|Georgia's Mark Richt (left) is heading to Atlanta while Gene Chizik might soon be unemployed. (Getty Images)|
AUBURN, Ala. -- History will record that the loudest explosion of sound at Saturday night's Georgia-Auburn game at Jordan-Hare Stadium came a few minutes after kickoff. That's when the monster scoreboard delivered the happy news: No. 1 Alabama, Auburn's most hated rival, had lost to Texas A&M in Tuscaloosa.
"I wasn't sure what it was at first," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "But then I kind of figured it out."
It's been that kind of season at Auburn. Two years after hoisting the crystal football which signifies the BCS championship, the Tigers' misery index is now so high that their only source of joy is that the enemy may now be denied its second straight national championship.
Be that as it may, there was never any doubt about the outcome in the 116th edition of the oldest continuous rivalry in the South. Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray led the Bulldogs to touchdowns on their first four possessions, and then they put it into cruise control for a 38-0 victory. The win puts Georgia (9-1, 7-1 SEC) into the SEC Championship Game for the second straight year. Despite the loss to Texas A&M, Alabama will provide the opposition on Dec. 1, if the Crimson Tide beats Auburn on Nov. 24. Of that there can be little doubt because Auburn is a bad, bad football team.
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Georgia is a pretty good team that has been on a roll since beating Florida 17-9 on Oct. 27.
"Obviously our team played well. We are happy to win the SEC East because it is a really big deal," Richt said. "A year ago we got there and didn't play very well [against LSU]. This time we want to play better. There is a lot of work to be done between now and then."
Murray, the junior quarterback, added to his Georgia career record for touchdown passes as he completed 18 of 24 passes for 208 yards and three touchdowns.
"We jumped on them early and that's what you have to do when you play a big game on the road," said Murray, the junior who now has 83 career touchdown passes, a Georgia record. The SEC record is 114 touchdown passes set by Florida's Danny Wuerffel (1993-96). "We are really pleased with the way we played tonight."
It was with a significant dose of irony, and some empathy, that Richt greeted his Auburn counterpart, Gene Chizik, on the field after the game. Two years ago Chizik was on top of the world. On this Saturday in 2010 Auburn beat Georgia 41-31 on the way to a 14-0 season and the national championship. Chizik saw his compensation increase to over $3.5 million per year and it looked like Auburn was set for a nice long run of challenging Alabama in the SEC West.
After Saturday's loss, which dropped Auburn (2-8) to 0-7 in the SEC for the first time in school history, it appears very likely that Chizik will not return for his fifth season at Auburn. The numbers have simply caught up with him:
• As a head coach Chizik is 14-0 with Cam Newton as his quarterback. He is 23-37 without Newton.
• On Oct. 27 Auburn gave up 63 points to Texas A&M, its highest total allowed since Georgia Tech and John Heisman scored 68 on the Tigers in 1917. Although after watching Johnny Manziel for the last few weeks that number doesn't look so bad.
• The 42 point margin of defeat was the biggest ever at home for an Auburn team.
Auburn has two games left. Alabama A&M comes here for the last home game of the season. The attendance is bound to be sparse. Then Auburn goes to Alabama where the Tigers can expect no mercy in a game that the Crimson Tide now must win.
"That's a very good team. They are certainly worthy of their ranking," Chizik said. "But again I didn't feel like we played well in any phase of the game. So, that is why the result is what it is."
Chizik spoke like a man who knows the end is near.
"It is very painful," said Chizik. "It is painful for the coaches and the players, certainly the fans and the alumni. It is very painful for everybody."
For Richt, now in his 12th season at Georgia, the win was a testament to perseverance. Going into this season there were actually people who put him on the hot seat despite the fact that he has averaged 9.6 wins per year in college football's toughest conference. And on Oct. 6, when the Bulldogs lost 35-7 at South Carolina, Richt's critics said it was time to make a change. The narrative on Richt was that he would never take Georgia to college football's Promised Land.
They pointed to the fact that four different teams (LSU, Florida, Alabama, Auburn) have been a part of the SEC's string of six straight national championships. They added that a fifth SEC school (Tennessee) has won a national championship (1998) in the BCS era. The closest Georgia has come to a crystal football was 2002, when the Bulldogs finished 13-1 but didn't get a chance to play for it all because of an inexplicable loss to Florida.
But here is the reality of where Richt stands after Saturday night's win at Auburn:
• Richt has won 115 games (losing only 39) in less than 12 seasons. He is one of only seven coaches in history to record 102 or more wins in his first seven seasons as a head coach.
• This will be Richt's fifth trip to the SEC Championship Game in 12 seasons. He's won twice. In 2003 he lost to LSU, the eventual national champion. Last season Georgia lost to No. 1 LSU.
• A win over Georgia Southern next week will give Georgia its 20th 10-win season in 120 years of football. Richt will own eight of those 20 10-win seasons.
Even last season, when Georgia started 0-2, and then won 10 straight to reach the SEC title game, Richt's critics would not be satisfied.
"You know there are going to be rough days," Richt said. "But you have to be tough enough to keep waking up every morning and going back to work. We have done a good job of working through those times. Everything we've been through, good and bad, we've done it together. So I'm glad we got a chance to celebrate tonight."
Richt said he pays attention to the BCS standings but will not obsess over where No. 5 Georgia might be on Sunday now that Alabama has lost.
"All I know is that if we keep winning we have a chance," said Richt. "We're happy to be going back to Atlanta but we hope Atlanta is not the end of the journey."
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