ATLANTA — Georgia didn’t get Auburn’s best shot in the SEC Championship Game last season, and the Tigers know it.
Auburn linebacker Deshaun Davis said he gives the Bulldogs’ credit for making plays, but the Tigers’ team they beat by a 28-7 count in Mercedes Benz Stadium “simply wasn’t us.”
“I don’t think we played our best the second game, and I don’t know if it was because they made us not play our best, or if we weren’t locked in or focused,” Davis said at SEC Media Days on Thursday at the College Football Hall of Fame.
“If you watch the tape from the first game to the second game, it was two different teams, and not just because we won the first time,” Davis said, referencing the Tigers’ convincing 40-17 win at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Nov. 11.
“You pop in any other time we actually played Auburn football, and you match it with the SEC Championship Game, it simply wasn’t us … “
Tigers coach Gus Malzahn pointed to Auburn’s difficult November schedule when asked about the difference between the teams’ two meetings.
“The regular season, we played extremely well at home,” Malzahn said Thursday. “You know, then the next, I guess, two weeks later we had to play Alabama, another No. 1 team at home, and then a week later we had to turn around and play Georgia again.
“So I believe we played champions and defending champions three out of four weeks. That’s a tough challenge, there’s no doubt.”
Auburn defensive lineman Dontavius Russell was more vague, though he did reference the rib injury that some felt slowed Tigers’ running back Kerryon Johnson in the second meeting.
“I feel like the way we can improve as a defense and as a team is handling adverse situations,” said Russell, a one-time 2013 Georgia commit from Carrollton who flipped to Auburn in the 2014 signing class.
“Toward the end of the Georgia game, we faced adverse situations, being that Kerryon was out, it was something we didn’t respond as well to.”
Johnson rushed for 167 yards and caught a 55-yard touchdown pass in Auburn’s win over the Bulldogs in the regular-season, a victory that knocked Georgia out of the No. 1 spot.
But in the second meeting, Johnson couldn’t get on track (13 carries, 44 yards), and the Georgia defense forced two turnovers and blocked a field goal attempt.
Malzahn said Georgia’s defense adjusted by bringing an extra player into the box and playing more with one deep safety, as well as getting more aggressive with run fits.
“We felt like that would happen — we started out, tried to get the ball on the perimeter, throw some short passes to get us on pace to throw the football,” Malzahn said after the defeat. “We also tried big set runs because of the odd front.”
Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham, recently named to the Davey O’Brien Award Watch List, said the Bulldogs also mixed up their coverage and blitz packages effectively.
Smart, while proud of how Georgia controlled the line of scrimmage, said after the SEC title game that he recognized it wasn’t the same Auburn as the first meeting.
“Just be honest, Kerryon was not 100 percent; he wasn’t the same guy he was last game, so that probably helped some as well,” Smart said. “We felt getting after the quarterback was the way to beat them, and we did that much better this game than we did the last game.
“The big difference was, number one, the back wasn’t running as hard and as much, but I thought we kept our edges, and there weren’t those 15, 20 yard runs. There were the three, four kind. And we kept them behind the sticks.”
Auburn and Georgia meet this season on Nov. 10 at Sanford Stadium in a game most expect will carry SEC Championship Game implications.