ATHENS — Georgia was facing its first true road test of the season at Auburn on Saturday, and Kirby Smart said he couldn’t have been more proud of how his players held up.
“What a tough environment to play in,” Smart said. “For a lot of our players, over 50 percent had never played in a road environment.
“Two of our DNA traits are composure and toughness and never has that been more evident than today.”
The No. 2-ranked Bulldogs trailed for the first time this season before turning it on and turning out the No. 18 Tigers, winning 34-10 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Here’s a rapid report card after Georgia ran its record to 6-0 with the road win.
Auburn challenged Stetson Bennett to make plays, and he did, completing 14 of 21 passes for 231 yards with 2 TDs and no interceptions. Bennett also recorded the longest rush of the season, a 30-yarder. There weren’t any false start penalties despite the noise and distractions.
RUNNING BACKS (B+)
James Cook had impressive gyrating runs along with 2 catches for 10 yards. Zamir White powered through a would-be tackler for one of his two TD runs, and Kendall Milton returned from a shoulder injury to make 43 yards on 9 carries. It’s an efficient group. The backs are effective but not explosive, none able to get into any sort of rhythm.
Ladd McConkey and Adonai Mitchell look like the best receivers on the team, regardless of the injury status of all but the incomparable George Pickens. McConkey moved out to the Z -- Jermaine Burton’s position -- and delivered a career-high 135 yards and a TD on 5 catches. Mitchell, who has replaced Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint as the starting X, had a sharp 3-yard TD catch. Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington may be the best tight end duo in the nation.
OFFENSIVE LINE (A)
The fact there were no false starts in that noise is amazing and a tribute to center Sedrick Van Pran and the Bulldogs’ discipline up front. UGA lost its best offensive lineman, Jamaree Salyer, and still managed to grind down Auburn and rush for more than 100 yards in the second half. It was a big step up for Broderick Jones to come in and play left tackle in place of Salyer, who had an ankle injury.
DEFENSIVE LINE (B+)
Smart was unsatisfied with the run defense, as he pointed out that the numbers are somewhat misleading because the sack yardage is factored in. Nolan Smith had an undisciplined personal foul that set up Auburn inside the UGA 10 in the first quarter. Jalen Carter missed a sack, but he cleaned up on another sack. Jordan Davis led the DL with 5 tackles, all in first half. Travon Walker had four stops and a sack.
Nakobe Dean narrowly missed making a sack, but he came up with an amazing interception to set up a Bulldogs’ score. Dean shared tackling honors among the linebackers with Channing Tindall and Quay Walker, each with five. Walker also recorded a sack on Nix.
Former walk-on Dan Jackson came on in relief of Christopher Smith at safety and led the Bulldogs with six tackles. Kelee Ringo dropped an interception in the end zone, but the defense came through with a stop to minimize the miscue. Latavious Brini had a big pass break-up in the end zone.
SPECIAL TEAMS (B+)
Jake Camarda averaged 45.7 yards per punt, dropping two of his three kicks inside the Auburn 20. Kicker Jack Podlesny made field goals of 23 and 21 yards but missed a 43-yard attempt. The Bulldogs’ return game failed to generate much excitement.
The Georgia football coaches adjusted quickly after Auburn opened the game with a 3-0 lead. The Bulldogs’ preparation was impressive in that UGA didn’t have any motion penalties despite this being the first loud, hostile environment the team had played in since the 2019 road trip to Auburn.
It was a statement win for the Bulldogs to win so impressively in their first true road test of the season, and with incumbent quarterback JT Daniels still sidelined by his lat injury, at that. Georgia was also missing two projected starters at receiver, and its top offensive lineman and a starting safety were knocked out of the game in the first half. The win positioned Georgia to assume the No. 1 ranking after Alabama fell at Texas A&M late Saturday night.