AUBURN, Ala. -- Mark Richt is 53 years old and been in football most of his life. He said he had never gotten an unsportsmanlike penalty called on him. Until Saturday.
During the second quarter of Georgia’s 43-38 loss at Auburn, Richt was flagged after saying something, or a bunch of things, that officials didn’t like.
The normally stoic and reserved Richt was livid when an Auburn fumble was ruled to have been recovered by the Tigers at their own 37. Not only did Auburn retain possession, rather than give Georgia the ball in Tigers territory, but the Tigers went on to get a touchdown to make it 20-7.
“I guess I wasn’t pleasant enough in my disagreement with what happened,” Richt said. “I didn’t do a good job.”
The play happened right in front of Richt and the Georgia sideline. He was asked in his postgame news conference what he saw.
“I don’t know if I’ll get in trouble for this or not,” Richt said, before explaining what he saw.
According to Richt, an Auburn player had one hand free and was trying to get his other hand to the ball.
“And I saw (Georgia’s) Josh Harvey-Clemons wrapped up around the legs and the ball and everything else,” Richt said. “So I’m thinking surely he has possession of the ball. But the referees didn’t see it that way.”
Seeing Marshall again
Georgia safety Corey Moore was one of Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall’s close friends when Marshall was at Georgia for one season. They were fellow freshmen before Marshall’s dismissal for stealing from a teammate’s dorm room.
Moore briefly saw Marshall after the game.
“I told him to keep his head up. They got away with one,” Moore said. “But they’re a good team.”
The wild finish overshadowed another outstanding Aaron Murray performance, save for one big mistake.
Murray finished with a season-high 415 passing yards, the third-most in his career. He recovered well from a second-quarter interception, which prevented Georgia from getting closer than 20-7. Murray led the fourth-quarter comeback from 20 down, helped by better pass protection and taking what the defense gave him.
“They were dropping their guys,” Murray said. “They didn’t want to get beat deep, which gave me the opportunity to drop the ball off and get the ball into the running backs’ hands on the check downs.”
“Obviously you need your quarterback to play well to get back in the game and he did,” Richt said. “Early on we didn’t protect well. As the game went on, we gave him time, and that was a big part of it. Guys were making catches. (Offensive coordinator) Mike Bobo was calling good plays. Murray did a wonderful job.”
Leaping the shield
Georgia had yet another special-teams mistake Saturday, this one different than any previous ones this season.
John Taylor was called for a rare penalty, leaping, as he ran toward Auburn’s punter in the second quarter. The referee ruled that Taylor, a defensive lineman, tried to jump over the three up-men shielding the punter.
“He jumped over the shield. You can’t do that,” Richt said. “He didn’t get very high, but he jumped. Again, that was another thing that was certainly costly to us.”
The penalty resulted in three more points for Auburn. Instead of a punt that was downed at Georgia’s 20, Auburn had its drive extended and drove down for a field goal, making it 13-0.
Mixed special teams
The rest of Georgia’s special teams play had some good and bad. The Bulldogs did block a 36-yard field goal in the second quarter, although it looked like Auburn’s Cody Parkey kicked the ball too low anyway.
Georgia place-kicker Marshall Morgan continued his sterling season, making his only field goal attempt, a 37-yarder. He is now 14-for-16 on the season.
But Morgan was 0-for-6 in trying to get touchbacks on kickoffs. Parkey was 9-for-9.
Georgia punter Collin Barber also struggled, averaging 38.2 yards on four attempts, including a 23-yarder.
This was Georgia’s sixth game of the season that has been decided by five points are fewer. The Bulldogs have won three of those.
Auburn now has a 55-54-8 lead in the series, which dates to 1892.
Freshman safety Tray Matthews made his first start since LSU, the fourth game of the season. Fullback Merritt Hall started for the first time this season.
Chris Conley had two catches for 24 yards after missing two games with a sprained ankle. He did not start, but played extensively.