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Auburn’s Brad Lester, a native of Georgia, can’t believe the beating the Tigers took Saturday. Georgia won 45-20.
AP photo by John Bazemore
Auburn’s Brad Lester, a native of Georgia, can’t believe the beating the Tigers took Saturday. Georgia won 45-20.

Georgia rides big plays to thrashing of Auburn

By Ross Dellenger

ATHENS, Ga. — Matthew Stafford dropped back to pass, as he had done plenty of times before. But on this occasion, it was a surprise throw on fourth-and-one.

It didn’t matter.

The Georgia quarterback’s pass hummed through the air and hit tight end Tripp Chandler right in the hands.

It also didn’t matter that Auburn cornerback and Decatur High grad Jerraud Powers was draped on Chandler’s back.

“We just got to start playing the ball in the secondary,” a disappointed and baffled Powers said after a pummeling Saturday. “We are in position to make plays, and we’ve got to make them.”

Georgia’s receivers — and tight ends — shredded Auburn’s struggling secondary as the Tigers fell 45-20 on Saturday night in a sold-out and blacked-out Sanford Stadium, where almost all of the Bulldogs’ fans wore black tops to match their team.

If it wasn’t Stafford’s spot-on accuracy, it was his speedy big-play receivers. If it wasn’t a broken coverage by Auburn, it was the Tigers’ inability to make plays.

“Big plays. Big plays,” Auburn senior linebacker Quentin Groves said.

Groves added:“Not to take anything from Georgia, but we didn’t execute to the best of our ability out there.”

No. 18 Auburn (7-4, 4-3 SEC) gave up 417 yards, including seven plays of 15 yards or more and three passes of 58, 45 and 33 yards. Georgia also pulled off a run of 53 yards in what was a nightmarish night for defensive-minded coach Tommy Tuberville.

In his nine years at Auburn, Tuberville’s teams have never given up more points. Auburn hasn’t given up more points since allowing Georgia to score 56 in 1996, and that was in four overtimes.

Georgia’s Sean Bailey grabs a touchdown catch over Auburn’s Jonathan Wilhite (24) on Saturday.
AP photo by John Bazemore
Georgia’s Sean Bailey grabs a touchdown catch over Auburn’s Jonathan Wilhite (24) on Saturday.
“I thought we looked confused out there a couple of times,” a downtrodden Tuberville said shortly after the game. “When you give up 45 points, you’ve been taken to the woodshed pretty good.”

Stafford finished the game completing 11 of 19 attempts for 237 yards and two touchdowns. His average completion went for more than 21 yards.

No. 10 Georgia (8-2, 5-2) kept its hopes alive for a possible SEC East crown, while Auburn became mathematically eliminated from getting to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta.

Georgia nearly had two 100-yard rushers as true freshman Knowshon Moreno compiled 101 yards on 22 carries and Thomas Brown ran for 81 yards on 14 attempts.

Auburn overcame an early 17-3 deficit to take its first lead of the game at 20-17 on Wes Byrum’s 33-yard field goal with 6:47 left in the third quarter. But Georgia then reeled off 27 unanswered points.

“Somehow, we found a way like we have all year long, of being able to stay in the ballgame, and then the defense absolutely collapsed,” Tuberville said.

“We couldn’t slow them down.”

Moreno scored on a 24-yard run to give UGA a 24-20 lead with five minutes left in the third quarter. The run was set up by a 45-yard pass from Stafford to receiver Sean Bailey, who beat Auburn’s Patrick Lee deep.

UGA coach Mark Richt said that was the turning point.

“Once (Auburn) took the lead, a switch flipped on,” said Richt, who is 4-3 against Auburn in his seven years at Georgia. “When Bailey made that play, there was a sudden breakdown in defense that was enough to give us some wiggle room. Momentum shifted and it never went back.”

Auburn’s defense crumbled the rest of the way.

After quarterback Brandon Cox, who finished 14-of-30 passing for 133 yards, threw one of his four interceptions, Stafford hit Bailey for a 33-yard gain. This time Bailey beat safety Aairon Savage and cornerback Jonathan Wilhite.

“They were making plays, and we weren’t,” Auburn defensive tackle Josh Thompson said. “We needed turnovers and didn’t get them.”

Moreno bulled his way into the end zone following the interception, giving Georgia a 31-20 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Brown ripped off a 53-yard run on the next series, and fullback Brannan Southerland rumbled into the end zone from a yard out to give UGA an 18-point cushion with 12:11 left in the game.

Just 16 seconds later, Georgia’s Bryan Evans intercepted Cox’s ricocheted pass. Stafford then hit Chandler on that fourth down from the AU 30-yard line, eventually leading to a 2-yard touchdown run by Brown.

“Our defense kind of collapsed, starting in the middle of the third quarter,” Tuberville said. “We didn’t give ourselves a chance.”

Georgia got the big plays started early.

Stafford hit wide-open receiver Mohamed Massaquoi for a 58-yard touchdown pass with 3:09 left in the first quarter. Massaquoi blew by cornerback
Eric Brock and safety Zac Etheridge, and the two Auburn defenders were more than 10 yards behind Massaquoi as he walked into the end zone untouched for a 10-3 UGA lead.

Bailey reached over Wilhite’s head and caught a 13-yard touchdown pass from Stafford with 10:54 left in the second quarter, giving the Bulldogs a 17-3 lead.

“That’s been our thing all year. We haven’t been making the plays back there in the secondary,” Powers said.

Auburn answered on the next drive with Ben Tate’s 7-yard touchdown run.

Powers intercepted Stafford a minute into the third quarter, returning it to the UGA 27-yard line. A few plays later, Cox found Mario Fannin out of the backfield for a 12-yard touchdown to tie the score at 17.

“We had control of it,” Tuberville said, “and we kind of collapsed on defense.”

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