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.
The winner of the Iron Bowl has played in the national title game every year save one since 2009 and that looks like it will be the case once again given the high level of play in the first half between the two in-state rivals on the Plains this Saturday afternoon.
While the score was a bit lower than some expected coming into the game, No. 6 Auburn managed to score some points late in order to hold a slim 10-7 lead at the break and what is shaping up to be yet another classic in a series that has produced plenty of memorable moments.
Auburn’s first scoring drive began with the team backed up against their own goal line inside the 10 but several big plays (and big completions) allowed them to quickly move down to the other end of the field before running back Kerryon Johnson executed a perfect jump pass to a wide open Nate Craig-Myers just in front of the goal post. It’s not often you see Alabama’s defense give up 12 play, 94 yard drives but that was quite the scene-setter for the home side — which was fired up in the middle of the effort thanks to appearances from alums Charles Barkley and Apple CEO Tim Cook.
Both sides exchanged quarterback fumbles over the next few drives before Alabama evened the scored following a key fourth down conversion just past midfield. That’s when signal-caller Jalen Hurts (4-of-8, 51 yards passing, 38 yards rushing) tossed a 36 yard bomb to Jerry Jeudy in the back of the end zone, with the young freshman creating just enough separation to haul in the touchdown and swing momentum back to the Tide’s side. In addition to the stingy defense played by Nick Saban’s team, punter J.K. Scott proved to be quite the weapon with three punts that averaged 49 yards a piece to help Alabama win the field position battle in a big way.
The visitors from Tuscaloosa do get the ball to start the second half and, while it won’t be brought up in the locker room by either coaching staff, the stakes over the final frame are absolutely massive for both sides. The winner will capture the SEC West title, a trip to Atlanta for the conference championship game and a potential berth in the College Football Playoff so it goes without saying that the pressure is about to be turned up several notches in the next few hours.