AUBURN, Ala. – So let’s start with the it’s-not-the-end-of-the-world scenarios, even if the tendency in times like this in our corner of the world is to pull a Thelma-and-Louise off the cliff or, for those on flatland, just break another television set (there extending the state of Georgia’s record in that department among the nation’s sports fans).
Georgia already clinched the SEC East Division.
Georgia can still win its final two games and take an 11-1 record into the conference title game.
Georgia can win the SEC championship over Alabama (or Auburn) and therefore make it into the College Football Playoff.
But this was a two-ton reality check nobody saw coming. To borrow a line from the late Muhammad Ali, the Bulldogs got hit so hard Saturday that by the time they stopped rolling, their clothes were out of style. Or in this case, their No. 1 ranking.
Losing a road game to Auburn, which sits in the center of the bizarro SEC history universe, that’s one thing. Losing 40-17, that knocks you into Sillyland.
Having your team’s offensive and defensive lines physically dominated, rushing for only 46 yards with arguably the nation’s best set of running backs, committing seven penalties – including four incredibly foolish 15-yarders – dropping passes, missing passes, having your quarterback go 13-for-28 and getting sacked four times ...
OK, that’s enough. Message received. The bottom line of the message from Saturday’s wreckage is that the Bulldogs were somewhat exposed. Not only are they not perfect, they are quite capable of being humiliated. The team ranked No. 1 in the land for two weeks will drop this week as if an anchor is tied to its leg.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart said his team got “outphysicaled.”
That’s not a real word, but it’s accepted coachspeak for: “We got punched in the face.”
The Bulldogs, Smart said, committed “uncharacteristic dumb penalties.”
And then one of his frequent soundbites: “Humility is always a week away.”
The question we now ask for the first time in 2017: How does Georgia respond?
Before this mess, the Dogs hadn’t lost a game. Before Auburn took a seemingly harmless 9-7 lead in the second quarter with its third field goal, they hadn’t even trailed since 19-17 in the fourth quarter at Notre Dame.
There Georgia kicked a field goal to win the game.
Then it won eight more.
Georgia guard Solomon Kindley was asked about his team’s inability to run the ball against Auburn’s defensive front. His response could’ve applied to almost any facet of Saturday’s game: “It’s kind of mind-blowing and shocking because we’ve been doing something consistent for nine straight games, and now we go and do something else.”
Auburn players danced on the sideline in the final minutes, knowing they can still win the SEC West. Georgia players stood catatonic.
Lorenzo Carter, one of the most glib players on the team, struggled to find any words in the interview area.
“They played better than us,” he said.
Was there any way to see this coming?
The opening possession foretold none of this.
Georgia drove 70 yards in 3:39 for a touchdown. Jake Fromm hit Javon Wims for a 28-yard gain on a key third down. Nick Chubb ran in for a 1-yard score to cap the eight-play drive for a 7-0 lead. Auburn fans stopped screaming and wondered, “What just happened?”
Then came old Georgia. Not old as in 1980, “OMG, there goes Herschel again,” but old as in, “OMG, did they really just do that?”
There were mental mistakes and discipline issues that we saw way too often in some big games in the Mark Richt era, but had been absent this season. The Bulldogs were called for three 15-yard penalties in the second quarter. Three.
Dumb penalty No. 1: Malkom Parrish hit a receiver out of bounds. That set up a field goal that gave the Tigers a 9-7 lead.
Dumb penalty No. 2: Jayson Stanley was flagged for interfering with the catch on a punt return, giving the Tigers a nice jump on its possession.
Dumb penalty No. 3: Auburn punted, but D’Andre Walker was called for “leaping” over a blocker at the kicker, which is not allowed, and that penalty extending the drive at the Auburn 46. Too many gifts led to the inevitable. Jarrett Stidham threw a 42-yard touchdown to Darius Slayton for a 16-7 lead.
Still, the game was close.
But Georgia buried itself. Late in the first half, the Dogs had a first down at the Auburn 26 with 22 seconds left. They had no timeouts remaining. It was an obvious passing situation. But the play call was Sony Michel run over left guard. He lost a yard. After Fromm spiked it to stop the clock, Rodrigo Blankenship missed a 42-yard field-goal attempt.
Smart: "Not a good decision there. Probably a mistake."
Still, the game was close. But not for long. Mecole Hardman fumbled a punt at the Georgia 23 following Auburn’s first possession of the second half. Four plays later – touchdown, 23-7.
Michel, the usually stable senior, lost his cool and pushed an Auburn player to the ground. Dumb penalty No. 4: personal foul. Two plays later, Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham throws a 32-yard touchdown pass, making the score 30-7.
Late in the third quarter, Smart surprisingly chose to kick a field goal rather than go for it on fourth-and-9 from the 30 when touchdowns were needed. With those three points, Georgia moved to within seven more field goals of taking the lead.
Bad day all the way around.
“We’re mad at ourselves,” Hardman said. “We know what we’re capable of doing, and we didn’t show that."
Georgia showed its other side instead. Until Saturday, we didn't know this side existed.
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