This was huge.
But then, it usually is whenever Georgia and Auburn mix it up. In 1982, sugar fell from the sky when Georgia beat Auburn in Auburn. In 1983, Auburn beat Georgia and that marked the first of several SEC championships that they would win under Pat Dye. In 1986, Georgia beat then-no. 8 Auburn in a monumental upset and “Superman” became a permanent Redcoat tradition and the water cannons came out. In 1994, a tie with then-no. 3 Auburn saved Ray Goof’s job–for another year. In 1995, a loss to Auburn on a cold and blustery day when very few Georgia fans bothered to even show up (let alone stay to the end of the game) sealed Ray Goof’s fate. In 1996, a win at Auburn provided Jim Donnan with a signature win in his first year at Georgia and helped to finish a losing season on a positive note while providing momentum going into 1997. In 1999, a very bad Auburn team punked Georgia and served notice to all the world that Tommy Tuberville, then in his first year at Auburn, was for real. In 2002, a win at Auburn “blew the lid off” a long-frustrated program and staked Georgia to its first SEC championship in 20 years. In 2006, a win at Auburn helped rescue a season gone monumentally wrong and provided then-freshman Matthew Stafford with positive momentum going into 2007.
This game was no exception. A win for Auburn would mean a signature win for Gene Chizik in Year One, which would include the possibility of huge recruiting gains here in Georgia. A win would also mean a potential upgrade to Auburn’s postseason plans. For Georgia, a win would mean postseason eligibility–period. A loss would mean two losses to first-year SEC coaches this year–and what a disaster that would have been for Georgia. Lane Kiffin is already moving to maximize the recruiting advantage gained by his 45-19 punking of Georgia earlier this year, while Auburn’s recruiting footprint in Georgia–already Sasquatch-sized–would have grown even bigger. If Georgia were reduced to the state of having to scrape together a team from Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Auburn, and Georgia Tech rejects, it would be a long time before they make any sort of noise in the SEC East again.
Furthermore, a loss would have deeply hurt the prestige of Georgia’s program. Supposing that Georgia had been unable to beat either Lane Kiffin or Gene Chizik in Year 1–can you imagine what things would have been like in Year 2, Year 3, Year 5, or beyond? I think we can get an idea from looking at Georgia Tech. Georgia was unable to take care of Paul Johnson in Year 1; now in Year 2 he is more formidable than ever.
Finally, a loss would have left Georgia fans wondering just how bad things would be in Atlanta in a couple of weeks, while a win would have had Georgia fans feeling as if their team would have at least a ghost of a chance.
Simply put, Georgia’s football program was fighting for its very life Saturday night.
In the first quarter it looked as if it would be very ugly. Auburn took the opening kickoff and drove right down the field, with Chris Todd finding former starting quarterback Kodi Burns in the back of the end zone for a ridiculously easy score. Kodi Burns was so wide open that all he had to do was walk to the end line after making the catch. Three plays after the ensuing kickoff, the ball was back in Auburn hands again. This time Auburn covered 82 yards in 11 plays, with Chris Todd finding Terrell Zachery for a 31-yard score. Three plays after the ensuing kickoff, it was Auburn ball again.
At that point, Auburn had run 20 plays for 156 yards, while Georgia had run 6 plays for -2 yards. The defense was being booed profusely. Nightmarish visions of Tennessee and Florida were forming in the heads of Georgia fans the world over. Surely it seemed as if the game, the season, and perhaps the entire Mark Richt era as well, were coming unraveled in an ugly heap of offensive ineptitude, nonexistent defense, and ugly penalties.
But this was a football team fighting for its very life, and they would not give up so easily. Sure enough, Willie Martinez and the Georgia defense figured some things out. For the rest of the night, Auburn would not score another offensive touchdown. And the Georgia offense managed to find some traction. A. J. Green was lost for the remainder of the game, but other playmakers stepped up to fill the slack. On the play after A. J. Green was knocked out, Joe Cox froze the Auburn defense with a nifty pump fake and then found Israel Troupe down the left sideline for a 50-yard score.
Washaun Ealey channeled Knowshon Moreno. Caleb King, he of much hype and little substance, had some nifty runs as well–none more so than in the fourth quarter when he burst through the Auburn defensive line, made one guy miss, and was gone, just like Tim Tebow did to us a couple of weeks back. This put Georgia up 31-24 and left it up to the defense to win the game.
In the next six minutes Auburn went from their own 25 to the Georgia 22. It seemed as if the defense was reverting back to the ugly form they had shown back in the first quarter. But then Bacarri Rambo took one for the team. Chris Todd found Mario Fannin wide open at the goal line, but Bacarri Rambo arrived simultaneously with the ball. The ball popped out and the pass was incomplete. Bacarri Rambo did not make out so well; he lay on the ground for almost fifteen minutes and had to be removed on a stretcher. He is now doing well, having suffered only a concussion; he will sit out this week and go from there.
The defense finished up with two outstanding plays. A sack of Chris Todd on third down took Auburn all the way back to the Georgia 30 and set up 4th and 18. A false start penalty backed Auburn up some more and set up 4th and 23. But even with that, you knew that the game was not safe yet. Just four years ago Auburn had faced 4th and 10 from their own 34 and got 62 yards on the play to set up a game-winning field goal. Sure enough, Chris Todd found Mario Fannin streaking to the right corner of the end zone and sent it flying over in his direction. But this time the ball was batted away harmlessly, and everyone could breathe a massive sigh of relief.
Georgia would win. There would be no humiliating loss to Gene Chizik in Year 1. There would be no hemmorhaging of Georgia recruits leaving to chase the big white Gene Chizik limo. There would be no postponement of bowl eligibility for another week. Georgia fans could leave the stadium knowing that their team just might actually have a ghost of a chance in Atlanta two weeks hence.
There still remain serious issues which must be dealt with if Georgia is to return to its previous place as an SEC power. Serious staff changes need to be made, and it remains to be seen if Mark Richt has the will to make these changes. Specifically, if this week’s win turns out to have saved Willie Martinez’s job, then one will wonder if it was such a good thing after all. But for now, this week’s win was a very positive highlight in a season that hasn’t had too many of those.