AUBURN AL - NOVEMBER 13: Quarterback Cameron Newton #2 of the Auburn Tigers dives across the defense for a touchdown against the Georgia Bulldogs at Jordan-Hare Stadium on November 13 2010 in Auburn Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
The Dawgs had their chances Saturday but in the end couldn't overcome His Newtonness -- and now it's Georgia Tech or bust.
For a quarter, it looked like the Dawgs might be engineering a replay of the last time they faced a top-five Auburn team on the Plains, when the reeling 2006 team walked into Jordan-Hare and administered a three-TD beatdown to the Tigers. But Cam Newton and his team gathered themselves up and made the plays they needed to make, and the Dawgs are back under .500 and still searching for a bowl-eligibility-clinching win.
1. Georgia's defensive front desperately needs a dominating presence in the middle. When Georgia announced it was putting its defensive chips behind Todd Grantham and the 3-4 alignment, one of the items in the "pro" column was that the 3-4 is supposedly better at responding to spread formations and mobile QBs. Which it may yet be, and certainly Georgia didn't get gashed by the Tigers nearly as bad as some teams have been this year. But the Dawgs still gave up season highs in points and yardage, showing just how far this defense has yet to go despite some promising signs of improvement in 2010. After a frustrating start, the Tigers got it in gear in the second quarter and began turning to outside runs and misdirection plays that Georgia never quite found a consistent answer for. A prototypical man-mountain-type player at nose tackle, the kind that draws double teams and clogs up the middle, might've made a difference in this game, but Georgia just doesn't have that kind of player available yet. There's reason to think things will continue to get better as Grantham has a chance to recruit his own kind of player and his system has a chance to sink in, but other than that, the Dawgs are just going to have to be happy the Tigers didn't break half-a-hundred on them.
2. Maybe some of Auburn's players were distracted by "Camgate," but Cam Newton wasn't one of them. Not that it looked like Georgia's players looked like they were taking an unfocused, tentative Auburn team for granted, but if anything Cam Newton looked like a player with something to prove, and prove it he did. Whether Auburn should've played Newton is a question for another discussion (and for a writer with more in-depth knowledge of the scandal surrounding him), but once Auburn made the decision to damn the torpedoes and put the best player in the country on the field, Georgia was going up against a team that had a decided advantage. Newton's final stat line from Saturday: a painfully efficient 12-of-15 passing for 148 yards, two TDs and a pick, and another 151 yards and two TDs on 30 rushes. He fell just short of assembling 300 yards of total offense for what would've been the seventh time this season, and it won't be his last chance.
3. The season lives or dies against the Yellow Jackets in two weeks. For most of Mark Richt's tenure in Athens, Dawg fans got used to viewing the Georgia Tech game at the end of the season as a tasty snack at the end of an already successful season. This year Bulldog Nation is in the unusual position of needing a win in the Clean Old-Fashioned Hate rivalry just to earn a bowl bid and avoid the program's first losing season in nearly a decade and a half.
Overall impressions: Not much you can say about this one, other than that Georgia got beat by a team that, on offense at least, lived up to every bit of its billing as the second-ranked team in the nation. The Dawgs gathered some momentum on both sides of the ball early on but couldn't sustain it; Auburn's adjustments on offense, and the successful on-side kick with which they opened the second half, demonstrated that they weren't content to walk out of Jordan-Hare Stadium with yet another close shootout victory.
So now it comes down to the last game of the season and one last chance for the Dawgs to avoid the bowl-less season that we all viewed as unthinkable back in August. Before the Auburn game, Athletic Director Greg McGarity took the wise step of assuring everyone that Mark Richt's job status would not be in question at the end of the season, thereby eliminating a huge potential distraction that Georgia's players otherwise would've had to grapple with over the bye week. Nor does it look like the Dawgs will have to deal with any questions over Aaron Murray's health. But they should know by now that Georgia Tech -- even a hurting Tech team that's struggling through its own disappointing season -- is not to be taken for granted.
Player of the game: Until things went pear-shaped in the fourth quarter, the Aaron Murray-A.J. Green connection did absolutely everything it needed to for the Dawgs to keep pace with the nation's sixth most productive offense on the scoreboard. Even Green's amazing stat line -- nine catches for 164 yards and two scores -- can't come anywhere close to accurately portraying just how valuable he was. Didn't matter whether he was in double coverage or having to make an awkward leap for the ball, his presence gave Murray the confidence to fire the ball his way, and he rarely, if ever, made a mistake. The Georgia Tech game (and a subsequent bowl game, if the Dawgs are fortunate enough to earn one) may be the last time Bulldog Nation gets to see him in a UGA uniform, but even if that's the case, Green seems to be making it clear he's going to go out with a bang.
Stat of the game: 6.64 -- the average number of yards Auburn gained every time Cam Newton touched the ball (15 pass attempts and 30 rushes for a total of 299 yards). Todd Grantham may yet coach his defense up to the point where they can stand toe-to-toe with a player of Newton's caliber, but clearly they aren't quite there yet.