AUBURN, Ala. — Like all great coaches, Jeremy Pruitt believes there are two ways of doing things. One is his way. The other is the wrong way.
Players may find him difficult and coaches in his own building may find him insufferable, but it really doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks because the man was considered good enough to be hired by Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher and he has a national championship ring on his finger. So that pretty much trumps everybody else in the Butts Mehre building.
Nobody knows what’s going to happen with Mark Richt and the rest of the Georgia coaching staff after this season. We can’t be certain if school president Jere Morehead and athletic director Greg McGarity saw enough after the losses to Alabama, Tennessee and Florida to declare the Richt regime over, or if they’ve decided that the Dogs sweeping their final four regular seasons games in the aftermath of the annual carnage in Jacksonville will save Richt’s job. Or maybe they’ll just do what most college administrators do: stick their fingers in their air and see which way the boosters are blowing.
But this is a given: If the Bulldogs lose Pruitt, whether because he’s a pain in the butt or for some reason is being viewed as a divisive figure in the program, they will be making a mistake.
Georgia won a game over Auburn 20-13 Saturday. To call it a “big win” would be an overstatement because when a team finishes its SEC schedule at only 5-3 and was eliminated two weeks ago from a division race that it was expected to win, all glossy adjectives should be shelved.
But say this for what the Bulldogs accomplished on The Plains: They were impressive on special teams — my fingers momentarily went into shock after typing that string of words – returned a punt for a touchdown, and they were strong defensively.
Georgia forced three turnovers, including two fourth-quarter fumbles by Jordan Jenkins (on a sack against quarterback Sean White, setting up a field goal) and Lorenzo Carter (against wide receiver Ricardo Louis on the Georgia 1-yard line). Auburn also was kept out of the end zone after driving 75 yards to a touchdown on the opening drive of the game. It was limited to 52 yards rushing (2.9 per carry) in the second half after gaining 161 (8.5 per carry) in the first half.
This is the only way Georgia can win games now because it doesn’t have a passing game and or a breakaway running back. The Dogs rarely even go no-huddle anymore because, as Richt acknowledged Saturday, their objective is to “grind it out” on offense and “chew up the clock.” It’s like stalling.
“We’ve realized who we are,” he said.
That is, a team that has to win with defense. Pruitt’s unit struggled early in the season. But the view has improved significantly lately. Missouri: two field goals. Kentucky: one field goal. Auburn: one early touchdown and two field goals. Even in the Florida loss, the Gators had only two legitimate touchdown drives.
“We’ve gotten a lot better,” said cornerback Malkolm Parrish, who had a second-quarter interception. “Our chemistry is better.”
This is how Auburn’s first five possessions of the second half went:
• Five plays, 14 yards punt.
• Three plays, seven yards, punt.
• Three plays, zero yards, punt.
• Three plays, zero yards, punt.
• Two plays, minus-6 yards, fumble.
The last drive was ended by Jenkins, who made the biggest defensive play on the day. After Georgia rallied to take a 17-10 lead on Isaiah McKenzie’s 53-yard punt return for a touchdown, Jenkins crushed White and jarred loose the ball on the Auburn 17 with less than nine minutes left, setting up a field goal.
“I was thinking, I’ve got to get this guy down,” Jenkins said. “I got cut and went down but then I got up and saw (White) still moving and I was like, ‘I’m about to kill this kid’ and I went after him. I didn’t know if I (knocked loose) the ball or not but I got up and I heard people cheering and then I saw everybody pointing that way. It was just an awesome feeling.”
Auburn drove the field on its ensuing drive. But on third-and-2 from the Georgia 5, Ricardo Louis got the ball jarred loose by Carter after reaching the one-yard line.
“We’ve been extraordinary in the red zone lately,” Richt said.
That’s not a word that describes most of this Georgia season. But at least one side of the ball seems to be going in the right direction.