AUBURN, Ala. — On his first touch Saturday night, Todd Gurley ran a kickoff back 105 yards for a touchdown.
It didn't hurt Auburn, however, as the touchdown was called back due to holding. But while that single play didn't result in a score for the Bulldogs, it was a harbinger of bad things to come for the Tigers' special teams.
After Gurley's touchdown was called back, Auburn ended up forcing Georgia to punt. But the Bulldogs decided to dial up a trick play, having punter Adam Erickson throw a pass. At first, it paid off for Georgia, as Erickson's pass to Shakenneth Williams picked up 41 yards, moving the Bulldogs down to the 3-yard line.
Just as Gurley's score, however, the play was negated, as long snapper Nathan Theus was flagged for being downfield as an ineligible receiver.The Tigers' special teams miscues weren't over in the first quarter, though.
Senior Quan Bray, so solid — and at times spectacular — on punt returns this year wasn't able to hold on to a return, with the Bulldogs jumping on the ball at the 19-yard line, which led to Georgia's first score. Entering Saturday, Bray was second in the nation in punt return average, with 20.5 per return. Against the Bulldogs, he didn't even manage positive yardage, finishing with minus-4 yards on one return.
Bray did not speak with reporters following Saturday's 34-7 loss.
Gus Malzahn spoke for him, though.
"I feel bad for him," Auburn's coach said. "He's from Georgia, he's a senior and he's made a lot of plays for us this year."
That wasn't the last error Auburn's special teams had in the first half.
Gray King was penalized for running into Collin Barber, which gave Georgia a fresh set of downs. The Bulldogs went on to score on a 32-yard field goal from Marshall Morgan to extend their lead to 17-7 with just 29 seconds left in the second quarter.
Those four gaffes were in addition to Auburn's struggles with their specialists. Redshirt freshman Jimmy Hutchinson punted three times; one of them, however, traveled just 28 yards.
He was at least able to see the field, though.
Placekicker Daniel Carlson kicked the extra-point after Cameron Artis-Payne's 26-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. But the Tigers only got into the red zone one more time. That fourth-quarter drive ended in an interception from Nick Marshall, taking away the opportunity for Carlson to come on for either an extra-point or field goal.
Undoubtedly, it was the worst collective special teams performance since Malzahn took over Auburn's program. Part of that was on his team's behalf. But he credited Georgia for making things difficult, too.
After suffering the worst loss of his two-year tenure, Malzahn would rather forget a not-so-special performance from the special teams.
"There's no doubt. We got beat decisively in the special teams area tonight," Malzahn said. "I think it wasn't even close."