College football's longest winning streak nearly came to a stunning end Saturday before No. 1 Georgia rallied to edge rival Auburn 27-20 in the 128th edition of the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry. Playing its first true road game of the season, UGA fell behind 10-0 in the first half and trailed 17-10 in the third quarter before piecing together three consecutive scoring drives with the game hanging in the balance.
The Bulldogs mustered their first lead of the game on a 38-yard field goal from Peyton Woodring with 10:57 remaining, but the 20-17 edge didn't last long. Auburn kicker Alex McPherson made a 42-yard field goal with 6:21 remaining to tie the game at 20-20 and put the UGA offense under pressure.
It responded with a quick touchdown -- a 40-yard connection between Carson Beck and star tight end Brock Bowers to pull the Bulldogs ahead 27-20. UGA's defense stiffened from there, and a Malaki Starks interception in the final two minutes put the game on ice.
Georgia's early 10-0 hole marked the first time since coach Kirby Smart's first season in 2016 that UGA faced a double-digit deficit in consecutive SEC games. Much like they did in a 24-14 Week 3 comeback victory against South Carolina, the Bulldogs stayed composed even with aspirations of another undefeated season hanging in the balance.
Beck finished 23 of 33 passing for 313 yards, one touchdown and an interception. Bowers finished with eight catches for 157 yards and the all-important go-ahead score.
Bowers' Heisman moment?
Considering it's never happened in the game's modern era, the odds of a tight end winning the Heisman Trophy are slim. But if anyone in the 21st century could make a case for consideration, it's Bowers. After racking up 119 receptions for national-title winning teams over his first two seasons, the versatile playmaker bailed his team out against Auburn and has 24 receptions over the last three games.
Bowers entered halftime with just two catches for 9 yards before coming alive with an electric fourth quarter. Of his 158 yards receiving, 121 came in the fourth quarter, and one of his best catches was actually wiped off due to a penalty. His final three grabs came with the Bulldogs either facing second-and-long or third-and-long.
With seven more receiving receiving touchdowns, Bowers will match Terrence Edwards for Georgia's all-time scoring record (30). Bowers moved into a tie for second with A.J. Green with his performance against Auburn.
Auburn's game plan
Auburn entered as a 14.5-point underdog but opened up a 10-point lead behind a run-heavy game plan that frustrated Georgia's defense. Though the Tigers continued playing two quarterbacks -- Payton Thorne and Robby Ashford -- first-year coach Hugh Freeze relied heavily on Thorne, who is regarded as the prototypical pocket passer; however, he turned into a runner against Georgia with 92 yards on the ground.
Thorne finished with three runs of at least 10 yards, including a 61-yard scamper in the first quarter to set up a field goal. With Thorne keeping the football on run-pass option plays and the Tigers finding sporadic success in the traditional run game, Auburn ended the game with 43 runs against just 20 pass attempts.
Auburn's two rushing touchdowns ended Georgia's streak of 35 straight games without allowing multiple rushing scores, the longest streak by any FBS team since 2000. The Tigers also snapped Georgia's streak of 65 games without allowing an opponent to surpass 200 yards rushing, which was the longest such streak since Ohio State went 78 games between 2001 and 2007.
Having Bowers at his disposal certainly helped, but Beck's coolness under pressure in the second half stood out in the fourth-year junior's first career road start. The performance began in rocky fashion on a first-quarter interception after missing an open Oscar Delp down the middle of the field one play earlier. That miscue gave Auburn a short field, and the Tigers promptly scored to surge ahead 10-0.
From there, Beck was mostly lights out. Georgia's three straight scoring drives in the second half covered 98, 71 and 75 yards inside a hostile environment as Beck completed 10 of his final 12 passes. It was a validating performance for Beck, who waited his turn behind predecessor Stetson Bennett IV while mostly seeing mop-up duty over the past three seasons.
Further helping Beck's cause was the return of Ladd McConkey, Georgia's diminutive slot weapon who missed the season's first four games due to injury. The shifty veteran caught four passes for 38 yards and is expected to be a heavy factor in the Bulldogs' passing game moving forward.