Any concerns you may have had about No. 4 Georgia were short-lived.
UGA struggled mightily on offense early in an eventual 37-10 win over Arkansas last week. This week against a much tougher opponent, the Bulldogs were dominant.
Georgia pummeled No. 7 Auburn, 27-6, at home, in a statement victory. The Bulldogs scored on four of their first five possessions to jump out to a 24-3 halftime lead with Stetson Bennett leading the way at quarterback.
Bennett came on in relief of D’Wan Mathis last week and led a comeback victory. In practice this week, it was unclear who would get the start. Would it be Mathis again? Would it be Bennett? Or would touted USC transfer JT Daniels, now cleared to play after injuring his knee last year, make his SEC debut?
But it was Bennett, once a walk-on, who made his first career start and led the Bulldogs offense like a poised veteran. The coaches didn’t ask him to do all that much as he completed 17-of-28 throws for 240 yards, one touchdown and, perhaps most importantly, committed no turnovers. With Bennett providing a steady presence, the ground attack, highlighted by Zamir White’s 88 yards and two touchdowns, got going consistently to allow the Bulldogs to achieve a healthy balance against an overmatched Auburn defense.
It wasn’t all game-manager stuff for Bennett, though. He dropped in an absolutely gorgeous touchdown pass to George Pickens early in the second quarter to extend UGA’s lead to 17-0.
By that point, it was already pretty clear who the better team was, and that had more to do with the Georgia defense.
As much as the quarterback situation was the question throughout the week for Georgia, the play of its defense should be the story on Saturday night. The UGA front made life completely miserable for Auburn quarterback Bo Nix. The front four constantly got pressure and knocked Nix off his spot while the secondary smothered Auburn receivers Seth Williams and Anthony Schwartz.
In the end, Auburn could muster only 216 yards of offense, with just 39 of those coming on the ground. The Tigers didn’t even reach 200 total yards until more than halfway through the fourth quarter. With the run game stifled, Nix was left running for his life and the Tigers had absolutely no answers. Nix finished the night 21-of-40 for just 177 yards and threw his first interception since last year’s LSU game, a span of 251 straight passes.
What does this mean for Georgia?
The quarterback position is considerably less of a concern than it was just a few days ago. Bennett showed he is capable, especially when the Bulldogs can run the ball and the defense is playing as well as it did on Saturday night.
But what about when the level of competition rises? Next on the schedule is a visit from No. 21 Tennessee, which improved to 2-0 with a convincing win over Missouri on Saturday. If UGA gets through the Vols, a trip to face No. 2 Alabama — the SEC favorite — follows on Oct. 17.
Can you trust Bennett to make the necessary throws in a game of that magnitude? That will be the question Kirby Smart needs to answer in the coming weeks. Because he has the looks of a championship-level defense.
What does this mean for Auburn?
Well, it’s hard not to think that Auburn is in for another middle-of-the-pack season in the SEC West. This is a talented team, no doubt. But Saturday night’s game was a pretty stark example of Auburn being a tier below the top class of SEC teams.
Auburn should be favored in its next few games, though. That will give it time to work through some of its issues. The offensive line, on Saturday night, was a particular weak spot.
Once Gus Malzahn’s group enters late October and beyond, the schedule is absolutely brutal. How does this stretch sound? LSU, at Mississippi State, Tennessee, at Alabama and Texas A&M are the final five games of the year for Auburn.
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