Georgia played three quarters of utterly sublime football tonight in Auburn, Alabama.
Then they played one that very nearly cost them their entire season.
Kirby Smart’s team almost learned a costly lesson in the importance of playing four quarters of SEC football. In the end, they hung on just long enough to secure a 21-14 victory in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry and to clinch the SEC East.
The Red and Black staked themselves to a 14-0 halftime lead, then turned up the pressure even more in the third quarter, allowing only 25 yards of total offense while also tacking on an Eli Wolf touchdown to push the lead to 21-0.
As the fourth quarter began it appeared that the Athenians would cruise to a decisive win against their oldest, least educated rival. But freshman quarterback Bo Nix stepped up to lead a pair of scoring drives against a UGA defense that momentarily forgot that the only thing prevent defense does is prevent you from winning. The Bulldog offense didn’t help things late by predictably going into its shell, just as Tiger defensive coordinator Kevin Steele anticipated.
The result was a game which was much closer than it should have been. Georgia ended the game trailing in first downs and total yardage, though much of that was the result of Auburn ripping down the field against an ill-advised zone defense.
The Bulldogs did however run the ball for 141 yards, enough to maintain offensive balance and score just enough. D’Andre Swift accounted for 106 of them on 17 carries, becoming the first UGA back to rush for over 100 yards in back-to-back games since Knowshon Moreno. Swift also went over the 1000 yard mark on the season.
Jake Fromm’s stat line looked objectively terrible. The junior QB completed only 13 of 29 passes for 110 yards, a gruesome 3.9 yards per attempt. There were also a couple of balls he threw for losses or took sacks on when he really should have thrown it into the fifth row. But he turned it over one less time than Auburn freshman Bo Nix, whose time just hasn’t quite come yet, but likely is.
The 9-1 Bulldogs have now locked up the SEC East title for the third season in a row, and will face Texas A&M next weekend back in the friendly confines of Sanford Stadium with a chance to keep their College Football Playoff hopes alive. Until later . . .