ATLANTA — In the first matchup between Auburn football and Georgia, the Tigers dominated the line of scrimmage. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel were held to fewer than 50 yards. Jake Fromm was under pressure all night.
The reverse of that happened Saturday in the SEC Championship Game. Auburn’s defense gave up its most points (28) and most yards per play (6.7) in a 21-point loss to the Bulldogs, costing them a shot at the College Football Playoff.
“They ran some different plays, they protected the quarterback better,” junior defensive end Jeff Holland said. “We didn’t play a great game, and they did.”
Georgia rushed for 238 yards on Auburn, a defense that allowed about 110 fewer yards than that on average in the regular season. The point of attack that the Tigers dominated inside Jordan-Hare Stadium flipped in favor to the Bulldogs.
“[Georgia] didn’t really do too much of anything different than they did the first time,” senior safety Tray Matthews said. “They just ran a little more on the perimeter. They just physically whipped us up front… If your team rushes for 200 yards, you’re going to win the game.”
Auburn’s defense played the entire second half at less than full strength, as senior linebacker Tre’ Williams and junior cornerback Carlton Davis left the game with injuries.
“Tre’, he plays a pivotal role on our defense,” junior linebacker Deshaun Davis said. “We know that. We lost Carlton. He’s probably our best corner, and we know that. It was going to affect us without Tre’ and Carlton, but we feel we have enough depth to say ‘next man up’ and get the job done.”
But for an Auburn defense that prided itself on its depth, those injuries to key players weren’t going to be an excuse for subpar play elsewhere.
“Tre’s our brother, and we think the world of him, but you need 11 guys out there to do their job,” sophomore defensive tackle Derrick Brown said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s Tre or someone else back there. We have to be able to function and do our jobs.”
As the quick possessions piled up on the Auburn offense that fell flat after the first drive of the game, Auburn’s defense faded. The Tigers struggled with missed tackles more than they had in any other game this season, and Georgia pounced on those opportunities.
“We made mistakes,” Davis said. “We’ve made mistakes each game. We’re not a perfect defense. No one’s a perfect team. We made mistakes, and they did a good job to capitalize.”
Sophomore defensive end Marlon Davidson said that started up front, as Auburn failed to match the ferocity and the execution of a motivated Georgia offensive front.
“I mean, we changed,” Davidson said. “We didn’t play to our level. It was our fault. We didn’t bring as much intensity as we did the first game. It is what it is, now we gotta bounce back from it.”
Auburn will have to bounce back from it somewhere other than the College Football Playoff, which was guaranteed with another win against Georgia on Saturday.
The Tigers will have to correct their issues in what will most likely be a New Year’s Six bowl and try to find some momentum for what could be a strong 2018 season.
“They played a better game,” Holland said. “They beat us. There’s nothing else to say.”