I wish I could take more credit for my pre-game soothsaying, but, honestly, Saturday night’s results were so predictable. Auburn is a mess on offense — I’m convinced at this point that Stidham is the most misused talent in the conference this season — with a game plan that would play right into Mel Tucker’s hands. That, in turn, would put pressure on Auburn’s defense to hold Georgia’s offense in check for a full sixty minutes.
Neither, to what should have been no one’s surprise, held up. Auburn had its typical first quarter of success on offense, but when the script ran out, Gus, also typically, had no answers. Time of possession wound up being incredibly lopsided in Georgia’s favor, and that led right into the Tigers’ defense wearing out as the fourth quarter rolled around. In the end, Georgia amassed more than 300 yards rushing (Swift by himself outgained Auburn by more than 80 yards), and that’s not the kind of stat that presages an Auburn win.
In other words, this one played out exactly as they drew it up on the whiteboard.
- Auburn clearly planned to play offense the way it did to pull off its comeback against Texas A&M last week: up tempo, with an emphasis on throwing the ball. And it did work early on, as the Tigers maintained a small lead throughout the first quarter. Stidham did wind up with a healthy completion percentage; the problem was that he was forced to settle for short completions that Tucker’s defense cleaned up without too much trouble. Auburn wound up with one pass play that gained 20 yards and its lowest yards per attempt of the season.
- As I mentioned above, it’s sad how Malzahn has wasted Stidham’s arm this season by running an offense that’s totally unsuited for Stidham’s strengths. He’s got a Pro-level arm, which he demonstrated on a couple of jaw-dropping throws, but, more than anything else, he’s expected to dink and dunk his way to glory. I don’t feel sorry for the kid, as it’s not like anybody made him choose Auburn, but it’s really a waste.
- Georgia’s defense didn’t get any sacks, but it did wind up with several tackles for loss and generally managed to generate a decent amount of pressure on Stidham, which had an effect on his mechanics as the game wore on. Run stopping still isn’t where it needs to be from a consistency standpoint. In that regard, the Dawgs benefited from Malzahn’s emphasis on throwing the ball, as Auburn actually managed a higher average yards per rush than yards per pass attempt.
- Ledbetter had another great game. He’s really come on in the second half of the season.
- Rice and Crowder are starting to separate themselves from the rest of the ILB group. That’s not much of a surprise from the former, who’s rounding into form post-injury, but Crowder’s emergence has been good to see.
- That may have been the secondary’s best game of the year, collectively speaking. It’s probably not a coincidence there was a good deal of player shuffling both coming into the game (Reese got the starting nod over LeCounte) and in-game, as Reese was replaced by LeCounte after getting burned on Auburn’s lone touchdown of the night and Campbell was benched in favor of Stokes, who turned in an excellent pass break up on Auburn’s only other scoring threat in the first half. Not sure what that says going forward, other than Kirby’s normal insistence on playing the kids who are playing the best.
- Gus may have made it easy, but Tucker deserves credit for calling a good game. Any time you hold Auburn to ten points — none after the first quarter — and under 300 yards of total offense, you’ve done your job.
- Georgia managed over 500 yards of offense, and that started with Swift and Holyfield, which means it really started with that banged up offensive line. In particular, Thomas and Wilson turned in their best performances of 2018 against the Tigers’ defensive front. The o-line did give up a couple of sacks and a few tackles for loss, but most of that was do to Steele having to dial up some all out blitzes and box loading to have an impact, and that, in turn, led to some major holes in Auburn’s defense that Chaney had no trouble exploiting.
- I can’t really say enough about Swift’s night. In addition to his big run that sealed the game, he again pulled off a jump start that embarrassed an Auburn defensive back, bulled over safeties on a couple of tough runs, was an effective receiver and had a key blitz pick up on one of Fromm’s touchdown throws.
- Holyfield was no slouch, either, as he ran consistent and tough all night long.
- We shouldn’t forget Herrien, who came in to spell the top two occasionally and managed a couple of big runs.
- The receiving corps did its usual things, big plays and downfield blocking. My only knock there was Hardman’s drop of a beautiful pass from Fromm, but that’s really a quibble. The route running continues to be a thing of beauty, and the receivers frequently took advantage of the holes in Auburn’s coverage resulting from blitzes and commitment to stopping the run.
- Other than that one stinker of an interception, Fromm had another good night. The touchdown passes were both perfectly thrown balls, as was the deep throw to Hardman on third down that got the offense out of a big hole. He was excellent with his checkdowns, again, other than the pick, when he should have taken the open pass in the flat to Herrien Auburn was giving him.
- It’s funny to think back on how many folks were calling for Fromm’s head after the LSU debacle and pushing for Fields to take over. Justin’s a talented kid, no doubt about it, but Saturday night showed he’s not quite ready for prime time yet, although I will continue to insist that the one play in, one play out approach Smart and Chaney have taken isn’t doing him any favors. Still, he did manage to stay in for a series and even threw and completed his one pass attempt. He’s your textbook work in progress; it’ll be interesting to see how much he improves next season.
- It may not have been a perfect night, especially if you’re one to fixate on goal line performance über alles (I see you, Chip Towers), but, man, how much do you really want to bitch about more than 500 yards of total offense and domination of the play clock? Chaney’s call on the fourth-and-three at the end of the first half that led to the touchdown that put Georgia up by ten was perfect, and I do mean perfect: a five-wide set that clearly confused Steele and the secondary and left Godwin so open that Fromm said after the game he had to carefully focus on making a good throw. I’ve always maintained that an offensive coordinator’s first responsibility is to take what the defense gives him, and for the most part, Chaney lived up to that.
- Speaking of the goal line disappointments, it’s not like they didn’t try changing things up. They ran plays out of standard formations and used Fields, to boot. None of it mattered, although at least it burned a good deal of clock. At this point, it’s pretty much a given it’s in their heads, the perfect example being Fromm overthrowing an open Nauta in the end zone on the first drive.
- Special teams, for the most part, were quite good. Rodrigo did his usual thing and even when he didn’t, the coverage team blew up the kickoff return, forcing a fumble on a big hit (too bad they didn’t recover it). Hardman, though, didn’t muff his chance on his lone kickoff return.
Camargo’sCamarda’s one regular punt wasn’t anything special, but for the second week in a row, he did manage a killer short punt that Hardman downed on the one-yard line.
- Kirby, too, had a very good night. Georgia took the early blow from Auburn’s offense and the disappointing stops on its first two drives, and kept on chopping. Smart deserves a special call out for the way he managed the end of the first half, which was the best job of his tenure. Bottom line, for all the carping about Georgia maybe looking ahead to Alabama and not being ready to play, he had his team prepped to take down the Tigers.
- I’m not someone who’s bought into conspiracy theories about SEC officiating, but, damn, there are some incompetent folks out there. Somebody needs to have a sit down with that back judge about what constitutes pass interference. The crew wasn’t biased towards one team or the other, just spectacularly inconsistent.
I continue to be impressed with the way things are coalescing in the second half of this season. It’s a young team, as we’re constantly reminded, and the coaches are still figuring out the best combination of players to deploy, particularly on defense. But you can see young talent growing up all over the place while the team keeps winning.
Do I think Georgia has more than a puncher’s chance against Alabama? Right now, nah. But I reserve the right to change my mind after I see where these kids go after the next two games. This season so far may not be as special as 2017 was, but it certainly isn’t without its own charms.