Report Card: Special teams, defense carry day for Dogs

Defense and special teams — such as Isiah McKenzie’s 53-yard punt return — carried the day for the Bulldogs. AJC / BRANT SANDERLIN

AUBURN, Ala. — There was no prayer at Jordan-Hare this time. Georgia on Saturday returned to the site of that infamous late-game touchdown by Auburn two years ago but, this time, didn’t leave it to chance. The Bulldogs rode special teams and a big-play defense to a much-needed 20-13 victory.

With the win, Georgia improves to 7-3 overall and finishes the SEC season 5-3 in league play. That’s hugely disappointing considering the Bulldogs were picked to win the SEC East. But their goals of finishing the season on a four-game winning streak with a chance to log at least 10 wins for the fourth time in the last five seasons and 10th time in 15 seasons under coach Mark Richt are still intact. It also should be noted it was Georgia’s eighth win in its last 10 games against Auburn and gives the Bulldogs a 56-55-8 lead in the 119-game series.

Now onto the grades. …

OFFENSE: C

The only reason this is not a D is that Georgia was able to win the game. Other than that, however, there wasn’t much for the offense to crow about. The Bulldogs’ 243-yard effort was the second-lowest of the season and represents the fourth time this season they were held to less than 300 yards. And this came against a defense that came in last in the SEC in yards allowed and actually gave up 406 to San Jose State. Georgia was 1-for-4 for touchdowns in the red zone and 5-for-14 on third downs with a lot of truly curious calls on third-and-short. Credit quarterback Greyson Lambert once again for keeping the Bulldogs away from turnovers. But Georgia’s inability to pass the football effectively is keeping it from being a good offensive team.

DEFENSE: B

It was a tale of two halves for the Georgia defense. It gave up 185 yards and 10 points in the first half but limited the Tigers to just 90 yards on 34 plays and points after halftime. More important, the Bulldogs created three turnovers in the game, including two huge fumble recoveries by Aaron Davis in the second half. One came at the end of Jordan Jenkins sack and strip of Sean White midway through the fourth quarter; the other came as Auburn appeared set to score late in the game at Georgia’s 1-yard line. Also, Malkom Parish had a leaping interception in the first half. The Tigers managed only 275 yards offense and had the ball only 15:59 the entire game. It’s the third time in the last four games a UGA opponent was held to less than 300 yards.

SPECIAL TEAMS:  A

It was a rare game of excellence for the Bulldogs’ special teams, and that’s saying something coming against a team that came in with a reputation as one of the best in the SEC in that area. Marshall Morgan made both of his field goal tries, Isaiah McKenzie returned a punt 53 yards for a touchdown, Brice Ramsey got off a punt without drama with his heels on the end line and the game hanging in the balance, and Malcolm Mitchell recovered Auburn’s onsides kick attempt at the end of the game.

COACHING: C

Georgia’s coaches deserve a lot of credit for getting a “W” loaded on the bus to take back to Athens. But, at the end of the day, the Bulldogs clearly were a superior team and should not have been in situation where they had to not only come from behind but also to hold onto win. Specifically, Georgia’s offensive struggles are quite maddening. The play-calling on third- and fourth-and-short in particular probably prevented this game from being a comfortable endeavor for the Bulldogs. But keeping the players calm and focused on their task at hand when they trailed at halftime was no small task.

OVERALL: C

As Richt mentioned in his postgame remarks, “there’s nothing wrong with 10-3 scores” when you’re playing in the SEC. So to fall behind like that and scrap for conference win on the road deserves praise. The bottom line, however, is this was a really bad Auburn team that is last in its division and last in the league in total defense and Georgia really should not have struggled as much as it did. It was good tonic for the rest of the season.

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