Judging by Auburn’s opening drive in the SEC Championship Game Saturday, it looked like the Tigers’ offense would pick up right where it left off last time against Georgia.
The Tigers made quick work against the Bulldogs’ defense in the game’s opening possession, marching downfield 75 yards in 10 plays. Auburn found the end zone on that 10th play, when quarterback Jarrett Stidham hit Nate Craig-Myers for a 6-yard score.
The touchdown pass gave Auburn its first lead of the afternoon. Thanks to a stout Georgia defense and a pair of costly turnovers, it proved to be its last.
The Tigers offense was shut out in the final 54 minutes and 54 seconds of a 28-7 loss to Georgia. The offense’s lack of execution was hard to ignore as the game wore on, especially as the Auburn defense held Georgia until the defendrs simply ran out of gas.
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said the team’s two turnovers were instrumental in their issues offensively.
The first, a Jarrett Stidham fumble in the opening minute of the second quarter, took away what would have been a makeable field-goal attempt for Daniel Carlson that could have put Auburn ahead 10-0. The second, a Kerryon Johnson fumble in the fourth quarter, set up Jake Fromm’s second touchdown throw that put Georgia ahead 21-7 and put Auburn in do-or-die mode.
“Any time you're playing a championship game, turnovers are critical,” Malzahn said. “We were fighting over here because of those situations.”
Johnson’s turnover was one he wouldn’t forgive himself for. It was the junior running back’s first fumble all season, and he admitted he could not have picked a worst time to lose control.
“I haven’t fumbled all year, and obviously that stops us dead in our tracks,” said Johnson, who finished with 13 carries for 44 yards. “To fumble in the SEC Championship Game when you’re down, I think that’s about the worst fumble you could do. Obviously, it came at a bad time, which means I got to get back to work. I got too comfortable.”
While it did not show up in the statbook as a turnover, Malzahn pointed to one other play that was essentially a takeaway by Georgia.
Daniel Carlson lined up for a 31-yard field goal that could have tied the game 10-10 with a little over eight minutes left in the third quarter. Carlson’s attempt, however, never had a chance, as Georgia defensive lineman DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle blocked the kick.
“They just got a good push or something,” Carlson said. “I think the timing was good. We get the timing from the sideline, and it was quick enough. I think someone just made a good play.”
Auburn’s first drive was as promising as possible in a game that had a playoff spot on the line. The Tigers mixed it up with six runs and four passes, all of which worked fairly well. They also took advantage of an undisciplined Georgia team, which drew a pass-interference penalty and a substitution penalty along the way.
But after that Auburn possession, it was almost as if the two teams traded places for the remainder of the game.
“Those guys (Georgia) made mistakes,” Johnson said. “After that, it was all us. When you make mistakes, they factor into the game.”
Jordan D. Hill: 770-894-9818, @lesports