Georgia was good enough to beat Auburn. But are Dawgs good enough to beat LSU?

D'Andre Swift ran for 106 yards on 17 carries in Georgia's 21-14 win over Auburn, which put the Bulldogs into the SEC Championship game.John Reed/USA Today
Tony Barnhart

Auburn, Ala.—When Georgia, ranked No. 3 in the nation at the time, was inexplicably upset by South Carolina on Oct. 12, the Bulldog Nation had questions.

Lots and lots of questions:

**--They wondered if the flaws in their team had finally been exposed. Georgia was very young—perhaps too young—at wide receiver and it showed in a 24-21 loss in overtime to the Gamecocks.

**-- They wondered why all of these other teams out there were averaging 40 points a game while the Bulldogs remained true—perhaps too true--to their ground-and-pound defensive roots. That’s just not the way football is played today, they thought.

**--And they really wondered if what Georgia was doing was going to be good enough in a tough atmosphere like Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Well, as it turned out, No. 4 Georgia answered all of those questions on Saturday night when the Bulldogs jumped out to a 21-0 lead and its relentless defense finally made it stand up on the way to a 21-14 victory over No. 12 Auburn.

Georgia (9-1, 6-1 SEC), clinched a spot in the SEC championship game for the third consecutive year.

It would appear that the Bulldogs—who still have regular-season games remaining with Texas A&M next Saturday and Georgia Tech on Nov. 30—are on a collision course with No. 1 LSU in the SEC Championship game in Atlanta on Dec. 7. LSU still has games remaining with Ole Miss (Saturday night), Arkansas, and Texas A&M.

Should Georgia get there with a 12-1 record and LSU get there at 13-0, the winner of the SEC championship game will surely go to the College Football Playoffs. And should Georgia upset LSU in that scenario, there would be the real possibility that the SEC could get two teams in the playoffs.

But that possibility is still three weeks away.

For now, Georgia is going to celebrate its third straight win the Deep South’s oldest rivalry, which dates back to 1892.

“We really played well early but we have to learn how to finish teams off,” said Kirby Smart, in his fourth season as the head coach of the Bulldogs and is the first coach to take them to three straight SEC championship games. “That is a really good football team we beat tonight. I have a lot of respect for them.”

But it wasn’t easy. In this rivalry, it never is.

Georgia seemingly had the game under control when it drove 88 yards on 12 plays to take a 21-0 lead with 13 seconds left in the third quarter.

For three quarters Auburn simply could not move the ball against a Georgia defense that was No. 2 nationally, giving up only 10.1 points per game. The Auburn fans who had packed Jordan-Hare Stadium were clearly not happy.

But in the fourth quarter Auburn and quarterback Bo Nix, who completed 30 of 50 passes without an interception, finally found their rhythm.

Auburn scored two quick touchdowns and was driving for the tying score inside the final four minutes. Auburn appeared to have a first down on the Georgia 22-yard line after a 17-yard reception by Seth Williams. But the play was reviewed and the pass was ruled incomplete. Auburn eventually gave up the ball on downs. It turned out to be a big swing in the game.

“That was a tough one,” said Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn.

Auburn got another possession with 2:03 left and gave up the ball on downs with 1:39 left.

“They just got hot,” said Smart of Auburn’s run to make it close. “They finally got some confidence. But this is a tough place to play and our guys really showed some resilience when things got tough.”

For the 10th consecutive game Auburn held its opponent to under 24 points. But Georgia did just enough on offense with 106 yards rushing from D’Andre Swift. And quarterback Jake Fromm , now 32-6 as Georgia’s starting quarterback, made just enough plays to win his third straight game as a starter against Auburn.

“Our defense was great tonight and theirs was too,” said Fromm, who completed 13 of 28 passes for 110 yards and three touchdowns. “To come in here and get a win against those guys is something really, really special.”

And as the Georgia faithful headed home on this cool Saturday night, it’s a sure bet they are asking this: What Georgia did at Jordan-Hare Stadium in mid-November was good enough to beat Auburn and good enough to get back to the SEC championship game. But will it be good enough to beat LSU on Dec. 7?

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Tony Barnhart

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