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Clarkson: Bulldogs playing their best in home stretch

Years have passed since the last time Georgia put together four quarters against a quality opponent like it did on Saturday.

The Bulldogs utterly dismantled No. 24-ranked Auburn 45-7 at Sanford Stadium, and they made dumping the defending Southeastern Conference and national champions look easy.

Georgia dominated both sides of the line. They took a quick lead and never let the Tigers feel like they had a chance. This kind of performance comes at an excellent time for the Bulldogs, who stand on the brink of a shot at the SEC championship.

Saturday’s win gave Georgia a clean sweep of its top three SEC rivals — Florida , Tennessee and Auburn. The Bulldogs haven’t done that since Vince Dooley paced the sideline and Herschel Walker stalked the goal line in 1981.

Georgia outplayed and outpaced Auburn in every phase and by a large margin. The Bulldogs had a small hiccup in the first half when a trick play caught them by surprise for a touchdown and Isaiah Crowell lost a fumble. But those mistakes didn’t disrupt the forward progress of the rout.

Georgia has not beaten a standout team so comprehensively since Hawaii in the 2008 Sugar Bowl (41-10) or a top-end SEC team since the 2007 Blackout against Auburn (45-20).

THE GOOD: By knocking down Auburn, Georgia moved within a game of clinching the SEC East title and a spot in the league’s title game. The climb back from a 0-2 start hasn’t been easy. Major contributors have been hurt or suspended. The special teams went into an extended slump. The offense sputtered for significant stretches.

But Georgia has hit mid-November in top form and can punch its ticket to the SEC championship game by beating Kentucky (4-6, 1-5 in the SEC) at Sanford Stadium on Saturday.

The biggest surprise against Auburn was not that Georgia won, but the margin of victory both on the scoreboard and the stat sheet. Georgia outgained Auburn 528-195. Georgia had 30 first downs compared to nine for the Tigers. Aaron Murray threw four touchdowns and Auburn’s only score came on a trick play. Carlton Thomas and Crowell both topped 100 rushing yards while the Tigers managed 51 yards on the ground.

THE BAD: It’s hard to find much to complain about in this game. But Crowell’s two fumbles — one in the first half and another early in the second half — stand out.

Both of Crowell’s miscues could have been game changers. But Georgia ’s defense negated the damage and the beat-down continued.

Crowell had a lackluster first half with just 18 yards on seven carries and didn’t do much to quiet critics after missing last week because of suspension. Crowell has been suspended for at least parts of two games. His two early fumbles made comparisons to now-exiled Washaun Ealey a little louder.

But Crowell rebounded in the second half with 114 yards and a touchdown and returned to the Bulldog Nation’s good graces.

THE UGLY: Auburn came into Saturday’s game with the second-best rushing offense in the SEC at 191.1 yards a game, led by Michael Dyer who was running for 109.9 yards a contest. Last year, Auburn gashed Georgia’s run defense for 315 yards and five touchdowns.

But Todd Grantham’s defense inflicted some damage to that average.

Georgia held the Tigers to 78 rushing yards, not counting the minus-27 from five sacks. Dyer gained 48 yards and the Tigers did not have a score on the ground. The Bulldogs took away Auburn’s best threat in the first half, which made the Tigers’ entire offense vulnerable.

Georgia has been stingy against the run all season. The Bulldogs climbed a step against Auburn and the re-emergence of Alec Ogletree from a broken foot made a difference. Ogletree gives Georgia another speedy, physical inside linebacker as well as a good coverage man. Ogletree finished with a team-high six tackles, including two for losses and a forced fumble.

NEXT WEEK: Georgia (8-2, 6-1) can clinch a spot in the SEC title game with a win against Kentucky (4-6, 1-5) next week. Kickoff is at noon.

QUOTABLE: Auburn receiver Emory Blake summed up the surprisingly lopsided final margin: “I’m a little shocked. I thought we were prepared. We made too many mistakes. They are a good team, but we played poorly.”

 

Check out photos from the game.

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Georgia’s odds to win the national championship are now 8/1, according to Bovada. They were 14/1 a week ago.

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