Film Room: Why Auburn struggled to get off the field on third down vs. UGA
Georgia went 8-13 on the money down against Auburn, with several long-distance ones leading to crucial points. What happened?
(Editor’s Note: I got back home much earlier than expected Sunday, so here’s a Film Room from Saturday’s Auburn vs. Georgia game for you at its regular time. We’ll have some basketball in Tuesday’s newsletter, too.)
(Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
There were aspects of Auburn’s 27-20 loss to Georgia on Saturday that felt backwards.
Some might have been surprised that, in this matchup, Auburn was the one that leaned on a stronger, multi-faceted running game — not Georgia, which has done that for years. The Tigers more than doubled up the Bulldogs in terms of sack-adjusted rushing yards (234 to 107).
Auburn was also the team that played the cleaner game of football, only turning the ball over on its final offensive play while taking full advantage of Georgia’s two giveaways with touchdowns. The Tigers also only had one penalty in the game.
But perhaps the most backwards part of this matchup was how Georgia looked like it was better off facing third-and-long instead of third-and-intermediate or even third-and-short.
This was ultimately the story of the game: Georgia went a sparkling 8-13 on third downs, while Auburn went just 2-12. Afterwards, Auburn head coach Hugh Freeze said third down was “where the game was lost” for his Tigers.
Auburn going 2-12 on third down against an elite Georgia defense shouldn’t have been that surprising. The Tigers have yet to put together a consistent passing attack against quality competition, and that’s contributed to a very low third-down conversion rate this season.
However, Georgia had about as good of a performance as a team could hope to have on clear-cut third-down passing situations. Quarterback Carson Beck was making his first career road start, and he was excellent, completing 80% of his third-down throws for an average of 11.5 yards per attempt.
“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).”
While Georgia had a longer average distance to-go on third downs (7.4 yards) than Auburn (7.2), the Bulldogs converted four times as many as the Tigers. They went 4-6 on third downs of nine or more yards, and two of their biggest conversions of the game to All-American tight end Brock Bowers led to crucial scores.
There were several aspects of Auburn’s defensive performance against Georgia that were strong: The forced turnovers, the strong run defense and holding the Bulldogs to fewer than 30 points. In fact, this was only the second regular-season SEC game since the start of the 2021 season in which Georgia only won by single-digits.
But Auburn’s inability to get off the field on third down went a long way in turning a potential shocking upset into a heartbreaking close loss inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“You've got to have an identity on defense — and, obviously, we've got some third-down issues we've got to try to clean up,” Freeze said after the game.
So what went wrong for the Tigers’ defense on the money downs Saturday? Were the issues all on poor execution by Auburn? Did Georgia just make more plays with its elite talent? And could Auburn have really done more with its play-calling on third down?
Let’s take a look at all of that in this week’s Auburn-Georgia edition of the Film Room.
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