For the first time this year, and we'd all been waiting for it, UGA had its full arsenal of talent and played a complete game in all facets. It was a continuation of all the things we'd been trying to believe. UGA had made may positive strides over the past 7 games, but there were many areas of concern. We had allowed roughly 14 pts to each team off of fluky plays, had costly turnovers that needed to be overcome, poor passing at points, poor special teams execution, and had the inability to dominate and put away opponents. This was not the case Saturday. In a game in Athens where the writing was on the wall for the SEC Championship (for the first time in what seems like forever) UGA actually came out and delivered. This delivery was a pretty solid statement that this team has made the strides we were hoping were coming to fruition with the new defensive scheme and development of young talent.
When I say this game was dominated by UGA, it was very evident which a quick look through the stat box. Usually I look for a few intricacies throughout the game that may be hidden, but pouring through a recap makes it easy this time. Time of possession - nearly 41 minutes for UGA and 19 for Auburn. First downs for UGA - 30, Auburn - 9. Georgia displayed the ability to implement their game plan and keep the ball out of Auburn's offensive hands and Gus Malzahn's mind. Turnovers - 3 for Auburn, 2 for UGA, but we made two of ours count in a very meaningful manner. The offense was balanced with two 100 yard rushers, and Murray going for 4 TDs and 224 yards and more importantly no picks. The defense did their part in the stat box as well holding Auburn to 195 total yards, and more importantly taking away their best asset, the rushing attack of Dyer and McCaleb holding them to only 51 total rushing yards as a team. Penalties were a small area of concern with UGA having 8 for 60 yds + and Auburn having only 3. However, Auburn didn't have the ball nearly long enough to amass much penalty yardage on offense.
Once again it was reinforced that Todd Grantham's defense is truly now something to be reckoned with. Gus Malzahn is one of the best offensive minds in the conference, and I know this Auburn offense lacks talent, but he's done it before without the aid of Newton. In 2010 they were led by Chris Todd and still managed to rack up yardage and points via a well thought out scheme. Georgia had a clear game plan of negating the run and containing the screen style spread attack. The pressure was on the secondary as well as an abundance of solo tackles and tight coverage downfield were necessary. Auburn has a young offensive line and I figured defensive pressure would be easy to come by. The linebacking corps had the opportunity to pin their ears back and deliver the blows in the screen game. I said earlier in the year that our defensive unit was doing a better job of getting wide and containing the slash type plays that had eaten us alive over the past two to three years. Yesterday was more of the same and a continuation of the development displayed in the Florida game. Also - for the first time in a while there were a few hits that stood out in my mind, as it looked like UGA was seeking to deliver some meaningful punishment on defense. Boykin, Ogeltree, and Jones seemed to be the leaders of this onslaught, with the defensive line providing the pressure. Christian Robinson didn't have a huge day in the stat box, but it can be noted that he was a constant disruption all game long All in all I think it was a well executed effort by the unit as a whole, not just a few standout players dominating the game.
Special teams also had a stellar day in kick coverage, minus one big return. Harrows hit was a momentum shifter after Bennett's touchdown, and the unit now comprised of better athletes looked to be flying towards the ball. Bogatay and Walsh didn't have a blemish on their slate for the day, and it was good to be 1-1 in the FG category. It will be interesting to see how Richt and company continue forward with the rotation, hoping to build Walsh's confidence back. One of the surprising areas I thought we struggled was the kick return game. Boykin seemed to be fair catching all day, and I thought Auburn did a good job negating our return game all day. Nevertheless we didn't have any returns that set us back from a field position standpoint which was a struggle over the past couple years.
The offense featured the best balanced attack we've seen in a long time. The ability to use the run and pass to build off each other was exceptional. How well is UGA's receiving corps developing as a unit. Murray continued to do a great job spreading the ball around. I think one of the most evident aspects to validate this was the success of the comeback routes. This supports the notion that Murray has timing and trust with his receivers knowing that he can throw the ball before their breaks, having his young receivers knowing the ball will be where it needs to. This was shown in three big passes to Mitchell and King where they came back on their routes and didn't allow the corners to break on the ball, something that was a struggle versus Florida. Michael Bennett keeps having games where we can't say enough about him. Building on his huge catches versus SC and Florida, he once again delivered a magnificent display of hands in his touchdown catch. I remember thinking his recruitment was insignificant, but its been nice to be proven wrong over the course of the season. Tavarres King continues to be a great possession receiver and garnered another touchdown grab. The tight ends weren't a huge aspect of the game, but their threat surely opened up other areas of the offense. The rushing game featured a great complimentary attack with Thomas and Crowell. Crowell provided the muscle and the hard yardage while Thomas provided the quick slashes. I can't reiterate enough how it seems like Thomas is running harder than ever running with a head of steam and delivering blows for such a small guy. It was a balanced attack that dominated the time of possession and implemented their will on a struggling defensive unit.
Turnovers by Crowell were an issue, and it seems strange that most of these seem to be happening on the hand-off. It's definitely an area of concern, but in big games you're going to have a few mishaps. It was nice to see that UGA was able to overcome these quickly, including forcing a quick turnover to get the ball back immediately. Hopefully as he gets back in game form, and his endurance builds he'll continue to be a force.
Mitchell looked 100% and it was nice for Georgia to weather the storm in his absence. His run after the catch ability is critical to pushing the field vertically in Georgia's offense.
The hits by Harrow, Boykin, Ogeltree, and others were incredibly refreshing, showing that maybe UGA has a sliver of swagger back in their mindset of toughness.
Rambo's pick six was the nail in the coffin, and for a change UGA delivered the non-offensive touchdown to swing the tide of the game.
Bruce Figgins made the catch that he missed versus Florida, and this time it led to a touchdown. Pretty much his only impact play from a scoring perspective of the year, however provided a nice little wrinkle to continue the offensive guessing game.
Lutzenkirchen is a great tight end, and certainly had his spots. However even though he reached the endzone his presence was not a huge factor. Neither was Dyer who was pretty much negated as a factor in the rushing game.
How about another glimmer of Evil Richt's return trying to continually score at the end of the second half? We scored our 5th TD quickly, and even saw Richt try to throw the ball and gain more points with under a minute to go.
Most of Auburn's offense was an accumulation of yardage on two trick plays in the first drive. Our only scored allowed was once again on a trick play. I guess its a positive stride when an offensive team can only score on trickeration.
All in all a total dominating effort by UGA. Most of my Auburn folks were worried about the game, but kept mentioning that UGA hand't looked dominating all year, and were quick to mention the poor record of our SEC defeated opponents. Sure we've had a semi-easy road, but I'm hoping that talk will subside a little more now. We've continued to build into a better team as the games have progressed, and at this point I feel confident the rest of the way versus Kentucky and Ga Tech. We've answered the call and the task before Richt to put ourselves in position for the Dome. This is the ultimate goal of every season. Win the East and let the rest fall into place. Much like 2007 its the hope that even though the crystal ball won't be in view, we've made the strides we've hoped for. How strange is it that even if we won the SEC this year (which I'm not assuming we will at this point even though we could match up well with LSU) Richt will have reached the game 4 times without a chance to play for it all. An SECCG game is usually a given to get the chance to reach the big dance. Keep knocking on the door and the hope is that the pieces will fall into place. We came out in a game we needed to and delivered in way that was very convincing. Confidence is turning in Athens, and the all feared destructive meltdown seems to be a thing of the past at this point.