The looming collision course between College Football Playoff contenders No. 1 LSU and No. 4 Georgia appears on track for early December as the latter clinched their spot in the SEC Championship Game thanks to a wild 21-14 win over No. 12 Auburn in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.
The victory gave Kirby Smart, who might have aged quite a bit in a tense fourth quarter, his third straight SEC East Division title at his alma mater and might have doubled as the sweetest yet given the effort on the side of the ball he specializes in. The Bulldogs defense was simply swarming all night in holding the Tigers to under four yards per play, netting a fumble, forcing an impressive five 3-and-outs, stopping three 4th down conversions and generally keeping their opponent out of the red zone until late in the fourth quarter.
That kind of effort certainly took the pressure off a still-questionable UGA offense. Quarterback Jake Fromm did wind up throwing for three touchdowns but it all came on just 13 completions (and 28 attempts) for 110 yards as every snap was a battle of wills between the two programs. Most of the damage came on just one play, a perfect first quarter strike down field 51 yards into the hands of Dominick Blaylock, who split the defense and raced into the end zone.
Tailback D’Andre Swift recorded 106 yards rushing but it wasn’t easy on the ground for anybody involved in this one against two of the best front-seven’s in the country.
Despite trailing all game long, Auburn did make things interesting with yet another rally in the final minutes. QB Bo Nix was naturally the spark plug and finished the evening 30-of-50 for 245 yards and a touchdown through the air but it was his scrambling ability that really made things interesting. He scored the first rushing touchdown the Bulldogs have allowed all season long to go with his 42 yards on the ground but it just wasn’t enough in the end as he took a sack with just over 90 seconds left to frame the final score.
As a result, the Bulldogs are headed back to Atlanta next month and may have locked up the title of the SEC’s second-best team behind top-ranked LSU with the win and Tua Tagovailoa’s tough season-ending injury for No. 5 Alabama. While it’s doubtful UGA will move up in the Selection Committee’s rankings at all with three undefeated programs ahead of them, they continue to make it look like the SEC title game will be a de facto quarterfinal game to get into the Playoff.
It was far from easy to get to that point and Georgia still has a tough final conference test remaining against Texas A&M but Smart once again has his team in position to get back to the promised land after crossing state lines and getting another big win at Jordan-Hare.