Auburn came into Saturday afternoon’s Southeastern Conference battle with No. 14 Georgia as the No. 2 team in the conference in rushing offense, averaging 191 yards a game.
The No. 24 Tigers left Sanford Stadium Saturday night the latest victim of a rushing defense that has constructed a virtual barricade where ball carriers are concerned.
Combined with an efficiently dangerous offense, Georgia (8-2, 6-1) claimed the day with a decisive 45-7 victory, the Bulldogs’ eighth consecutive win and sixth straight league triumph.
The Bulldogs restricted the Tigers (6-4, 4-3) to 51 yards on 25 attempts, the fifth time Georgia has limited an opponent to less than 100 rushing yards this fall.
It didn’t hurt that the Bulldogs built a lead early, and Auburn’s three turnovers (including two fumbles and an interception that Bacarri Rambo returned 24 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter) certainly played a vital role in the team’s lack of a running game. But defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said playing physical and playing on the same page was integral for Georgia.
“Anytime you play a running team like (Auburn), it’s critical to set the edge of the defense,” Grantham said. “Once you set the edge, you build a wall inside and play physical. Our D-line was very stout and our outside linebackers did a good job. To play that kind of defense we played, it takes everybody. It’s a total team effort.”
Although the Tigers scored quickly on their first possession of the game, Auburn’s most productive rushing quarter was the fourth, when it managed 31 yards long after the outcome had been decided. Auburn ran four times for 8 yards in the first quarter, nine times for 4 yards in the second and five times for 8 yards in the third.
“Tonight was a statement,” said outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who had five tackles, including two of Georgia’s five quarterback sacks. “Our priority is to stop any team trying to run on us. It’s hard to run the ball on us because we’ve got some big guys who love to get physical. Auburn loves pounding on teams and they tried to do it and we stopped them. We took their strength away, which is why the game ended like it did.”
It was a far cry from last year’s game at Auburn, when the Tigers — behind Cam Newton, Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb and en route to the national championship — gashed Georgia for 315 rushing yards in a 49-31 win. This time around, however, Newton is far away in the NFL, Dyer was held to 48 yards and McCalebb managed but 30 yards.
“With the exception of that first drive, (Georgia) flat-out stopped our offense,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “It was pretty evident what we couldn’t do.”
“We were really prepared coming into this game,” said cornerback Sanders Commings, who recorded three tackles. “The coaches did a good job of putting it in our head that we had to make things one-dimensional and that’s what we did. They had some big plays on a lot of trick stuff on that first drive, but after that, we just played football and we were the better team.”
Georgia gave up 137 rushing yards in its season opener to Boise State and allowed 188 yards the next week against South Carolina (176 of which came via Marcus Lattimore). But since that time, the only teams to bump the century mark on the ground against the Bulldogs have been Vanderbilt (200 yards) and New Mexico State (126 yards), and Georgia held Tennessee and Florida to negative rushing yardage.
“We have some very talented guys on the defensive side and they showed their talent tonight,” Rambo said. “I’m not surprised or shocked that we stopped the run — we had it in us, we just had to let it out.”