ATLANTA, Ga. -- The Georgia Bulldogs captured their first SEC Championship since 2005 with a 28-7 win over Auburn that not only gave coach Kirby Smart his first conference crown as a head coach, but perhaps insured Georgia’s inclusion in the four-team National Championship playoff picture.
The Bulldogs used a monster fourth quarter performance from a defense that stayed stingy all night in order to close the door on Auburn’s championship hopes. It started when Roquan Smith recovered a fumble that set Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm up to deliver a touchdown pass to Terry Godwin several plays later. The ensuing two-point conversion turned a 13-7 lead into a 21-7 advantage.
Later, D’Andre Swift broke free for a 64-yard touchdown run that stretched the Dawgs’ lead to the game’s final tally.
Things for Georgia didn’t begin as promising as they ended it, though.
In a reverse of fortunes from the first contest on Nov. 11, it was Auburn coming fast out of the blocks on its first drive of the game.
The Tigers found the end zone first when quarterback Jarrett Stidham found Nate Craig-Myers on a slant route to the back of the end zone for a scoring strike to give Auburn a 7-0 lead at the 9:54 mark of the first quarter.
And at least for the first few Georgia drives, the Auburn defense looked as stingy as it did in the first matchup. Georgia started its first offensive series with a 13-yard Nick Chubb run over left guard, but then Sony Michel fumbled a toss play, Jake Fromm was sacked twice and Georgia ended up punting.
After both teams had a couple of stalled out drives, Georgia’s defense would give Fromm and company a gift. It happened when linebacker Davin Bellamy stripped Stidham as he pursued him for a sack and Roquan Smith emerged with the fumble recovery.
Georgia then did what it could not do in last month’s loss. It turned the turnover into points, in the form of Fromm connecting with tight end Isaac Nauta over the middle for a two-yard touchdown pass that capped off a seven play, 84 yard drive that only took 2:50, thanks to two big pass plays to Mecole Hardman and a pass interference call that set Georgia in a first-and-goal situation.
With momentum on their side the Dawgs would get a big 3-and-out from the defense, and Georgia went back to work, first with an 18-yard gallup by Sony Michel. Then, two plays later, Fromm hit Michel in stride on a 32-yard screen pass where Auburn’s Tray Matthews saved a touchdown.
Then, it was Nick Chubb who was the recipient of a Fromm pass that went for 11 yards and gave Georgia 1st and goal on the Auburn 3-yard line. Two plays later, it looked as if Fromm would get his second touchdown pass of the game when he hooked up with a wide open Terry Godwin in the left corner of the end zone.
But a defensive pass interference negated the score, and Georgia had to settle for a 27-yard field goal from Rodrigo Blankenship that provided the halftime margin at the 10:14 mark of the second quarter.
The third quarter was pretty much a defensive stalemate, save a 31-yard field goal by Blankenship that extended Georgia’s lead to 10-7, and gave the Bulldogs its first lead of the game -- a perfect setup before the fourth quarter fireworks began.
Check back with us as we update this story later this evening with reactions from Smart and Georgia players.