Auburn fiddled around for more than three quarters, posted a monstrous comeback effort, fell short, and watched as Georgia won the SEC East after a 21-14 victory at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
A 21-0 lead for the Bulldogs evaporated quickly in the final quarter as Auburn threw caution to the wind, scoring two quick touchdowns and shutting Georgia’s offense down. The Tigers then failed on consecutive fourth downs to end the suspense and give Georgia the win, their third straight in the series.
There will be a ton of talk centering around Gus Malzahn’s handling of certain aspects of this game, including but not limited too his decision to kick a field goal on the first drive of the game, and the idea to call a timeout at the end of the half, which allowed Georgia to score their second touchdown. On top of that, Auburn was on the receiving end of several crucial reviews that went the way of Georgia, two of which directly affected the outcome late. Furthermore, Auburn’s final drive was hampered by a missed facemask call, while referee John McDaid yelled at the Auburn sideline all game long.
Neither offense allowed much, and Georgia’s attack was stifled for much of the game save for one big play early on. Auburn’s first drive of the day reached Georgia territory, and the Tigers faced a fourth and short at the Bulldog 29. Gus Malzahn appeared ready to go for it, but Kirby Smart called timeout and Auburn brought out the field goal unit. Anders Carlson missed a 47-yard kick after the decision, and the Tigers came up empty.
Both teams traded three-and-outs, but Georgia struck on its second drive of the game with a 51-yard touchdown to Dominick Blaylock. That play would constitute nearly half of Jake Fromm’s passing for the day when it was all said and done. Auburn would gain just 15 yards on the next three drives before failing on fourth down on the first drive of the second quarter. Georgia punted five straight times after their opening touchdown as well as both defenses settled in.
Auburn’s next best chance to score came when the Tigers reached Georgia territory on a 6-play, 46-yard jaunt, but Bo Nix fumbled for the first turnover of the game. The Tiger defense forced another kick from Georgia, but gave it right back, and an ill-advised timeout from Gus Malzahn gave the Bulldogs a chance to regroup. Regroup they did, and they went down the field, scoring a touchdown with 20 seconds remaining in the half to take a 14-0 lead.
Out of halftime, both teams struggled yet again, but after a pair of three-and-outs, Georgia went 88 yards in 12 plays for their third score of the night, this time a short pass to Eli Wolfe form 5 yards out. With just seconds left in the third quarter, Auburn began what would turn out to be the drive that nearly turned the game.
The Tigers began to actually utilize the hurry-up attack, and throw the ball downfield. In the end, it went 75 yards in 12 plays, and Nix connected with Eli Stove from 5 yards out for Auburn’s first touchdown of the day. One drive later, they did it again, taking just 68 seconds off the clock as Nix dove into the end zone from 2 yards away. Now, with 5:08 remaining, Auburn trailed just 21-14.
Auburn forced a third straight three-and-out from Georgia, whose offense gained just 2 yards total in the final quarter, and went on another drive. There was one crucial review that turned the momentum, when a Seth Williams 17-yard completion was overruled as incomplete on the sideline, and Nix couldn’t connect with Harold Joiner on fourth down a moment later. Georgia again was forced to punt with 2:03 remaining, but Auburn failed on four downs then as well.
Nix completed 30-50 passes for 245 yards and a touchdown, and he was also the leading rusher in the game for Auburn with 42 yards and a score on the ground. Seth Williams had a fantastic game with 13 catches for 121 yards, and the Auburn defense limited Georgia to just 251 total yards. Jake Fromm went 13-28 for 110 yards, but he threw 3 touchdown passes in the win.
This game will end up going against Gus Malzahn as one of his most egregious gaffes. Auburn dominated Georgia on the defensive side, and several key decisions by the head coach allowed the Bulldogs to build the 21-0 lead. The appearance of a lightbulb turning on for the offense in the fourth quarter will also beg the question “WHERE WAS THAT EARLIER?” and Gus will have to bear the brunt of those queries.
For more than three quarters, it appeared as if Auburn would be shut out for the first time in seven years, and there are basically two ways to see the emergence of the offense in the fourth quarter. On a positive note, can this turn into a “There’s gonna be a lotta days where you lay your guts on the line” moment? Or will it turn into a moment that sees the team finally fold to frustration and wilt down the stretch?
Auburn’s got Samford next week at 11 AM, and then a Tua-less Alabama for the season finale at home on November 30th. The Tigers will finish with at least 8 wins, and maybe more if Gus fully embraces the hurry-up style that we saw pay dividends late tonight. This is a frustrating loss, totally embodying the offensive failures of this season and the poor coaching decisions, but there will always be a chance at redemption with the Iron Bowl to finish the season. More coming soon. War Eagle.