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.