The 116th meeting between Georgia and Auburn felt more like a homecoming game against an opponent out of the Sun Belt Conference than the oldest rivalry in the Deep South.
Quarterback Aaron Murray (11) had the wind knocked out of him in the first half against Auburn, and sat out for one play. Walk-on quarterback Parker Welch played in his stead for a play.
Georgia deposited Auburn in a grave and filled in the dirt without mercy to secure its second straight trip to the Southeastern Conference Championship game. Auburn didn’t challenge as Georgia ran away with a 38-0 win on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
On the same day that Teas A&M surprised top-ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Georgia made sure upset fever from upstate didn’t spread to The Plains.
A loss to woeful Auburn would have been more than embarrassing for Georgia. It most likely would have cost the Bulldogs a spot in the SEC title game and inflamed the finicky fans at home.
But Mark Richt and his crew didn’t let that unlikely scenario come into play as the Bulldogs scored early and almost at will to put away the Tigers who are only two years removed from a national championship.
Georgia eliminated any drama with four straight touchdown drives to start the game and led 28-0 at halftime.
Georgia did much of its first-half damage through the air. Aaron Murray was sharp, as he hit his first 10 passes. He threw three touchdowns in the first half alone — Chris Conley, Malcolm Mitchell and Tavarres King. Murray finished the first half with 16 completions in 20 attempts for 186 yards and the bloated score meant he didn’t need to throw much in the second half.
Any worries that Georgia might rest on its laurels in the second half disappeared when Keith Marshall ripped off a 62-yard touchdown to push the advantage to 38-0.
Just about everything Georgia tried worked and the coaches couldn’t have asked for a better start to either half.
When the time came to clear the bench, Richt turned first to walk-on Parker Welch instead of one-time blue-chipper Christian LeMay.
No disrespect for Welch, who has earned his spot as the first-choice backup, but LeMay’s slippage down the depth chart behind a walk-on is at least disappointing for the offensive braintrust. Georgia has kept Huston Mason’s redshirt intact for 10 games and it would be a shame to have to call on him this late in the season.
Murray has been able to avoid the big hits that shorten quarterbacks’ seasons. He doesn’t run nearly as much as when he became a starter three seasons ago. But Georgia is just one play away from having to make an impossible decision. Would Richt go ahead and burn Mason’s redshirt or turn to either a walk-on on a former blue-chipper who hasn’t out-performed the walk-on?
Georgia has some high-stakes games ahead of it. So far, Georgia hasn’t needed to call on its backup quarterbacks for anything more than mop-up duty. But that first-half hit that knocked Murray out for a play makes one wonder what Richt would do if disaster struck.
Auburn started the game with the second-worst offense in the Southeastern Conference. After Georgia’s defense got through on Saturday, the Tigers looked about as attractive as the nose of a journeyman boxer.
Georgia smothered Auburn and recorded its first shutout of the season. Auburn managed only 238 yards and 11 first downs and much of that total came on a 64-yard drive in the third quarter. Auburn couldn’t even make its deepest penetration of the night work because Shawn Williams forced a fumble that Michael Gilliard recovered at the Bulldogs’ 11-yard line. Auburn never got that close to scoring again.
Jarvis Jones a standout night with four tackles and two sacks. Alec Ogletree made 10 tackles and Bacarri Rambo picked off a pass.
Georgia has played some ugly defense at times this year. But roughing up Auburn shows that the Bulldogs are starting to perform to expectations.
Georgia hosts Georgia Southern at Sanford Stadium at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.