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AUBURN, Ala.— Georgia football may have been favored by 14½ points Saturday against rival Auburn, but trips to the Plains in the not-so-distant past were reason for trepidation for those prone to worry.
In 2017, a Bulldog team that nearly won the national title was mauled by more than three touchdowns by the Tigers. In 2013, the “Prayer in Jordan-Hare,” left some Bulldog coaches dropping to the ground in agony.
This second-ranked Georgia team got at least some resistance this time but pulled away for a 34-10 victory over the No.19 Tigers before a crowd of 87,541.
“Any time you come over here and play this team, it’s a war," quarterback Stetson Bennett said. "Our O-line and D-line won the line of scrimmage battle. It was so much fun and I had a blast.”
The Bulldogs improved to 6-0 for the third time under Kirby Smart and first since 2018 while running its SEC record to 4-0.
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Arkansas mustered just 162 yards of offense last week in a 37-0 Bulldogs shutout.
Auburn nearly matched that in the first half with 160 yards and finished with 318, the most put up against the nation’s stingiest defense in yards allowed.
The Tigers put together long drives to start and end the first half, but managed just a field goal out of it and trailed 17-3.
Georgia found itself in a different position after Anders Carlson 24-yard field goal. It gave Auburn a 3-0 lead, the first time Georgia trailed all season.
Auburn and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo’s opening script resulted in a 17-play, 68-yard drive. The Tigers converted a third-and-3 and two fourth-and-1s.
Georgia looked like it had a takeaway but a Kelee Ringo fumble recovery was ruled an intentional grounding instead.
Auburn was ready to try another field goal late in the first half, but a Derion Kendrick offsides prompted Auburn to go for it on a fourth-and-goal at the 3. Latavious Brini broke up a pass in the back of the end zone for receiver Ze’Vian Capers.
Georgia’s defense held Auburn to four 3-and-outs on the other five first-half drives.
Georgia allowed just one touchdown in three red zone trips.
"We emphasize that every week," Smart said. "We post what we’re ranked in the red area. It’s a big pride thing for them to be ranked really good in the red area. And that paid off extremely well today."
The Tigers got the first touchdown against Georgia’s defense since the fourth quarter of the South Carolina game on Sept. 18. It was just the second touchdown of the season.
Tank Bigsby bounced away from Georgia defenders in the middle and found the end zone on the left side for a 6-yard touchdown run with 4:01 to go in the third to cut the lead to 24-10.
Auburn was held to 46 yards on 29 carries with no run longer than 9 yards.
“They ran the ball more efficiently than the numbers indicate," Smart said citing the quarterback sacks counting in those run numbers.
The Bo Nix experience was certainly different for Georgia's defense.
The Bulldogs still ended up with four sacks but Auburn junior quarterback Bo Nix was once again a freelancing, scrambling machine.
Travon Walker and Zion Logue, Quay Walker each had a sack and Jalen Carter and Robert Beal combined on another.
"Look we knew Bo was going to be a great," nose guard Jordan Davis said. "I’m elated we got four sacks. Bo Nix is a great athlete. ...He gets that thing ticking.”
Nix scrambled and threw away a number of passes but the Bulldogs still got to him.
On one play in the second quarter, Nix backtracked 23 yards while being chased by outside linebacker Nolan Smith and defensive lineman Tramel Walthour before chucking a pass incomplete on left side.
He was 12 of 26 for 119 yards and an interception of a tipped ball that Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean picked off.
Nix finished 21 of 38 for 217 yards. Auburn finished with 272 passing yards, the most allowed by Georgia this season.
“We wanted to make Bo beat us with his arm," Davis said. "I didn’t expect them to pass for as many as they did.”
Making his second straight start for JT Daniels who is sidelined with a lat injury, Bennett made plays with his arm and his legs, running for a 30-yard third quarter gain.
He was 14 of 21 for 231 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions Saturday while rushing for 41 yards on six carries.
"Stetson played a hell of a game," Smart said. "Stetson made plays with his feet. You go back in that game, and there’s maybe four big plays he makes with his athleticism. That’s a dynamic that he brings that forces them to defend us a different way."
Bennett hit AD Mitchell on a 3-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter and after the Bulldogs looked content to run the ball in the third quarter, he went deep and hit Ladd McConkey on a 60-yard touchdown.
McConkey, the redshirt freshman, beat cornerback Nehemia Pritchett on the play.
“I just let it fly and trusted him," Bennett said.
Former Auburn star quarterback Cam Newton was in the house, but that 2010 game with him notwithstanding, the Bulldogs have dominated this series of late.
Georgia won its fifth straight game against Auburn dating back to the 2017 SEC championship game.
That’s the longest winning streak for the Bulldogs in the series since five in a row from 1944-48. The first game between the schools came in 1892.
It’s won eight of the last nine in the series and 14 of the last 17.
This was the 25th anniversary of a four overtime Georgia 56-49 win at Auburn.
“Big-time comeback of epic proportions,” said Smart who played in the game as a Bulldogs safety, said earlier in the week. “It was a crazy finish to regulation. I remember that. And then I remember just didn't think you would ever stop going out there.”
This article originally appeared on Athens Banner-Herald: Georgia dominates Auburn in SEC behind Stetson Bennett, defense