War Eagle, everybody! This time last week, we looked at the first game of an era when Gene Chizik and Brian vanGorder were opposing defensive coordinators in the Deep South's Oldest Football Rivalry. The Tigers lost a heartbreaker 24-21 against eventual SEC Champ Georgia on a late hail Mary pass. The 2003 contest in Athens was another defensive scrum, but Auburn failed to live up to the billing, bringing in a stagnant and disheartened offense. Georgia took an insurmountable 13-0 lead midway through the 2nd quarter set up by an end around pass, and coasted to an easy 26-7 win. The Tigers were 0-2 against Georgia with Gene Chizik running the defense. What would 2004 bring in the series?
The 2004 Auburn vs. Georgia game was a big clash between top ten ranked opponents, on CBS national television. The two teams were noted for defensive slugfests over the past few years, but this one promised to be different. Both teams were flying pretty high on offense in 2004. Auburn had put up 34 or more points against 4 straight SEC foes, and Georgia was fresh off 31 and 62 point outings against Florida and Kentucky. Auburn had not lost in 2004, and Georgia had but a single, inexplicable 19-14 loss at home against Tennessee. Georgia was chasing the Vols in the standings, and needed a win in Auburn to keep pace.
The 2004 Auburn vs. Georgia game started under a gray sky with early offensive fireworks. Auburn defered, and Georgia went to work on offense. Both teams had schemed up some screens, and tricky runs. Georgia's move down the field came to an abrupt halt at the Auburn 19, when Carlos Rogers made back to back stops of Bulldog running back Thomas Brown. Under pressure, Georgia's Andy Bailey missed the 36 yard attempt, which might have been partially blocked.
The Tigers took over at the 20, and Jason Campbell immediately hit fullback Ronnie Brown for a 34 yard gain on the look-off screen. From there, it was Carnell Williams and Jason Campbell on the ground. Campbell pitched the ball on the option in the red zone, and Williams waltzed in for the first score of the game. Auburn led 7-0 midway through the first quarter.
Georgia's early offensive success turned out only to be a mirage. After two screens for a first down, Travis Williams blitzed hard up the middle, disrupting the UGA pocket. After a Georgia punt, it was Jason Campbell who felt the heat as Brian vanGorder's defense turned up the rush. Again on the next possession, Georgia could not reach midfield. Georgia punter Gordon Ely-Kelso pinned Auburn at the nine yard line, which would lead to a Georgia scoring opportunity.
Auburn knocked out one first down, but Ronnie Brown came up 2 yards short on a 3rd down screen, and Kody Bliss was brought in to punt. Auburn tried rolling Bliss to the right for a rugby punt, but Georgia defensive end David Pollack was having none of it. Pollack blocked the punt, and Georgia had the ball at the Auburn 27. A personal foul backed it up to the 42.
Georgia knocked out one first down, then went for broke. David Greene threw deep for Reggie Brown on the post pattern, but Carlos Rogers was there to pick it off in the end zone. Auburn still led, 7-0, with about ten minutes left in the half.
Auburn utilized an interesting 3-man running back corps for much of the magical 2004 season. The Tigers would start Ronnie Brown at fullback, and Carnell Williams at tailback. After a few plays, Brown would head to the bench, and true fullback Jake Slaughter would enter the game. After a few more plays, Williams would sit down, and Brown would play tailback. This assured a fairly rested rotation, and it paid dividends time and time again late in halves as defenses started to wear down.
With Auburn's "big" lineup of Brown and Slaughter, the Tigers bashed out 22 yards. Then it was Carnell Williams right for 7, then left for 7. On 3rd and 6 from the Georgia 40, Jason Campbell dumped it to Brown over the middle for ten. Auburn then went to their single back, bunch set. On a quick pitch to Brown, Georgia swarmed to the ball for only a yard gain. On second and long, it looked like the same play to Carnell Williams, but Williams pulled up, and threw to a wide-open Anthony Mix behind the Georgia secondary. Auburn was up 14-0!
Georgia quickly went three and out, with a big Stanley McClover sack of David Greene. Auburn took advantage of a short punt, and started at the Georgia 38. A 22 yard pass up the sideline to Cooper Wallace set Auburn up in the red zone, but the vanGorder defense shut the door from there. John Vaughn was good on a 32 yard field goal, and Auburn led 17-0 at the half. Could Georgia generate some offense in the second half?
Auburn received the second half kickoff, and the offense went right to work. Clutch completions to Cooper Wallace and Courtney Taylor moved the chains, along with a personal foul for a late hit out of bounds on Georgia. Auburn was first and goal at the Georgia 9. A holding penalty moved the Tigers back, then the 1st down pass by Campbell was picked off at the goal line by Tim Jennings. Auburn had missed a chance to turn this one into a rout.
Georgia took over at the 20, and Auburn proceeded to miss tackles and commit silly penalties. Georgia moved it to the Auburn 28. David Greene fired complete on the post pattern to Reggie Brown, and it looked like he might have clean sailing to the end zone. Instead, Auburn safety Junior Rosegreen flew up out of nowhere, and a tremendous collision ensued. Brown lost the ball, was knocked out of the game, and Auburn's Will Herring recovered the fumble at the Auburn 16 yard line.
The Tigers drove into UGA territory, then pinned the Bulldogs deep with a 42 yard Kody Bliss punt to the UGA 8 yard line. After a Bulldog three and out, Carnell Williams broke loose on a 40 yard punt return to the Georgia 31. Early in the 4th quarter, Jason Campbell launched a fade pattern pass to fullback Ronnie Brown, matched up on All-SEC safety Thomas Brown in the end zone. Brown made an over the shoulder catch Terry Beaseley would have proud of, and Auburn extended the lead to 24-0!
After that, Auburn ran clock, the teams traded punts, then Georgia drove late for a meaningless touchdown pass from Greene to tight end Leonard Pope. Carlos Rogers swatted down Georgia's two point try, and Auburn won the game, 24-6. That was the highlight of the season, as Auburn moved to ten and zero, and into a virtual tie in the polls with second place Oklahoma.
Georgia finished 9-2, and out of the SEC title game for the first time in three years. The Bulldogs beat a strong Wisconsin team in the Outback Bowl, and finished 10-2. Auburn went on to defeat Alabama 21-13 in Tuscaloosa, Tennessee 38-28 in the SEC Title game, and ACC Champ Virginia Tech 16-13 in the Sugar Bowl. The Tigers were 13-0.