The first top-10 matchup of the 2020 college football season turned into a one-sided blowout in less than a half.
No. 4 Georgia hammered No. 7 Auburn 27-6 in the “Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry” on Saturday. In so doing, the Bulldogs re-established themselves as legitimate SEC championship contenders with a time-tested formula that Kirby Smart always works with: balance.
Georgia had balance on both sides of the ball on Saturday. Auburn did not.
The Bulldogs came in with questions after a slow-and-go first half in the opener at Arkansas. How much time would first-year offensive coordinator Todd Monken need? Who would start at quarterback? Would the running game work out?
Stetson Bennett — who finished 17 of 28 passing for 240 yards and a touchdown — answered the quarterback question in his first career start after replacing D’Wan Mathis in the opener against Arkansas. He also held off USC transfer JT Daniels, who was medically cleared to play during practice on Monday.
Georgia jumped out to a 10-0 lead after the first quarter, in which the Bulldogs had 65 rushing yards and 65 passing yards — a perfect balance that translated into the second quarter. From there, Bennett settled in with a 21-yard touchdown pass to George Pickens and running back Zamir White ran for the second of two first-half touchdowns, giving Georgia a 24-0 lead with 6:26 left in the first half.
Monken at that point had called 21 passes and 19 runs; Auburn had 20 offensive plays at that point, period.
The rest was methodical, run-heavy “Kirby Ball,” which has produced a 23-3 record in the SEC since 2017. White finished with 19 carries for 88 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and Georgia piled up 45 rushing attempts for 202 yards on 4.5 yards per carry. It was a beautifully balanced game plan by Monken.
The Tigers lack that balance. Auburn sophomore quarterback Bo Nix struggled against another top-10 opponent. The Tigers were 1-3 against top-10 teams in 2019, and coach Gus Malzhan will face the usual program gauge after another flop at Sanford Stadium.
Nix, who had 50 passing attempts in last year’s loss to the Bulldogs, finished 17 of 40 passing with 177 yards and an interception. Auburn had 22 rushing attempts for 39 yards (an average of 1.8 yards per carry). You have no chance in top-10 games with that kind of rushing attack. The Tigers didn’t look like a team capable of winning the SEC West, and that losing streak in Athens dates back to 2005 for a reason.
Georgia is capable of a fourth straight SEC East championship, and it’s not just about the offense. The Bulldogs have the top defense in the SEC through two weeks. Georgia allowed 80 total yards in the first half, allowed Auburn to convert only six of 15 third downs and played with an edge that was missing in the first week.
It’s the edge they will need for a brutal October that will determine whether Georgia makes a fourth straight trip to Atlanta for the SEC championship game. Tennessee visits Georgia next, and that trip to Alabama looms on Oct. 17. It all leads up to the Halloween matchup with Florida, which was a popular pick to upend Georgia in the SEC East.
Those teams have shinier attributes than Georgia: The Vols have the nation’s longest-win streak among Power 5 schools, at nine games. Alabama has the highest-scoring offense with the usual assortment of NFL talent. Florida might have the best bet to win the Heisman Trophy in quarterback Kyle Trask.
Those three will test Georgia more than any other team.
Or maybe the Bulldogs will test those teams’ balance instead.
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