AUBURN, Ala. -- Earlier this week, Georgia coach Mark Richt acted like a reporter had lost his mind when asked if there was a chance the fifth-ranked Bulldogs might not be focused for Saturday night's game against struggling Auburn.
It turns out Richt knew his team better than some might have thought.
Against its longtime SEC rival, Georgia (9-1, 7-1) started quickly and never let up, racing past the Tigers 38-0 to win the East Division title and claim a spot in the league championship game set for Dec. 1 in the Georgia Dome for the second consecutive year.
"It's awesome," linebacker Jarvis Jones said. "After that first game at South Carolina (a 35-7 UGA loss), nobody figured we'd be here. But this is the SEC. You never know what's going to happen. I'm just extremely proud of these guys."
Richt, whose team lost to LSU 42-10 in the 2011 title tilt, could not agree more.
"We're excited about it, and I don't want to belittle it in any way shape or form because winning the East is a big deal," Richt said. "There are six other teams in the Eastern Division who would love to be where we are.
"It's very difficult to get back to Atlanta, but I just think we really feel like since we were there last year and didn't do very well, we just want to play better. We want to have a better performance when we get there."
Exactly who the Bulldogs will play, however, won't be known until Nov. 24 when Alabama plays host to Auburn (2-7, 0-7) in the annual Iron Bowl.
The Crimson Tide could have sewn up the SEC West on Saturday but were upset 29-24 by Texas A&M in Tuscaloosa.
Auburn, meanwhile, continues to suffer through its worst season in recent memory, a loss that will no doubt add to speculation on whether or not Tigers coach Gene Chizik will be able to keep his job.
"I don't entertain those thoughts," Chizik said. "I have really one quest. We have two games left and our seniors have done a lot for this University.
"They have done a lot for this place and I hurt for them. Certainly, they never envisioned going out with this kind of season, nor did anybody else coaching-wise, either."
Richt, whose own seat has been warm in recent years, has no such concerns, other than to make sure his team can stay focused and healthy for its two remaining regular-season games against Georgia Southern on Nov. 17 and Georgia Tech on Nov. 24.
Saturday's game was never in question.
Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray was spectacular, completing 18 of 24 passes for 208 yards and three first-half touchdowns before being replaced to start the fourth quarter by backup Parker Welch.
Murray had plenty of help. Freshmen running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall rushed for 116 and 105 yards, respectively, with one touchdown apiece. Marshall's touchdown came on a 62-yard run.
Auburn managed only 153 total yards against the Bulldogs.
"I'm just very excited about getting back to Atlanta, there's no doubt about that," Richt said. "But there's a lot of work to be done between now and then. I think we're improving as we go."
It didn't take Georgia long to take control.
After forcing a three-and-out on the opening possession, the Bulldogs took the punt and promptly drove 76 yards on just six plays to grab a 7-0 lead.
A 49-yard run by Gurley sparked the drive, which culminated with a 6-yard touchdown pass from Murray to wide receiver Chris Conley.
That was just the beginning.
The Bulldogs added three more touchdowns in the half -- two on touchdown passes of 5 yards to Malcolm Mitchell and 17 yards to Tavarres King -- before a 6-yard run by Gurley sent Georgia into the locker room up 28-0.
Murray's first half was as sharp as he'd been all year. The junior completed 16 of 20 passes for 186 yards and the three scores, and Gurley led all rushers in the opening two quarters with six carries for 77 yards.
"We knew we had to come in here and try to get on them really early and try to put some points on the board," Murray said. "Trying to get their fans out of the game was the biggest thing. We were able to do that early and make some big plays."
Auburn, meanwhile, could only muster 124 yards of offense in the first half, all but 11 coming from freshman Jonathan Wallace, who was respectable in completing 8 of 10 passes for 113 yards.
NOTES: Sophomore Mark Beard made his first career start at left tackle for Georgia, with Kenarious Gates moving to left guard and Dallas Lee to right guard. Starting right guard Chris Burnette did not make the trip because of an injured shoulder. ... Joshua Holsey and Jonathon Mincy started at cornerback for the Tigers. ... Murray had to come out for one play in the second quarter after having the wind knocked out of him. Backup Parker Welch subbed for one play before Murray returned.