By Michael Pope
ATHENS, Ga. — The No. 5 Georgia Bulldogs (9-1, 7-1) finished out their conference play with a hard-fought win in Sanford Stadium over rival and 24th-ranked Auburn, defeating the Tigers in a bit of come-from-behind fashion, by a score of 27-10 Saturday night.
Running back D’Andre Swift hit the dagger on the Tigers as he took the ball 77 yards for a touchdown to give the Bulldogs a commanding lead with that final score, with 13:53 left to play in the final quarter in Georgia’s last SEC tune-up before facing top-ranked Alabama on the first Saturday in December at downtown Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz Stadium for the SEC Championship game.
Swift stole the night with 186 yards rushing on just 17 carries while also tacking on a team-leading four catches for 43 receiving yards.
It was truly a special night for Swift, and his long touchdown run — which was reminiscent of his last touchdown scored against Auburn which happened last year in the 2017 SEC Championship game — was one of the major highlights on a night where the Bulldogs punished Auburn with over 300 rushing yards.
Head coach Kirby Smart had nothing but praise for Swift’s performance, but also gave credit to some other members of the team — most notably his run-blocking wide receivers, one of which was Newton High alum Jeremiah Holloman.
“At the end of the day, D’Andre’s a really electric explosive runner,” Smart said. “J.J. Holloman and Solomon Kindley and Mecole Hardman, it’s a lot of good blocks that sprung a 30 yard play to a 60 to 70 yard play.”
Holyfield trailed Swift on the night in the rushing category, but he was equally impressive, finishing his night with 93 yards on 15 carries.
Although Swift’s play seemed to be the final blow, the Bulldogs’ lead after the opening half would’ve been enough to give them the victory.
The Bulldogs seemed to have everything working, but struggled to get the ball into the end zone throughout the course of the game. It started off as a defensive struggle, but the Bulldogs' offense did enough to get the job done.
Georgia started the game out strong forcing a three-and-out, and quickly put up three points of their own to take an early lead with 7:01 left to play in the first quarter.
It was a struggle for both team’s to get into the end zone after the Tigers’ initial touchdown, as the following scoring drive would be marked with both teams trading field goals.
Trailing by a score of 10-6, UGA’s offense would come alive on its last two drives of the first half, as they would put up back-to-back touchdowns.
The Bulldogs’ first touchdown of the game would come on a 14-yard strike from quarterback Jake Fromm to wide receiver Tyler Simmons to give the Bulldogs a 13-10 lead with 2:47 left to play.
Georgia would force a quick three-and-out and get the ball back with two minutes left to play before the half. But it would struggle to move the ball, and with 29 seconds left to play in the half, the Bulldogs called a timeout to draw up a play for a 4th-and-3 from the Tigers’ 37-yard line.
It turned out to be the perfect call, as Fromm hit Godwin for a 38-yard touchdown pass that would extend the Bulldogs’ lead to 10. They would head into the locker room leading the Tigers by a score of 20-10.
These two scores were of utmost importance for the sake of momentum, and Bulldogs center Lamont Gaillard made it known that halftime momentum is always a focal point for the offense.
“We always tell ourselves we need momentum before we go into the half,” said Gaillard. “When we come out with two minutes and control it, we do what we have to do to win.”
Fromm put up a solid day’s work for the Bulldogs under center as he finished his night 13-of 20 with 193 yards passing and two touchdowns with one interception.
Fromm was efficient for the majority of the game, but the Bulldogs’ rushing attack — the second straight week where they eclipsed the 300-yard mark running the ball — chiefly contributed to the Dawgs’ 516 yards of total offense.
The defense shined as well, particularly former Eastside standout Eric Stokes, who came off the bench to relieve starter Tyson Campbell, and recorded four tackles and three pass breakups, including one in a crucial moment that helped usher Auburn’s offense off the field without punching in another touchdown.
It was a third and goal play from the Bulldogs’ 4-yard line, and Stokes stepped in to tip away a Jarrett Stidham pass intended for Seth Williams who likely would’ve scored if Stokes had not batted it away.
The play forced the Tigers to settle for a field goal which, at the time, made it 10-6 Auburn, instead of 14-6.
“(That play) built up my confidence for the rest of the day,” Stokes said.
Stokes’ play triggered glowing remarks from Smart.
“Eric Stokes is one of the hardest workers on our team,” Smart said. “He’s the epitome of team. The guy hasn’t complained, fussed. All he’s done is work. All he’s done is get better. He’s going to continue to get better and compete.
“Coach Tucker and coach Smart always keep me prepared so that I’m always ready,” Stokes said during the postgame. “Like today, when my number is called, I just go out there and just do my business.”
Stokes’ efforts helped Georgia’s defense hold Auburn scoreless for the entire second half.
The Bulldogs will hope that their rushing attack and defensive prowess continues Saturday when they host UMass in a Noon kickoff, followed by the regular season finale with Georgia Tech.