigers wore down trying to stop Georgia from running. Auburn coach Bryan Harsin didn’t help matters with an ill-advised fake punt call near the end of the first quarter.
The Tigers had a fourth-and-6 at their 34-yard line in a scoreless game. Georgia’s first three drives had ended with two punts and a missed field goal. Auburn lined up to punt and the snap went to John Samuel Shenker in the backfield. He tried to run to his left, but Georgia’s Nolan Smith tossed aside a blocker and tackled Shenker after a two-yard gain.
The Bulldogs had a first down 36 yards away from the end zone. They needed seven plays to get there. Six of those plays were runs. First Kendall Milton, then Edwards ran through the space created by strong blocking. Auburn went three-and-out on its next possession, then McConkey returned the punt 38 yards to Auburn’s 31-yard line.
Three consecutive Georgia runs produced another touchdown for a 14-0 lead. It was clear by then that the Bulldogs didn’t need to score more points to win this game. Everything was hard for Auburn’s offense, which couldn’t produce much more than scrambles by slippery quarterback Robby Ashford.
The Bulldogs corralled Tank Bigsby, Auburn’s All-SEC running back. Passing was just as hard for the Tigers. Ashford could barely get into his pass drop backs before the Bulldogs chased him out of the pocket. He couldn’t find yards going side-to-side, but made some big gains when he cut back through the middle.
That’s what Ashford was doing when he fumbled after Georgia went ahead 14-0. There was room to run well past the sticks on third-and-4. Ashford broke into the open field, then just dropped the ball. No Bulldogs touched him. Few were even near him.
Georgia recovered the fumble at the 38-yard line with 4:42 until halftime. It was a big break for the Bulldogs, who needed it. Here was a chance to make the margin three scores with a short drive before halftime. Instead, the Bulldogs ran three plays before punting.
That’s how it went for Georgia for most of three quarters. Georgia’s mistakes and missed chances ended up not mattering much. Auburn’s offense managed one touchdown when Jarquez Hunter broke free from some poor tackle attempts. The Bulldogs wore out Auburn while scoring touchdowns on four of the next five drives after Bennett’s fumble.
In the end, it was a blowout victory for the Bulldogs over one of their rivals. Bennett wanted them to feel good about that instead of fretting about the things they did wrong.
“They’ve got a good football team, and we beat them pretty good,” Bennett said. “I think we should be happy and just keep getting better.”