Observations: Georgia 27, Auburn 20
Auburn surprised many by having a real chance to beat UGA. But the Tigers will learn a lot of lessons from a painful fourth quarter.
RB Jarquez Hunter (Austin Perryman/Auburn Tigers)
The “first time against Georgia since _______” kept rolling for Auburn on Saturday.
The Tigers scored their first touchdown in the first quarter against Georgia since 2018. They had their first double-digit first-quarter lead over Georgia since 2013. When they entered the final quarter with a tie game, it was the first time a matchup against Georgia was a true four-quarter game since 2017.
After years of basically no success against Georgia — and immediately after a week when it barely had any offense in a loss to Texas A&M — Auburn had a real chance to beat the No. 1 team in the country, the back-to-back defending national champion.
Both teams had 15 plays in the fourth quarter. Georgia turned those into 148 passing yards, an average of 9.5 yards per play overall, a 2-3 mark on third downs and 10 points on its two drives.
Auburn had just 48 passing yards, an average of 3.7 yards per play overall, a 1-4 mark on third downs and just three points on its two drives.
Georgia was playing with one of the most talented rosters in the country, a knack for finishing well with this staff and an All-American tight end who might be the best college football player on the planet. Auburn was playing with a rebuilt roster featuring plenty of transfers, a one-dimensional offense and a loud home crowd that was willing its team to hang in there.
The 27-20 loss was, by all accounts, progress for Auburn football. But the missed opportunities that kept the Tigers from their biggest upset since the 2001 Florida game made it all the more painful.
“You have a chance to beat the No. 1 team in the country — back-to-back national champions — at home,” Hugh Freeze said. “The feeling that you get if you can pull that off is just ecstatic. You can certainly build off that, and hopefully we can build off of the way we played better today.
“But it hurts, and it's disappointing that we didn't find a way to get it done today.”
In a game where very few gave them a chance, the Tigers competed toe-to-toe with the gold standard in the sport. They forced huge turnovers, scoring on both of them, and kept the clock rolling in a low-scoring game that they would have preferred going into Saturday.
Still, the way Auburn lost to Georgia for the seventh straight time — specifically the ineffectiveness of the passing game and the third-down woes on both sides of the ball — showed that this program still has some major issues to fix if it wants to take a true step forward in 2023.
“We played with the best team in the country,” running back Brian Battie said. “We showed that we can compete with them so if we can compete with the best team in the country, we can compete with everybody. And we made a few mistakes out there, and they just made a few more plays than we did.”
Here are four Observations from Auburn’s 27-20 loss to Georgia, along with Nerd Stats and the Quote of the Night.
(Zach bland/Auburn Tigers)
Auburn lost the game on third down on defense…
There are two major stats in the final box score that don't really reflect a game that was decided by just seven points.
The first one is how Georgia had 313 passing yards to Auburn’s 88. The other one was third-down conversion rate.
Georgia went 8-13 (61.5%) on third downs, while Auburn went 2-12 (16.7%). Throw in the fourth downs, and Auburn converted on just 20% of the late downs in this game.
“You look at our third-down offense and you look at our third-down defense, and I think that's where the game was lost for us,” Freeze said.
That’s correct. Even though Georgia had a longer average third-down distance to-go (7.4 yards) than Auburn (7.2), it was money on the money downs. Georgia converted 4-6 opportunities on third downs with 9 or more yards to gain, with two of them going to elite tight end Brock Bowers on Georgia’s fourth-quarter scoring drives.
“I think we did pretty well on assignment and alignment,” senior safety Zion Puckett said when asked about Bowers’ big conversions. “I think once you get farther down in the game, people get fatigued. Miscommunication, I think, is what happened for us in that second half.”
Auburn did a great job of stifling a Georgia rushing attack that’s been stuck in first gear for most of the season, holding the Bulldogs to just 3.6 yards per carry and a 1-3 mark on third-and-shorts.
But Georgia was much more effective when it had to throw the ball, and Carson Beck — making his first career road start — delivered with a 70% completion percentage and nearly 9.5 yards per attempt. He was 8-10 on third downs alone for 115 yards, while Auburn completed only 11 passes for 88 yards for the entire game.
“Carson was really good at identifying pressures and identifying our different looks,” linebacker Eugene Asante said. “He’s a great quarterback as well and someone we definitely game planned (for). I think the biggest thing is when we’re put in those situations, we just have to execute and you know, play relentlessly.”
Georgia’s two late third-and-long conversions, which included a one-handed Bowers catch to set up a game-tying field goal, put the Bulldogs directly into scoring position instead of staying near midfield. Auburn, which didn’t sack Beck a single time and only had a few noteworthy quarterback pressures, couldn’t get adequate pressure and had an extremely hard time slowing down a top-tier talent.
“(Bowers) is a handful, and we didn't do a great job guarding him,” Freeze said. “I'm sure it wasn't him every time, but it was him a large majority of the time when the game was on the line. It was hard to get pressure on with just four. He made the plays, and we obviously probably could have done some different coverages.
“Felt like we had two good ones called on that last drive, and we didn't execute them very well. … Mixed up coverages. You know, don't just play him (in) straight man. Play some bracket coverage on him, and he still found ways to win in some tight quarters a couple of times. Got to give him credit. He made some good plays, but there were a couple, though, that we gave up that should have played it a little different and been underneath him and not on top of him.”
RB Jarquez Hunter (Jamie Holt/Auburn Tigers)
… and it lost the game on third down on offense
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