It is hard to beat a good team twice in football, and plenty of teams figure that out the hard way.
Georgia left Auburn, Ala., on Nov. 11 battered and bruised. The Dawgs went into the matchup as the unbeaten No. 1 team in the country, and they left with a 40-17 blemish on their resume that stood out like an eyesore. It’s not just that the Dawgs lost that day; it’s how they did it. It was lopsided, and Georgia looked like it couldn’t do much of anything right.
Almost a month later, the tables have turned, and Georgia snuffed out the Tigers to the tune of a 28-7 SEC Championship victory on Saturday.
The loss in November was certainly not a death knell for the UGA’s Playoff hopes, but it was a destructive example of how the Dawgs could be beaten.
Georgia didn’t let it happen again.
Auburn’s win was simple and dominant, and it preyed on Georgia’s inefficiencies. The Tigers found the blueprint and executed it perfectly: shut down the run on early downs and force freshman QB Jake Fromm to throw long. Florida and South Carolina players had publicly called it out as the way to beat UGA, but neither could do it.
The Dawgs were three-of-14 third downs, with an average distance of eight yards to gain. Nine third down situations were 9-plus yards, and only three were with 4 yards to gain or fewer.
Fromm was four-of-11 passing on third-down attempts, converting three third downs through the air. A penalty gave the Dawgs the other conversion.
UGA rushed on one third down to no avail (losing 1 yard), and got sacked on two others.
In the rematch, Auburn actually did the same thing to Georgia on third down. The Dawgs were even worse in this game, going two-of-11 on the crucial down with an average yards-to-gain distance of 7.2. The difference is what Georgia was able to do on the other downs.
While the Dawgs had only one rush over 10 yards in the first game, they had eight in the rematch, rushing for 238 yards. Besides Alabama — which rushed for 211 yards last week — Georgia’s rushing total was by far the most by a Tigers’ opponent this season.
The run game combined to mitigate what was a big Achilles’ heel for the Dawgs in the first game: the passing game. In Round 1, Fromm looked like someone who was in high school football just last season. The run game wasn’t helping him out, and it was time for some regression to the mean anyway.
On third-and-4 or more — semi-obvious passing situations — he’s 37-for-64 for 656 yards, eight touchdowns, three interceptions, and a 175.8 rating. That’s impossibly good.
And there was bound to be some regression to the mean. Against Auburn on third-and-four or more, Fromm was 4-for-10 for 100 yards and two big sacks for a loss of 21. And honestly, gaining a net 79 yards on 12 pass attempts against Auburn in those situations isn’t bad. But 28 of those yards came on the first third-and-long of the game. His next five produced one completion and two sacks, and by the time he found a rhythm, the Dawgs were down 23.
But Fromm wasn’t getting help like this in the first game:
It was backbreaking in the way that long runs often are, coming in the game’s late stages and unofficially signaling the end was nigh for the Tigers.
This 64-yard run by true freshman back D’Andre Swift was the moment that effectively clinched the game and UGA’s Playoff ticket, setting the score at 28-7 in the fourth quarter
This time around, Fromm was efficient, throwing two TDs and 183 yards on 22 passes, while Auburn counterpart Jarrett Stidham was the one facing constant pressure and completing only 50 percent.
Remember that Georgia run defense?
It bit back on this day. We don’t know how hurt Tigers running back Kerryon Johnson is, but 13 carries for 44 yards isn’t getting it done against a front like Georgia. The Auburn team that ran over Georgia in Part I couldn’t sniff daylight in Part II, rushing for only 114 yards and only 3.7 per rush.
You wanna talk about inept? These are the drive results for Auburn’s offense.
Auburn had its own struggles on third down, going four-of-13.
The nicest thing I can say about Auburn’s offense on this day is that at least it crossed the 50-yard line a hearty number of times. Nobody made Auburn look anywhere near this bad since a Clemson team that sacked Auburn 11 times.
That game is also the only time Auburn scored fewer than seven points this season, or anything close to the single digits, for that matter.
Georgia was better in the SEC title game, and it showed.
The Dawgs are going to the Playoff, and we’ll see if they can bust another opponent’s perfect blueprint.