The game was played before a crowded house on The Plains. But for Auburn, seeking to solve Georgia’s dominance, it felt like the Sahara Desert.
Every time the Tigers seemed on the verge of finding an oasis, the image proved to be just another mirage.
Bryan Harsin’s first edition at Auburn is a solid team. Came in ranked 18th, deservingly so. Left on the wrong side of a 34-10 score as the latest victim on second-ranked Georgia’s inevitable journey to the national championship game.
This isn’t one of those blame games. This was about a good, rebuilding program taking on a juggernaut. And Kirby Smart’s team is just that this season. Especially on defense, which is beginning to look historic.
It’s not about game plans. Auburn’s was good. The opening drive took 17 plays and 6:41 off the clock, an impressive feat that resulted in a field goal and Georgia’s first deficit of a regular season now halfway over.
It’s not about adjustments, though Harsin, Mike Bobo and the offensive staff made an impressive one in the second half. Down 24-3, the Tigers got a first-down run from Tank Bigsby to stay ahead off the chains — no small accomplishment against these Bulldogs — and two perfectly thrown passes from Bo Nix to cover 31 and 26 yards, respectively. Consecutively. Into the Red Zone.
Where dreams go to die.
Yet this one didn’t. On third-and-one from the Georgia 6, Tank Bigsby went into the line, bounced free of the scrum and dashed into the end zone. It was just the second touchdown allowed by the Bulldogs through half the regular season.
While the Bulldogs have a defense that makes you pay for every yard with blood and sweat, they also have a quarterback with a prep school name. He goes by Stetson Bennett. He’s reportedly the backup to J.T. Daniels, who is out with an oblique injury — long-term status unknown.
Daniels has an NFL arm. Bennett, we were told, has an arm suited better for intramurals. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Saturday, he threw short and long, horizontal and vertical. More importantly, he threw with touch and verve, and he moves the Bulldogs downfield with the steady beat of a metronome. He’s a guy who can lead Georgia to the promised land.
What’s he got that Nix hasn’t? A veteran offensive line that consistently protects and owns everything up front. The ability to tuck and run instead of scramble and pray for a miracle. When receivers lose coverage in the secondary he finds them. And when a solid Auburn defense wanted to make the Bulldogs one dimensional, he merely pivoted and handed off for good gains.
Auburn’s offensive line is getting better. The tight ends are now threats as targets. The running back punch of Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter is legit.
But this is a program six games under a new regime. Georgia is in the sixth year of the Kirby Smart Experience. He’s already played for one national title, just missed playing for another.
And this is his best team to date.
At times, Auburn made the Bulldogs look vulnerable. But for minutes. Not quarters. Certainly not a game. They forced the issue long enough that Georgia’s starters had to at least go the distance.
Auburn is getting better, though that’s not what fans want to hear.
But these Dawgs are on another level and destined for greatness.
Doug Segrest, a former SEC beat reporter, is a freelance columnist.