The fourth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs defeated the seventh-ranked Auburn Tigers, 27-6, under the lights of Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium Saturday night in front of 20,524 spectators and an ESPN primetime audience.
“It sure felt like more than [20,524], but it felt like a lot of fans out there. I thought the crowd noise was helpful,” said Georgia head coach Kirby Smart. “I thought we showed improvement. We left a lot of plays out there. I thought we played really hard defensively but sloppy on third down. I thought offensively, when we play clean, meaning we don’t have a busted assignment, a penalty, or somebody doesn’t know what they’re doing, we do well; but we can go backwards as quickly as we can forwards offensively, and we probably left more out there.”
Redshirt-junior quarterback Stetson Bennett completed 17 passes on 28 attempts, totaling 240 yards with a touchdown in his first career start directing the Georgia offense. Redshirt-freshman Kearis Jackson recorded career highs with nine catches and 147 yards including a 49-yard catch, a career-long.
“I was really proud of Stetson and the way he handled things, very composed,” Smart added. “He probably had some balls he wishes he could have back, but he’ll only get better from here and he gives us some continuity and we’ll continue to develop the other guys as well.”
On the ground for Georgia, redshirt-freshman Zamir White recorded 88 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns, all career-highs. White added 10 receiving yards for a total of 98 all-purpose yards Saturday.
Defensively for the Bulldogs, redshirt-sophomore Azeez Ojulari totaled five tackles, including three for a loss, and a key sack late in the third quarter. Senior Monty Rice led the defense with seven tackles while junior Adam Anderson picked up two sacks. Senior Mark Webb ended the third quarter with his first career interception.
Junior punter Jake Camarda only needed to punt twice, totaling 103 yards. Redshirt-sophomore kicker Jack Podlesny made two of his three field goal attempts, making 21- and 25-yard attempts and missing a 43-yard try.
As a team, Georgia totaled 442 net yards (240 passing, 202 rushing). The defense limited Auburn to 216 yards including only 39 on the ground and didn’t allow the Tigers in the end zone, holding Auburn to just two field goals.
For Auburn, sophomore quarterback Bo Nix completed 21 passes on 40 attempts for 177 yards. Junior Anthony Schwartz made eight catches for 57 yards to lead the Tigers. Tank Bigsby led Auburn in rushing with 31 yards while Nix carried the ball the most with 10 carries.
Following a three-and-out by each team, the Bulldogs strung together a 10-play, 43-yard drive punctuated by a 5-yard rushing touchdown from White, his second of the young season, with 9:31 left in the opening quarter, making it 7-0 Georgia. The drive was highlighted by a 17-yard completion by Bennett to Jackson despite pressure from an Auburn blitz.
A 21-yard field goal attempt by redshirt-sophomore Jack Podlesny was good to extend the Bulldogs’ lead to 10-0 with 4:00 left in the first quarter. On the drive, Bennett once again connected with Jackson on a 16-yard pass to put the Bulldogs inside the Auburn 5-yard line.
The first quarter expired following another 17-yard catch-and-run by Jackson with Georgia ahead 10-0.
Bennett connected with sophomore George Pickens on a 21-yard touchdown with 11:08 to play in the half, widening the lead to 17-0 on Auburn. The touchdown was Bennett’s third through the air this season and Pickens’ second receiving.
A 49-yard completion from Bennett to Jackson put the Bulldogs on the Auburn 12-yard line. Following a 7-yard McIntosh rush and a pair of 2-yard gains by White to the 1-yard line, White punched it in for his second score of the game. Following a good PAT from Podlesny, Georgia led 24-0 with 6:26 to play in the first half.
The Georgia defense was able to stop Auburn on the Bulldogs’ 3-yard line, forcing the Tigers to attempt a 20-yard field goal. The kick was good, and Auburn picked up its first score of the contest, 24-3, with 1:38 to play in the half.
Georgia and Auburn went to the locker rooms at halftime with the Bulldogs leading 24-3.
The Bulldogs registered 288 total yards of offense (158 passing, 130 rushing) in the first half while limiting Auburn to 81 total yards including just 27 on the ground.
Jackson totaled 104 receiving yards on seven catches, both already a career-best, in the first half of the game.
Starting on its own 18-yard line to begin the second half, Auburn marched downfield but was stopped at the Georgia 28-yard line. A 45-yard field goal attempt was good by Anders Carlson to narrow the Bulldogs’ lead to 24-6 early in the third quarter.
Georgia responded with a 10-play, 67-yard drive ending with a 25-yard field goal by Podlesny to widen Georgia’s lead back to 21 at 27-6 with 5:51 to play in the third.
The third quarter ended when Webb intercepted Nix to give Georgia the ball heading into the fourth quarter. The interception ended Nix’s streak of 251 pass attempts without an interception, which was the second-longest active streak in the country.
Neither team scored in the final quarter as the 27-6 advantage for Georgia would hold en route to Georgia’s home-opening win over the Tigers.