DAILY Photo by Emily Saunders|
Brandon Cox leaves the field after throwing for 35 yards and four interceptions against the Georgia Bulldogs in Auburn on Saturday. The No. 5-ranked Tigers fell 37-15.
Georgia scores early, often on Tigers’ mistakes
By Bradley Handwerger
DAILY Sports Writer
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AUBURN — The rain started falling in Auburn almost halfway through the third quarter.
Kind of appropriate, in a way.
No. 5 Auburn's chances of making its way into the Southeastern Conference Championship Game came crashing to a halt with a 37-15 loss at the hands of Georgia, the Tigers' oldest rivals.
What's the phrase?
Oh, yes — when it rains, it pours.
The loss means Arkansas, the previous opponent to embarrass Auburn (9-2, 5-2 SEC) in Jordan-Hare Stadium this season, has an even more significant edge in the SEC Western Division race.
It also knocks Auburn clear from any Bowl Championship Series talk.
"They came out and they wanted it more than us," Auburn senior offensive guard Tim Duckworth said. "That's all I can say."
By the end of the game, any thought of complaining about the 11:30 a.m. start time and lack of respect was moot. Instead, Georgia (7-4, 4-4) rebounded from a slump in which the Bulldogs had lost four of their past five before Saturday.
"Last night, I talked to the team about how we started the season and our goals and what was left to salvage," Georgia head coach Mark Richt said.
"I told them there was a lot to play for, but I think words are fairly cheap, and we needed to start making some plays and we did."
Auburn quarterback Brandon Cox threw four interceptions, his most in one game since throwing four against Georgia Tech in his first career start at the beginning of the 2005 season.
The offensive line slipped back into the form it had midway through the season, allowing Georgia to sack Cox four times, all in the first half.
And the Tigers' defense allowed big play after big play and let Georgia keep the ball for more than 38 minutes of clock time.
Sound familiar? It was nearly the same script Auburn used seven years ago to beat Georgia, in Athens, in the same type of game.
An average Auburn team shot down a heavily favored and ranked Georgia team in 1999, ending any hopes the Bulldogs had that season of securing the SEC Eastern Division. Those Tigers jumped out to a double-digit halftime lead on Georgia.
On Saturday, Georgia took heavily favored Auburn out of its comfort zone early, scoring the first 24 points of the game before the Tigers answered with a touchdown with four minutes left in the first half.
A 53-yard pass from Georgia true freshman quarterback Matthew Stafford to A.J. Bryant highlighted the Bulldogs' opening drive. It was one of six Georgia plays longer than 15 yards in the game, and it helped UGA to a 7-0 lead.
DAILY Photo by Emily Saunders|
Auburn wide receiver Courtney Taylor tries to protect the ball from Georgia’s Paul Oliver in the Bulldogs’ 35-17 victory in Auburn on Saturday.
Then on Auburn's first offensive play, Ray Gant sacked Cox for a 5-yard loss. Cox was never the same, and neither were the Tigers. Auburn didn't move past the Georgia 45 until Tristan Davis returned a kickoff to the Bulldogs' 41 with less than two minutes to play in the half.
"It's still my right knee," said Cox, who finished 4-of-12 passing for 35 yards, a touchdown and the four interceptions. "Every time I get hit on it, it swells right back up. I had hoped not to get hit on it today, but the first play, I got hit. It stiffened up a little bit."
Cox completed as many passes to Georgia defensive players as he did his own. Bulldogs' safety Tra Battle made three of the interceptions, returning one 30 yards for a touchdown.
Yet, it was a freshman quarterback who might have played the biggest part in Auburn's demise.
Stafford outplayed Cox and gave Auburn's defense fits all day. He passed for 219 yards and a touchdown, completing 14 of his 20 passes. And he tossed no interceptions after recording eight in the past three games.
But he also beat Auburn with his feet, running seven times for 83 yards, mostly on quarterback draws.
"He wasn't doing anything difficult," said Auburn cornerback Jerraud Powers, a former Decatur High standout. "He would just find a hole and hit it and make a play. It was killing us all day, and we couldn't stop it."
There's no time for Auburn to stay upset. Losing by 22 points at home to your oldest rival is bad enough. But now the Tigers face their most bitter foe, cross-state rival Alabama.
"I don't think we'll have any problem getting them back," Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville said. "They know the importance."
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