ATLANTA — Two games in the last month and two vastly different results. But the time the Georgia-Auburn matchup had playoff-sized implications, the Bulldogs’ defense dominated and Georgia left victorious.
Still awaiting the official word from the College Football Playoff committee on Sunday, this group of players has accomplished what no other Georgia team has done in more than three decades. With the 28-7 win over No. 2 Auburn in the SEC championship game, Georgia earned a chance to play for a national title, the first time the Bulldogs have done so since 1982.
The postseason race to a national championship now includes four teams rather than a single matchup between the nation’s top two teams.
But second-year head coach Kirby Smart has now achieved what he was hired to do and what Mark Richt was criticized for not doing often enough.
Win a conference title? Check. Win a national title? Stay tuned.
And that chance came as a result of the No. 6 Bulldogs turning what was a beatdown three weeks ago into Saturday’s tight race early on that tipped firmly in Georgia’s favor thanks to key plays from the defense.
Roquan Smith recovered two fumbles, and DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle blocked Daniel Carlson’s field goal attemptthat would have tied the game 10-10 in the third quarter.
When the Tigers drove for a chance to go up 14-0, Georgia outside linebacker Davin Bellamy put thoughts of a repeat Auburn blowout to rest with a strip sack that resembled the game-winning play against Notre Dame. Bellamy plowed through Auburn’s offensive line and sacked quarterback Jarrett Stidham, forcing the ball to come free for Smith to fall on.
After that, what looked like it could become another blow out for the Tigers turned into Georgia’s coronation. Following the strip sack, the Bulldogs scored 28 unanswered points.
Freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, who wasn’t the starter when the season began, had an accurate day and threw for 183 yards and two touchdowns, first to Isaac Nauta to put Georgia on the board and then to Terry Godwin to secure a two-possession lead in the final quarter.
Senior running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel combined for 122 yards on the ground. Plus, freshman D’Andre Swift notched a 64-yard touchdown run, Georgia’s longest offensive play of the day, once the game was already in hand.
By the end of the fourth quarter, Georgia’s backup running backs were playing, as if this was another regular-season lopsided victory against an unranked opponent. The team that was plagued by mistakes in the same matchup last month instead drove Auburn fans out of Mercedes-Benz Stadium before the game ended.
The Bulldogs’ veteran defense had a championship-caliber performance. Georgia’s 19-year-old quarterback delivered in the team’s most important game so far this year. And so did the Bulldogs’ second-year head coach. But a bigger game is coming soon.