Georgia beats Auburn, punches ticket to Rose Bowl

Terry Godwin (left), Jeb Blazevich (back) and Javon Wims (right) celebrate together after Godwin caught a touchdown pass during the SEC championship game.

PHOTO: Justin Hubbard 

By Justin Hubbard


For the first time in 12 years, the Georgia football team is the champion of the Southeastern Conference.

The Bulldogs (12-1) defeated the Auburn Tigers (10-3) to win the title, 28-7. Georgia’s win avenged its only loss of the season, a 40-17 defeat at Auburn on Nov. 11.

After the win, Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart praised the team’s seniors for their hard work and said they made the win extra significant.

“It's special,” Smart said. “I'll tell you what's special to me – bringing it back to my alma mater is great. I was very fortunate to get a coach on the team that won one in 2001. But to see Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Roquan Smith, hugging on the stage in tears because they care about each other so much. That's why I do this. It's because of these guys. It's great to bring it back to Georgia, and the Bulldog Nation is certainly starved, but these young men deserve a ton of credit.”

Saturday’s game seemed to pick up where the teams’ first meeting left off. Auburn marched down the field on the opening possession and scored to go up 7-0. On its first drive, Georgia was forced to punt and the Tigers again began moving the ball.

Davin Bellamy, a senior linebacker, eventually dropped Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham and, in the process, forced a fumble. The Bulldogs took advantage of the turnover and scored on a 2-yard pass from freshman quarterback Jake Fromm to sophomore tight end Isaac Nauta.

With less than five minutes to go in the first half, Rodrigo Blankenship booted a 27-yard field goal to push Georgia ahead, 10-7.

After punting to open the third quarter, the Bulldogs again gave up several yards to the Auburn offense. Fortunately for Georgia, its defense came through and forced a 31-yard field goal attempt by Daniel Carlson. The attempt was blocked by DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle and recovered by Dominick Sanders.

The teams traded punts afterward before Blankenship converted on a 35-yard field goal. On its ensuing drive, Auburn fumbled after tailback Kerryon Johnson was hit by Georgia senior linebacker Lorenzo Carter. Smith recovered the fumble and the Bulldogs never looked back.

Georgia scored four plays later on a pass from Fromm to senior wideout Terry Godwin. Freshman tailback D’Andre Swift put the proverbial final nail in the coffin with less than 11 minutes to go in the game by scoring on a 64-yard touchdown run.

When asked about the team bouncing back from a bad start to the contest, Smith said it was all about maintaining a level head.

“Coach said always keep your composure,” Smith said. “We knew they would make plays. They're in the SEC. We knew they would make plays, and they did that on the first drive. But we just had to keep our composure and keep fighting back and keep chopping. That's what it was.”

With their win over Auburn, the Bulldogs propelled themselves into this year’s College Football Playoff, along with Clemson, Oklahoma and Alabama.

Clemson and Alabama will square off in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day. Oklahoma and Georgia will duke it out in the Rose Bowl earlier that day. The winner of each game will face one another at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, site of the SEC championship game, on Jan. 8.

It’s been well-documented that Georgia’s senior class returned for the 2017 season because the players felt they had unfinished business. Chubb is the headliner of that group and, following Georgia’s win over Auburn and the realization that his team was headed to the playoff, Chubb said it was hard to believe the seniors’ hopes came true.

“It's just crazy, man. Just an unbelievable experience,” he said. “This is why the guys came back for it. I remember just talking to the senior class, I mean, back at camp, we'd be in the room with a little private meeting, and we just talked about what we want to do, and it all paid off. This moment right here, this is what we worked for.”

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