Isaac Nauta

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No. 6 Georgia secures sweet revenge over No. 2 Auburn in SEC championship game to punch playoff ticket

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Ticket punched, revenge complete.

No. 6 Georgia more than made up for their lone loss on the season by upsetting Deep South rival and second-ranked Auburn on Saturday evening 28-7 in an old school SEC Championship Game to secure the conference title and book their trip to the College Football Playoff at the same time.

The relatively low-scoring affair was quite the contrast to the Tigers’ victory three weeks ago on the Plains when they throttled the Bulldogs 40-17. Though quarterback Jarrett Stidham led the Auburn offense down the field to a quick strike touchdown on the opening drive of the game, that easy ball movement didn’t seem to return for either side as both defenses showed why they are two of the best in the country across the board. That early bit of momentum for Gus Malzahn’s team looked like it was going to lead to another repeat of the first meeting but that proved not to be the case when the Bulldogs seized control of the game and never let go the rest of the way.

A Stidham fumble early in the second quarter might have been one of the biggest game-changers of the day in Atlanta as it led to points on the other end. Bulldogs quarterback Jake Fromm found tight end Isaac Nauta wide open in the middle of the end zone off a fake toss play and was symbolic of the kind of bounce-back the freshman signal-caller (183 yards passing, two touchdowns) and the rest of the team would have.

Nothing summed that reversal of fortune up more than a pair of key defensive plays down the stretch in the second half. DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle blocked a short field goal right into the waiting arms of Dominick Sanders, while a fumble recovery at the start of the fourth quarter led to a perfect back-shoulder throw by Fromm to Terry Godwin (who also caught a two-point conversion) from seven yards out extended the lead further.

That kind of lead meant it was time for the UGA ground game to get going to salt away the victory. With Sony Michel was banged up with a left knee injury he suffered in the third quarter, Nick Chubb grabbed most of the carries and finished with 77 yards rushing against that tough front seven of coordinator Kevin Steele. Yet it was youngster D'Andre Swift (88 yards) that truly opened things up in the upset by jetting 64 yards for a touchdown.

Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson did start despite banging his shoulder up against Alabama last week, rushing for a team-high 44 yards but coughed up that costly fumble in the second half. Stidham was far from the kind of quarterback he showed in recent upsets of the No. 1 team in the rankings the past month and threw for only 145 yards on just 16 completions. In the end, the team simply appeared to run out of gas after a hot start and never could make a play to get themselves right back into things.

Now comes the intrigue with the College Football Playoff thanks to that kind of performance. Georgia will assuredly find themselves in the top four come Sunday afternoon and are likely ticketed to the Rose Bowl semifinal as either the No. 2 or No. 3 seed. Current No. 3 Oklahoma punched their ticket earlier in the day with a victory over No. 11 TCU and the winner of the ACC title game is a lock as well.

With No. 10 USC likely set for a Fiesta Bowl trip, that leaves the Big Ten championship game winner facing off for a spot against No. 5 and one-loss Alabama. The Crimson Tide probably would have preferred an Auburn blowout win in Atlanta but that wasn’t the case as the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry went the way of the Bulldogs in the biggest way possible.

No. 6 Georgia takes slim halftime lead in rematch with No. 2 Auburn in the SEC title game

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With an SEC title and a spot in the College Football Playoff on the line, the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry has likely never meant more than it does on Saturday afternoon in Atlanta. Not surprisingly, that sense of urgency was reflected in the game as No. 2 Auburn jumped out to an early lead but No. 6 Georgia battled back to take the lead 10-7 going into halftime of a rematch that is much more interesting than the original was three weeks ago.

The Tigers got on the board first by taking the opening drive 75-yards to pay dirt as Jarrett Stidham threw an absolute strike over the middle of the end zone to Nate Craig-Myers. The quarterback wrapped up the half with 73 yards passing but was under duress for just about every throw after the first possession in a stark contrast to what happened on the Plains in the rivals’ first meeting this season.

Running back Kerryon Johnson just start for Auburn despite being banged up in the Iron Bowl against Alabama last week but managed just 13 yards on seven carries.

The Tigers were threatening to extend their lead early in the second quarter but the Georgia defense came up with a huge play to flip momentum completely at Mercedes Benz Stadium. That’s when Davin Bellamy burst off the line to chase down Stidham, who fumbled as part of a strip sack and gave the offense the ball back around midfield. They promptly marched down to tie the game as QB Jake Fromm (119 yards on 9-of-10 passing) faked a toss and then found a  wide open Isaac Nauta in the end zone for the touchdown.

A second defensive stop followed and then it was time for the reliable combo in the Bulldogs backfield to take over as Sony Michel (32 yards) and Nick Chubb (33 yards) went to work on the ground as the team took the lead on a field goal.

Two quarters are left down in Atlanta and the SEC championship game is living up to the grand stage so far. Halftime adjustments will be key to both sides as the College Football Playoff committee looks on in great anticipation at what is essentially a win-and-in scenario to the final four for either Georgia or Auburn.

Fab frosh Fromm fronts No. 11 Georgia in Bulldog Bowl blowout

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There were some questions entering Saturday night if Jake Fromm could handle the bright lights of an SEC primetime game in his first conference start, particularly against this Mississippi State team that so brutalized LSU last week.

Those questions were answered after Fromm’s first pass of the night.

After forcing a Mississippi State three-and-out, Georgia began its first possession at its own 41. Fromm handed to Nick Chubb, who turned around and tossed the ball back to Fromm, who then hit a wide open Terry Godwin for a 59-yard touchdown. Six minutes later, Chubb raced in from seven yards out for his own touchdown and the Bulldog Bowl was all but over.

No. 11 Georgia cruised from there, defeating their similarly-nicknamed cousins from the SEC West No. 17 Mississippi State, 31-3.

Fromm played an efficient and contained game, hitting 9-of-12 passes for 201 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Chubb spearheaded a versatile Georgia rushing attack, carrying 15 times for 81 yards and two scores, while D’Andre Swift rushed nine times for 72 yards and Sony Michel added seven carries for 32 yards.

While Georgia’s offensive effort was workmanlike, Georgia’s defense was superhuman. The red-and-black Dogs hounded Nick Fitzgerald all night, punishing him into a 14-of-29 night for 83 yards with two interceptions to go with 10 carries for 47 yards.

Fitzgerald’s first interception came midway through the third quarter, with Mississippi State already trailing 21-3, when Deandre Baker ended a promising drive by returning his pick 22 yards to midfield. Fromm ended any hope of a comeback three plays later when he found Isaac Nauta for a 41-yard score.

Georgia’s second interception came two passes later, as Dominick Sanders picked Fitzgerald in Mississippi State territory and set up a 49-yard Rodrigo Blankenship field goal to close the scoring for the night.

With Notre Dame and Mississippi State behind them, Georgia (4-0, 1-0 SEC) can begin eyeing a possible 12-0 season. Kirby Smart‘s team will go on the road to Tennessee and Vanderbilt over the next two weeks and plays only two more ranked opponents: No. 20 Florida in Jacksonville and No. 15 Auburn in Auburn.

Mississippi State (3-1, 1-1 SEC) gets Auburn next week at Jordan-Hare Stadium.