AUBURN, Ala. -- With three quarters of football in the books, it appeared as if a win for No. 4 Georgia over No. 12 Auburn would be academic. Instead, the Tigers rallied for 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, but their comeback bid fell just short in a hard-fought 21-14 Bulldogs victory. By virtue of their win Saturday night, Georgia clinched its third straight SEC East title and a spot in the 2019 SEC Championship Game.
Though Auburn was battling late, especially defensively where it silenced Georgia and forced punts on every fourth-quarter possession, the Dawgs got to key fourth-down stops late in the game to hold off the Tigers' impressive but incomplete comeback effort.
The Dawgs defense was relentless early in the game, holding the Tigers scoreless as neither their running game nor freshman quarterback Bo Nix could accomplish much. Nix exploded in the fourth quarter, however, finishing the game with 245 yards passing, 42 net yards rushing and two total touchdowns while completing 30-of-50 passes. Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm was not overly efficient, completing 13-of-28 passes for 110 yards, but he did throw three touchdowns in the game. D'Andre Swift was exceedingly effective on the ground with 106 yards on 17 carries.
What are the biggest takeaways from the latest edition of the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry?
1. Eye test matters … and it should work both ways: College Football Playoff Rankings have dominated the national conversation since the start of the month, with the "eye test" being one of the more prominent talking points. Georgia deserves to be mentioned as the team that passes the eye test better than nearly everybody in the country, and yet it seems to get overlooked. Why, because defense isn't sexy? It should be. This Georgia defense is one of the most impressive units in the country and deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the offenses at LSU, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Alabama. It allowed its first rushing touchdown of the season on Saturday, held Auburn to 329 yards on the day and controlled the game until Auburn got in desperation mode late in the fourth quarter.
Is the Bulldogs offense explosive? No ... and the 250 total yards it had on Saturday is more than enough proof. But it came into the game third in the SEC at 6.65 yards per play, and didn't have any reason to open things up on Saturday based on the way this game went. If Alabama and LSU get a pass for defenses that do just enough to get the job done, shouldn't it work the same way with Georgia? Yes, and Saturday's win over Auburn proves why.
2. D'Andre Swift is the catalyst: The best way to describe Georgia's offense is that it's "workmanlike," and Swift is the player who does the dirty work. His stat line is far from Heisman-worthy, but the junior made it happen when it mattered most on Saturday. The key sequence of the game came late in the first half. Georgia forced a three-and-out in just 20 seconds, and got the ball back with 1:19 to play up 7-0. Swift ripped off runs of 5, 16 and 26 yards to put fellow running back Brian Herrien in position to run one in. Until that point, neither offense was moving and the game had become more of a punting clinic than a matchup between top-12 teams. Swift seized the moment, stole momentum from Auburn and sent his team into the break riding high knowing that it'd get the ball coming out of halftime.
"I think our perimeter runs were good, just because there is so much weight and mass inside that box," Fromm said. "That makes it tough running sometimes, but we pulled through."
It was very similar to the Notre Dame win in late September when he racked up 27 of the 75 yards on the final drive of the first half half and capped it off with a 5-yard touchdown run to cut the Fighting Irish's lead to 10-7. Georgia goes to Swift when it needs a spark, and he provided it on Saturday afternoon against the Tigers.
3. Gus Malzahn is wasting another season: The Tigers defense has kept them in every game for the last two seasons, but the offense has prevented them from even being division title contenders. At what point does that fall on Malzahn's shoulders? Now … or, if Doc Brown can fire up his Delorean and go back in time, maybe this time last year.
Malzahn is supposed to be an offensive guru. Yet, in six games against FBS winning teams in 2019, the Tigers have averaged just 324.3 yards per game and 4.46 yards per play. Simply put ... he's a liability, not a strength. If Auburn had just an average offense, this team would be one of college football's perennial heavyweights. Instead, Malzahn has become one of the the biggest liabilities in college football. It's another wasted season on the Plains, and this time the natives could be getting restless enough to make a change.
4. Jake Fromm is under-appreciated: The Bulldogs have been on the brink of greatness for nearly three years, and they are sitting there yet again. Can they break through that glass ceiling this year? Yes, especially if Fromm avoids making mistakes. The only interceptions he has thrown this year are the three that he threw in the loss to South Carolina -- and two of those were direct results of wide receiver errors, not quarterback errors. The junior is calm in the pocket, makes smart decisions and the risks that he does take are measured and typically succeed.
Is he a game-manager? Yes. The most important part of a quarterback's job is to manage the game properly, and Fromm does it better than anybody in the game. With a defense like the Dawgs have, why overcomplicate things?
One of Fromm's favorite phrases is, "you don't go broke taking a profit." That has been how the SEC East champion Bulldogs have played all year, and they don't need to change in order to keep all of their goals in play. If it ain't broke, don't try to fix it.
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