Instant analysis: Auburn dominated on both sides of the ball in Georgia loss
The atmosphere was considerably different, as were the circumstances of this year’s installment of the Deep South’s oldest rivalry. For Auburn, however, it was a familiar result between the hurdles.
For the seventh time in as many trips to Athens, Georgia, Auburn left Sanford Stadium in shock. This time around it came in the form of a demoralizing 27-6 loss that has never felt so close. No.4 Georgia (2-0) took a 24-point lead before No.7 Auburn (1-1) stepped onto the board as the Bulldogs put a clinic on both sides of the ball – dominating Auburn at the line of scrimmage when they had the ball and keeping the Tigers off any sort of attacking rhythm of their own.
The result was the Tigers’ seventh straight loss to Athens and the first time in almost exactly two years that Auburn has been held without a touchdown.
Losing the line of scrimmage
A defense that arrived at Sanford Stadium with swagger after a strong second period performance last week against an impressive Kentucky offensive line was knocked off the jump on Saturday. Georgia’s offensive line easily won the battle in the trenches, gaining sufficient thrust and creating rolling lanes for Georgia’s backing stable.
The Bulldogs racked up 288 total yards on offense in the first half while building a 24-3 lead. Among that first half production there were 130 rushing yards, including a pair of touchdowns by Zamir White. Georgia averaged 5.4 yards per carry in the first period, which paved the way for a very efficient passing night for Stetson Bennett IV. The Bulldogs finished with 442 total yards against the Tigers, including 202 rushing averaging 4.5 yards per carry. It was the second time in the last three games that Auburn’s defense has allowed more than 200 rushing yards.
It was equally unsettling on the other side of the ball, where Auburn’s offensive line left Bo Nix scrambled and without much pocket time for much of the night.
Auburn’s third defense showed a few cracks in the first half last week against Kentucky before they could correct course in the second half. There was no such chance against a much more talented opponent in Georgia.
The Bulldogs converted 9 of 14 third-down chances on the night, including 6 of 9 chances in the first half, while taking a three-point lead. This included a masterful effort going through Bennet in these situations. The single contact completed 6 of 8 passes for 83 yards and a third down touchdown in the first half. The touchdown, an absolute dart for longtime Auburn hired George Pickens, put the Bulldogs up to a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Bennett finished the night 8 of 11 for 11 yards on third downs with a consistent performance: 17 of 28 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown.
Offends a no-show between the hurdles
While last week’s debut against Kentucky laid the groundwork for what to expect from Auburn’s offense under first-year coordinator Chad Morris, Saturday’s performance in Athens was a considerable setback. Auburn amassed just 81 yards in the first half and finished the game with 216 total yards on offense, averaging just 3.4 yards per game against an elite Georgia defense.
Worse for Auburn, it went without a touchdown for the first time in two years, the last one held out of the end zone in a 23-9 road loss in Mississippi State on October 6. 2018.
The Tigers struggled to establish any sort of common threat early on, which left the Bulldogs with some defensive opportunities to sit down and defend the passing game. Seth Williams, fresh off a monster performance against Kentucky, didn’t register his first reception until the third quarter. Eli Stove was absent for an undisclosed reason, and Bo Nix never seemed comfortable with a courageous Georgia defense.
Nix, whose confidence seemed renewed in last week’s victory, completed just 21 of 41 passes for 177 yards. He’s been under constant pressure, often had to give up his back foot or be unable to get his feet back on, and he saw his non-intercepting streak end with 251 consecutive passing attempts on the final play of the third quarter – when Mark Webb of Georgia thwarted an Auburn led into Bulldogs territory in fourth place.
The two tanks
While Auburn’s attack looked bad all night, the Tigers had a pair of light spots in a tank and tank, as running back Tank Bigsby looked promising on his first career start. and first-year tight end JJ Pegues – all 6 feet tall. 2 and 300 pounds from him – demonstrated his versatility as the Tigers’ new Wildcat option.
Bigsby was the only Auburn running back to record a run against Georgia, finishing with eight carries for 31 yards. The former four-star rookie and the jewel of the 2020 Auburn class also caught seven passes for 68 yards, leading the Tigers to reception.
Pegues, meanwhile, converted a fourth down and a third in his debut as a trigger in Auburn’s Wildcat lineup. A week after using Pegues as a perimeter blocker on a swing pass to Anthony Schwartz, the Tigers also parted him at the receiver on several occasions, including a play in which he was targeted on the straight sideline by Nix but failed to make a grab jump.
Tom Green is an Auburn Beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on twitter @Tomas_Verde.