Georgia clinches SEC East at Auburn, 21-14
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Georgia clinches SEC East at Auburn, 21-14

Georgia Bulldogs
Photo: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

AUBURN, Ala. – Despite a fourth-quarter rally by Auburn, the fourth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs clinched their third-consecutive SEC Eastern Division championship Saturday afternoon with a 21-14 victory over the 12th-ranked Tigers in front of 87,451 fans at Jordan-Hare Stadium and a CBS television audience.

Georgia (9-1, 6-1 SEC) will face the SEC Western Division champion in the 2019 SEC Championship Game on Saturday, Dec. 7 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta (4 p.m. – CBS). The Bulldogs will be making their eighth appearance in the game, having previously won titles in 2002, 2005 and 2017.

The Bulldogs’ victory was their third straight over the Tigers (7-3, 4-3 SEC), and gave them a 60-56-8 all-time advantage in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. Georgia has prevailed in 12 of their last 15 meetings with Auburn.

Junior quarterback Jake Fromm went 13-for-28 with 110 yards and three touchdowns, while junior tailback D’Andre Swift eclipsed the century mark for the fourth time this season with 106 yards rushing on 17 carries. Swift’s night helped him pass 1,000 yards rushing for the second-consecutive season, making him the fifth Bulldog to do so and the first since Nick Chubb (2014, 2016-17).

The Georgia defense held Auburn to 329 total yards, their lowest home output of the season, and tallied eight tackles for loss and two sacks. Junior linebacker Monty Rice extended his team lead in tackles with 10 stops, including eight solo.

“It’s a credit to our staff and our players who work tremendously hard,” said head coach Kirby Smart. “That was a tough environment and a good football team. We had some big plays in the red area which was huge for us because we had not done that a lot before.”

On their opening possession, the Tigers quickly moved into Bulldog territory with a pair of first downs, but came away empty as Anders Carlson missed wide right from 47 yards out. With the miss, Georgia’s defense has yet to allow a score on the opponent’s first drive in each of the team’s first 10 outings.

With its first drive, Georgia went 3-and-out, but kicked off a day of tremendous punting as sophomore Jake Camarda pinned Auburn at the 2-yard line with a career-high 66-yard punt. Burdened with the poor field position, the Tigers quickly punted back, setting up Fromm’s 51-yard touchdown strike to freshman wide receiver Dominick Blaylock, capping off a 3-play, 61-yard drive.

After a series of punts from both teams, Auburn once again entered Georgia territory with a long drive in the second quarter, but their 4th-down conversion attempt was stopped at the Bulldog 37-yard line as the Georgia defense perfectly read Auburn’s wildcat formation. The Bulldog defense continued to assert itself later in the quarter as junior linebacker Jermaine Johnson forced a Bo Nix fumble that was recovered by junior safety Richard LeCounte at the Georgia 44-yard line, his second recovery of the season.

Although the Bulldogs were unsuccessful on the ensuing drive, they would close out the first half with a one-minute scoring drill, powered by Swift’s 26-yard rush to the Auburn 14-yard line. Three plays later, senior tailback Brian Herrien scored on a 5-yard screen pass from Fromm, concluding a 7-play, 81-yard drive that gave the Bulldogs a 14-0 lead entering the locker room.

“It ended up being the difference in the game,” said Smart. “I thought we handled the clock well. We were smart enough to not give them a possession, but steal a possession, and our kids did a good job of doing that.”

In the third quarter, the defense continued to stifle Auburn, forcing the Tigers to punt from the Georgia 39-yard line on their first drive. Following another punt, Georgia embarked on its longest drive of the afternoon, a 12-play, 88-yard sequence that effectively closed the quarter. After a touchdown pass to redshirt freshman wide receiver Kearis Jackson was overturned on review, Fromm found graduate tight end Eli Wolf for a 5-yard touchdown to make the score, 21-0.

The Tigers opened the fourth quarter with a 12-play drive of their own, culminating in a 3-yard touchdown pass from Nix to Eli Stove with 10:04 remaining in the game. On the ensuing kickoff, Auburn appeared to recover an onside kick at its own 46-yard line, but an illegal blocking penalty negated the play. Following a Georgia 3-and-out, Auburn continued its comeback with a 5-play, 57-yard drive that took just over a minute off the clock and ended with Nix rushing for a 2-yard touchdown, narrowing the Bulldogs’ lead to 21-14 with seven minutes remaining.

Following a Georgia punt, Auburn again moved down the field, though the Bulldogs nearly recovered a fumble near midfield. On 4th-and-5, Nix scrambled for an 8-yard gain, but he was unable to convert on his second 4th-down opportunity, overthrowing Harold Joiner on a screen pass. On the final Tiger possession, freshman defensive lineman Travon Walker clinched the win and division championship with a sack of Nix on 4th-and-10. For the game, Georgia held Auburn to 1-of-4 on 4th-down conversions.

The Bulldogs will conclude both their SEC and home slates next Saturday as they play host to Texas A&M at Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium. The first-ever conference matchup between the schools is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. on CBS.

POST-GAME NOTES

*Georgia Clinches Another SEC Eastern Division Title: With today’s 21-14 victory, Georgia clinched its third consecutive SEC Eastern Division title in this Kirby Smart’s fourth year as a head coach. They are the first Eastern Division team to win three straight since Florida won five in a row from 1992-96. The Bulldogs will make their eighth appearance in the SEC Championship Game where they are 3-4, winning titles in 2002, 2005 and 2017.

*Beating the Tigers After Their Bye: Georgia became the first team to defeat Auburn under Gus Malzahn following a bye week as the Tigers were 9-0 coming off a bye week including 8-0 against SEC foes and 5-0 against ranked opponents under Malzahn after a bye. The Tigers were the fifth team this year that Georgia faced that was coming off a bye week including the fourth SEC opponent.

In the overall series, Georgia now leads 60-56-8 including winning 15 of the past 18 meetings. Georgia is 17-12-2 on the Plains in this the Deep South’s oldest rivalry.

*Scoring Defense: Coming in today, Georgia led the SEC and ranked2nd nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 10.1 points per game.  The Bulldogs had to defend a season-high 86 plays, the most by an opposing team in the Kirby Smart era, and emerged with a 21-14 victory. The Tigers tallied 329 yards (84-rush, 245-pass) and didn’t score until the fourth quarter.

With a 14-0 edge at the half, Georgia now posted 27 scoreless quarters on the year including going six in a row after the 27-0 shutout of Missouri last week. In the first quarter, AU was shutout after running 17 plays for 60 yards (8-rush, 52-pass). In the second quarter, AU went for it on 4th-and-1 and lost 13 yards with senior David Marshall on the tackle as Georgia took over at midfield. The Tigers finished with no points after running 44 plays for 147 yards (32-rush, 115-pass).  The Bulldogs held the Tigers off the scoreboard through three quarters as they had 171 yards of total offense on 56 plays (49-rush, 122-pass) at that point. Auburn got its first score with 10:04 left in the contest, it was 12 play, 75-yard drive in 5:09 that made it 21-7 Georgia. Then, they made it a 21-14 game with 7:03 left in the contest on a Bo Nix two-yard rush, the first rushing TD allowed by Georgia this year. The TD drive took just 1:08, going 57 yards in five plays. The Tigers got the ball back at their 30 with 2:03 left in the game and the drive ended on a 4th-and-10 as frosh Trayvon Walker notched a sack.

Georgia’s leading tackler today was junior Monty Rice with 10 stops, and he leads the team this year now with 66. It was his third career game with 10+ stops. Coming in, Georgia and Auburn were two of the six FBS teams that have not allowed more than 24 points in a game this year and that streak continued.

*Fromm Directs Offense To Another Win: Junior QB Jake Fromm improved to 32-6 as a starter including 11-5 versus Top 25 teams in this is 38thconsecutive start. He finished 13-for-28 for 110 yards, 3 TDs, 0 Int.

At the half, Fromm was 9-for-18 for 91 yards and two touchdowns. Fromm now has 70 career TD passes, which ranks third in school history. He completed a 58-yard touchdown pass toDominick Blaylock for a 7-0 lead with 5:56 in the first quarter. AU had allowed just 10 first quarter TDs in its last 39 games coming in today and only nine since the start of the 2017 season. Then with 20 seconds left in the first half, he completed a 5-yard TD pass to Brian Herrien on 3rdand 1 to make it 14-0. It covered 81 yards on seven plays in 59 seconds. In the first half, Fromm was sacked once, which marked only the sixth of the year. Georgia came in ranked second nationally in fewest sacks allowed. In the second half, Fromm directed a 12 play, 88-yard TD drive in 6:27 that extended the lead to 21-0 with 13 seconds left in the 3rdquarter. The drive was capped by a five-yard TD pass to graduate Eli Wolf.

*Swift Goes Over A 1,000 Yards Again: For the second straight year,junior D’Andre Swift went over a 1,000 yards for the season. He eclipsed the mark in the second quarter on a 26-yard run. He is the fifth Bulldog in history to have a pair of 1,000-yard seasons and the first since Nick Chubb did it three times (2014, ‘16-17). At the half, Swift has 80 yard on 10 carries and finished with 106 yards on 17 carries. It marked his eighth career game of 100+ yards. He ranks eighth in Bulldog history with 2,694 yards.

*Busy Day For Camarda: Sophomore Jake Camarda had an eventful day, punting 11 times for a 50.7 average including six for 50+ yards and four inside the 20. His 11 punts tied for the 11third most in a game in school history and most since Bucky Dilts had 11 versus Ole Miss in 1976. His first punt today tied his career high as it went 66 yards and was downed at the AU 2. He also had a 66-yarder versus USC his year. In SEC action coming in, he was second with a 48.7 punting average.

*Blankenship’s Afternoon: Graduate PK Rodrigo Blankenship had three PATs with four touchbacks on four kickoffs. Blankenship now has 405 career points.

*For Starters & Game Captains: Graduate DB Jake Reed now has a team-high 39 consecutive starts for the defense while junior QB Jake Fromm leads the offense with 38 consecutive starts. Today’s game captains were Reed, Fromm and junior tailback D’Andre Swift.

*Up Next: Fourth-ranked and SEC Eastern Division champion Georgia (9-1, 6-1 SEC) will play host to Texas A&M Saturday, Nov. 23 at 3:30 p.m. on CBS.

POST-GAME QUOTES

Georgia Head Coach Kirby Smart 

Opening statement…

“I want to open up with thoughts and prayers going out to Chamberlaine Smith, the young lady that works on staff, got hit over on the sideline, a really scary moment. I know Brian (Herrien) felt really sick about it. It’s a tough deal. But hopefully she’s going to be OK, and I think she is. I want to thank our fans for sticking with us. I thought that they really pushed us through, and what an incredible atmosphere for us to play in. Good teams never quit, and we’ve got to do a good job of putting people away when we have an opportunity to. We have a lot of respect for Gus and this program, their staff. A lot of friends on their staff. Their kids played really hard. Our kids were very resilient to come into this place, lose momentum, obviously lose momentum, and be able to go back out and get it shows some fortitude and the ability to handle adversity. I’m really proud of our guys. With all of that said, it’s on to the next one. Texas A&M has a great team, a great program and we’ve got to get better. We’re not where we need to be, but I give Auburn a lot of credit for that as well.”

On what Auburn was able to do differently in the fourth quarter…

“They just got hot, got on a rhythm. It’s not like we went conservative. We didn’t call different calls. We were ‘bend-but-don’t-break.’ They hit some plays. They went tempo. I thought Bo (Nix) got a little more confident. We had a couple of busts and when you combine those things, guys get hot. It wasn’t like they didn’t move it earlier, because they moved it earlier, we just had some really big stops. We didn’t have really big stops on the later drives. We didn’t get behind the sticks. They did a good job of personelling, Gus did a good job of searching till he found something. We didn’t have enough answers to what they were doing. Earlier in the game, we did and we kind of didn’t have enough answers when we needed it most. But I’ll say this, they went out there the last time and came up with some big stops.”

On last two drives…

“One of them, I don’t know if we stopped them, they stopped themselves. That was the fourth down, right? The guy just missed the ball, it looked like to me. He was wide open. I can’t say that we stopped them. We got them to fourth down and they gave us a gift. So, we didn’t play the way we were capable of the whole game defensively. I was proud of the way they played earlier. The last drive was more of, they had to throw. They had no timeouts, they had to burn those. We were able to be aggressive and play the pass. It’s hard to do that when they have the run on those earlier drives.”

#7, Jake Fromm, QB

On the game as a whole…

“It was a tough football game, really physical. Anytime you come in here and play this football team, you know you’re going to get their best shot. They did a really good job defensively, and our defense did a great job of stopping them on offense. We’re really thankful to come out of here with a win and clinch the SEC East.”

On what worked for the team tonight…

“I think we made some really key plays when we needed them. I think our perimeter runs were good, just because there is so much weight and mass inside that box. That makes it tough running sometimes, but we pulled through.”

On emphasis of playing four complete quarters…

“We put huge emphasis on it. We pride ourselves in wanting to be the best four-quarter team in the country. Offensively, we need to do a lot better job of finishing, sustaining drives with first downs, bleeding the clock and helping our defense out. But our defense secured it and finished it out for us tonight.”

On clinching the SEC East…

“It feels special. Praise God to come out and do that three years in a row. It’s special and speaks a lot about this football program, our head coach and about our team in the locker room – guys who are willing to come in and do whatever it takes.”

#20, J.R. Reed, DB

Thoughts on a big victory on the road…

“It feels good. This is a great Auburn team. We had to come in here, and we had to fight for this win. It wasn’t given to us.”

On if this was the most complete game of the season for the team…

Definitely not. We were way off from the most complete-game win of the season. There were definitely some areas where we could have played cleaner than we did.”

On the team’s mentality during Auburn’s late push…

“We were just trying to make adjustments and make good plays. We did our jobs as a defense, along with our defensive coaches, to keep it simple and get our job done.”

On the final play and what it says about the defense…

“It was just a great play, and I’m proud our guys went out and executed.

On what the final play looked like to him…

“I was in the back-half covering my guys. The guys up front got pressure and back to the quarterback. Our young guys are good enough, and they went out there and made a huge play.”

On mentality as a team when Auburn scored 14 unanswered in the fourth quarter…

“We knew we were going to face adversity. It didn’t hit in the first three quarters, but it hit in the fourth. We just had to handle that, and we handled it very well.”

On whether the team will allow themselves to take time to celebrate the win…

“Most definitely. This is a good win for the program. We’ll take 24 hours to celebrate, but then we have to move on, correct our mistakes and prepare for the next team.”

#32, Monty Rice, LB

On how the score effected Georgia’s team mood…

“We just keep chopping. We just keep doing what we [have] been doing. We were built for games like that, fourth-quarter ball game and every SEC game – especially when you come over [to] this side of the bracket. It’s good to get a win on the road.”

#7, D’Andre Swift, RB

On if it felt different this year winning the division…

“It felt good beating a great team like Auburn. Hats off to them. They’ve got a great defense, great offense and they played us down the stretch. We’re just hoping the defense would make a play, and they did.”

On how tough it was to move the ball against Auburn…

“They real good upfront, got great linebackers, good back-end guys, so we just had to focus on what we had to focus on and tried to move the ball when we could. We found a way to win tonight no matter how ugly it may have look.”

On what was going through his head at the end of the game…

“Just to see a ball on the ground. The defense make a stop, so we won – had to win.”

#71, Andrew Thomas, OL

On winning three SEC East titles in his three years at UGA…

“It is pretty amazing. It’s the biggest blessing that I could ask for to be here.”

On how Auburn’s defensive front compares to expectations…

“They’re tough. In my opinion, Auburn’s defensive front is the best defensive front in the entire country.”

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