History repeats itself as Georgia defense dominates Auburn after slow start

November 11, 2018

Auburn’s offense had some early success against the Georgia defense on Saturday. The Tigers scored a first-quarter touchdown, the game’s first, to take an early lead over the fifth-ranked Bulldogs and put the Georgia defense on its heels.

But the early score didn’t faze the Bulldogs, because it has become part of the routine against the Tigers in recent years.

Georgia’s defense did not allow another touchdown after the first quarter and was dominant in leading the Bulldogs to a 27-10 win over the 24th-ranked Tigers. Auburn has scored a first-quarter touchdown in each of its last three games in Sanford Stadium, dating back to 2014, and has failed to score a touchdown after the first 15 minutes in each of those games. The same was true for the Auburn offense in the 2017 SEC Championship Game in Atlanta in December.

On Saturday, the Bulldog defense allowed 166 yards of offense on Auburn’s first three drives, but then held the Tigers to just 108 yards for the remainder of the game. The Tigers and quarterback Jarrett Stidham had early success to take a 10-6 second-quarter lead, but as the game wore on the Georgia defense shut down all aspects of the Tiger offense.

“I thought we settled down,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “I felt all week that they were going to come out and do what they did. We probably weren’t as prepared. There’s so much to prepare for when you play Auburn. They have a ton of personnel groupings, a ton of looks.”

A good bit of Auburn’s success came in the short pass and screen game early on.

Stidham had found a rhythm early in the short and did not throw an incomplete pass until the second quarter. Auburn receiver Ryan Davis had 13 receptions on the day and was a primary target in the screen game, which was picking up chunks of yardage for the Tigers. But once the Bulldogs cracked down on the screens, everything fell into place as Georgia was already successful in stopping the run and covering receivers downfield.

“They had some success in the screen game in the first quarter and, really, the first half,” senior defensive lineman Jonathan Ledbetter said. “We made it a point of emphasis to get them on the ground. They were breaking those tackles and getting those extra yards and it was affecting us in our third-and-medium situations and stuff like that, not letting us get off the field.”

The issues did not last long for the Bulldogs.

The defense was having tremendous success getting off of the field after the early drives, as it held Auburn to a 27.3 percent conversion rate on third down. Stidham ended the day going 24-for-36 for 163 yards, good for only 4.5 yards per attempt. Georgia also defended the run well for the second straight game. The Bulldogs surrendered only 102 rushing yards and held lead Tigers running back JaTarvious Whitlow to just 26 yards on nine carries.

The Bulldogs turned in its dominant defensive performance without registering a sack or forcing a turnover. But the improved tackling in the open field held Auburn to short gains and negative plays, rendering its offense ineffective and inefficient.

Sure, Auburn got off to a hot start, held an early lead and looked like it could give Georgia a scare. But as has been the case frequently for the Tigers, they couldn’t sustain any form of offense against a smothering Georgia defense.

“We love to come out in the second half and impose our will and show as a team we can finish through four quarters, senior cornerback Deandre Baker said.

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