The evening got off to the start most of us expected. The crowd showed up raucous and looking sharp. Malzahn wanted the ball first, which could only mean one thing. Ten plays later, Auburn had run off a touchdown drive that was efficient and effective.
From there, it got a little strange. Todd Gurley’s first touch in a month resulted in a 105-yard kickoff return that electrified the crowd. Unfortunately, there was the little matter of Ryne Rankin’s first touch, which nullified Gurley’s good work. Georgia took the ball, moved downfield and then stalled. A brilliant fake punt play that set Georgia up inside the Auburn five and charged up the crowd all over again was wiped out by the most questionable penalty call of the night. At that point, I thought I could see Malzahn waving that damned rabbit’s foot at me.
But from there on out, the evening fortunately went off script and stayed there. The coaches coached, the players played and the result was Georgia’s most dominant home game against a ranked opponent in many years. The track meet so many of us expected never materialized. Instead, what we were treated to was the kind of game so many of us hoped for, but never thought we might see – steady competence in all phases of the game that led to Georgia slowly but surely grinding down the Tigers. The Dawgs earned every point of that 27-point win.
On to the bullet points.
- I’ll get to Bobo’s night in a minute, but of all the kudos to be handed out, Jeremy Pruitt has to get the biggest nod. The defense played at a level that, I’ll be honest, I didn’t think it was capable of playing at. Pruitt made one brilliant personnel move, getting Carter, Floyd and Jenkins on the field in his base unit, to get as much speed in the front seven as possible. But that would have mattered little, if it hadn’t been for the miracle he performed in getting that same front seven to play disciplined ball. The same bunch that couldn’t cover the edge against Florida if their lives had depended on it did an almost flawless job with containment – indeed, after that first scoring drive, I’m not sure I remember more than one or two plays where an Auburn back made the edge, and even in those cases, Mauger was there to clean it up. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it.
- The other great achievement in the defensive scheme was the way Pruitt constantly mixed up looks and coverage. If the point was to confuse Marshall on the option reads and force him to give up the ball, it worked pretty well all night.
- Really, it’s hard to bitch about any defensive player’s showing. But I have to single out Floyd and Jenkins in particular, both of whom played brilliantly. Floyd, in particular, looked like a totally different guy from the one we saw free lancing with disastrous effect in Jacksonville. And that one sack of the night was something to behold. Jenkins couldn’t be blocked, but he could be held.
- Herrera had a monster night, too. And Sanders played some excellent coverage.
- It’s fun watching the Auburn offense when it’s in panic mode. Which actually started earlier than I expected. It was not one of Gus’ best nights. Or Marshall’s, for that matter.
- Bottom line, you don’t hold a Malzahn-coached offense to seven points unless you’re coaching and playing your collective asses off, and that’s exactly what happened.
- Bobo may have made you grit your teeth on occasion, but it was clear from the get go he was going to pound and pound Auburn with the run game and make that defense wilt. He probably had a vision of that 98-yard fourth quarter scoring drive in his head before the start of the game. He got the ground game going, and called just enough stuff to keep Ellis Johnson guessing – there was a brilliant pass play called to Michael Bennett that was the perfect counter to the steady dose of run blitzes Johnson was calling in a futile effort to slow Georgia down. And of course, getting Chubb and Gurley on the field together with a package of plays was both entertaining and effective. All told, he had a terrific night.
- So did Hutson Mason, who didn’t have as much to show for it as he should have, with at least two dropped touchdown passes and another deep ball that was on the money, only to fall to the ground. Mason wasn’t perfect – he got lucky one bad throw wasn’t picked – but he was damned sure good enough on the night.
- What can you say about the nights Chubb and Gurley had? Both ran tough and both ran to the point that Auburn’s defense didn’t want to have anything to do with them. It’s a shame that Chubb stepped out of bounds on that incredible screen pass play (and, man, what a tough play to have to defend!). It’s a bigger shame that we’ll never see that combination on the field again for Georgia. Sigh.
- Of course, you don’t have a dominant night on the ground without superior blocking, and the offensive line played at an even higher level blocking the run than it did against Kentucky. Every one of the lineman had a good night, but Greg Pyke in particular has to be singled out. Pyke’s level of play is at a point where I think he deserves some serious all-SEC consideration.
- The line wasn’t the only group that blocked well. Hicks atoned for his, um, strange play against Kentucky with a kick ass night. There was rarely a play when he didn’t open a hole for a tailback. He had a catch and handled his one special teams moment flawlessly.
- Conley may not have had the best night catching the ball, but he and Bennett also did their jobs blocking downfield.
- Mitchell didn’t have many catches, but he did have the night’s toughest catch on his score. And by the way, there isn’t a Georgia quarterback who could have made that slant throw any better than Mason did.
- Special teams deserved better than they got. But at least they never got in the way.
- The two big plays of the night were the fumbled punt and Richt’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-one. The former undid some of the bad karma from Georgia’s special teams’ reversals and the latter seemed to kick the offensive line into gear for the rest of the night.
- Which brings us to Richt’s night. You don’t cream one of your biggest rivals and the ninth-ranked team in the country without having your guys ready to play. And Richt made it clear from early on that he was coaching balls out all night, whatever it took to put Auburn down. Every button he pushed worked. It was one of the very best coaching jobs of his career.
- Okay, if I have to live with a ridiculously loud PA system, would it be too much to ask that you not blast it when Georgia’s on offense? There were at least a couple of times when they cranked tunes while the offense was heading to the line of scrimmage, only to have the players and coaches gesture to drop the noise so they could get the play called.
- And the less said about the James Brown halftime experience, the better, I’m afraid.
All season long, when Georgia’s controlled field position and won the turnover battle, it’s been the better team. This game was no exception. It’s a winning formula and when you see games like Saturday night, you have to wonder if there’s a team in the country that can beat Georgia when it’s checking all the right boxes like that. All I know is I’d like to find out.