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Auburn shocks No. 1 Georgia with beatdown on the Plains

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The Tigers move one step toward an astounding SEC title shot.

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Georgia v Auburn Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Fourth quarter

Auburn 40, Georgia 17, final score. The Tigers’ attempt to become the first-ever two-loss Playoff team is very alive. Auburn just crushed the No. 1 team and saw the two teams it’s lost to, Clemson and LSU, win. Next up is ULM, followed by the SEC West title game against Alabama. Win that, and it’s a rematch with UGA, almost certainly for a trip to the Sugar Bowl semifinal.

Let’s dance (to the song that Georgia danced to while beating Auburn exactly 10 years ago).

Auburn 40, Georgia 10, 6:13. Kerryon Johnson already had 167 yards rushing. He just tacked on a 55-yard touchdown to totally ice it. The Iron Bowl will be the SEC West championship. It’s at Auburn.

Auburn 33, Georgia 10, 9:25. A Georgia drive went three-and-out amid a swirling Auburn pass rush? Why, I never!

Auburn 33, Georgia 10, 10:15. Auburn barreled down the field again and chewed up seven minutes, but a fumbled snap killed progress. The guy who recovered it was already Auburn’s hero: Kerryon Johnson. Kick good.

Third quarter

Auburn 30, Georgia 10, end of quarter. The Tigers have driven out of the danger spot and face third-and-1. Kerryon Johnson has 23 totes for 118 yards, almost five times as many rushing yards as the Dawgs have gone for.

Auburn 30, Georgia 10, 2:14. Ah right, UGA can’t really pass today. Yet another stuffed Nick Chubb run and two incompletions were followed by a COFFIN CORNER PUNT by Cameron Nizialek. Not the greatest news for the Dawgs, but could force a short drive and nice field position.

Auburn 30, Georgia 10, 3:10. Auburn should be entering clock-burning mode right around now, but a false start and sack killed a drive that started well. The punt only reaches UGA’s 45 before going out of bounds. Hmmmmm ...

Auburn 30, Georgia 10, 5:28. Thanks to a 38-yard third-down conversion to a wide open Javon Wims, UGA takes it from a three-touchdown game (with two-pointers) to a normal three-touchdown game.

Auburn 30, Georgia 7, 8:12. And with that short field, Ryan Davis took a screen a winding 32 yards. It’s time to start envisioning an Iron Bowl to decide the SEC West. You tell me how UGA’s offense produces 24 points in the next 23 minutes.

Auburn 23, Georgia 7, 8:59. Tired of forcing three-and-outs, Auburn forced two three-and-outs on one drive. The first was negated by an offside penalty, while the second ended up at fourth-and-22 after a sack and false start. Puuunt, turning into a big Auburn punt return and a personal foul on Sony Michel.

Auburn 23, Georgia 7, 11:57. Georgia forced Auburn’s third punt of the day ... and then Mecole Hardman, who’d been UGA’s most impactful ball-mover so far, muffed it. After a couple Kerryon Johnson gains, Jarrett Stidham ran in the six on a zone read keeper.

Halftime

Auburn 16, Georgia 7. UGA head coach Kirby Smart admitted to CBS that the Dawgs should’ve been a little more aggressive at the end of the half. Auburn gets ball next, and the Tigers are beating the Dawgs in every line of the box score so far. UGA’s tried only 12 passes, resulting in three sacks and four incompletions, while Jarrett Stidham’s battled through an early pass rush storm to connect on 12 of 18 for 125. Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson has 76 on the ground, almost four times as many as all the Dawgs combined.

Second quarter

Auburn 16, Georgia 7, halftime. Mecole Hardman is UGA’s offensive MVP so far ... via special teams. A big punt return, his second large runback of the day, set up a freebie field goal (with some more helpless run calls along the way, for some reason), which UGA missed wide right. UPSET ALERT siren is blaring.

Auburn 16, Georgia 7, 1:37. Five! Five Georgia punts! A ha ha! UGA’s mighty running game has 18 yards on 20 carries, with a long of 7. The Tigers are averaging 4.3.

Auburn 16, Georgia 7, 4:09. We argued before the game that Auburn should take deep shots, and hey! Here’s one!

That’s Jarrett Stidham finding Darius Slayton for a 42-yarder on a penalty-aided drive that put the Tigers up by more than a full score. The Dawgs are on alert for the first time in two full months.

Auburn 9, Georgia 7, 8:08. UGA finally forced a kick that wasn’t a field goal! A D’Andre Walker sack of Jarrett Stidham was the culprit.

Auburn 9, Georgia 7, 10:25. UGA’s latest drive ventured all of negative-11 yards, thanks to a group sack that followed yet another stuffed run. Punt.

Auburn 9, Georgia 7, 12:03. Yet another decent Auburn drive — now featuring a 17-yard pass! — that ended with a Daniel Carlson. field goal.

First quarter

Georgia 7, Auburn 6, 1:36. A big Mecole Hardman kickoff return set UGA up at midfield, but the Tigers forced another three-and-out, including another stuffed run.

Georgia 7, Auburn 6, 1:23. Hey, Auburn’s controlling the ground game so far. Five decent gains by Kerryon Johnson or Jarrett Stidham on this drive, and Auburn’s averaging 7 per carry. Passing was less beneficial here, with Dawgs all throughout the backfield again.

Georgia 7, Auburn 3, 5:17. The Tigers forced a third-and-long again, snuffing two straight Sony Michel runs, and this time, Jake Fromm got sacked by star rusher Jeff Holland. Punt.

Georgia 7, Auburn 3, 8:29. Auburn’s biggest worry coming in, as usual: avoiding sacks. A promising opening drive petered out as Jarrett Stidham danced around in the pocket amid pressure, but Daniel Carlson flushed the 54-yard field goal.

Georgia 7, Auburn 0, 11:21. The biggest question coming in: could Auburn force the Dawgs to pass? They did, but UGA handled it. Jake Fromm responded to a third-and-7 with two 25-plus-yard completions, and Nick Chubb punched it in on the goal line from the Wildcat.


Pregame

On a weekend with three top-10 games and four other ranked games (and the Pac-12 probably being knocked out of the Playoff before Saturday even began), the most important game might be this ancient rivalry. With a win at No. 10 Auburn, No. 1 Georgia moves a couple more wins away from quite possibly clinching a Playoff bid regardless of the SEC Championship’s result, while Auburn can take one huge step through an impossible gauntlet and possibly take the first-ever two-loss Playoff trip.

So yeah! Big deal!

So who’s gonna win?

The S&P+ projection for Georgia's trip to Auburn — No. 1 Dawgs 26, No. 10 Tigers 24 — makes a good amount of sense. It's almost perfectly aligned with the Vegas line (Georgia -2.5), and since the national scoring average is closer to 28 points or so, it gives a slight overall edge to the defenses.

One problem: Auburn doesn’t really do mid-20s.

In 48 games since the start of the 2014 season, Gus Malzahn’s Plainsmen have scored between 21 and 28 points just seven times. They’ve been held to 13 or fewer points eight times, and they’ve scored 38 or more 21 times. Since the start of 2015, they have averaged 39.9 points per game in wins and 16.7 per game in losses. (The loss average sinks to 14.3 per game if you take out the wild 54-46 loss to Arkansas in 2015.)

There is little in-between for Auburn’s offense. Either everything works, or nothing works.

Still, UGA plays at one of the slower tempos in the country, and Auburn should make enough stops to keep the Dawgs at 31 or lower.

The question: is this one of Auburn’s games in the 30s or one of Auburn’s games in the teens?

The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry has featured its share of incredible drama, from Fran Tarkenton's last-second touchdown pass to seal Georgia's SEC title in 1959, to Michael Johnson's jump-ball catch in 2002 (which sent UGA to the SEC title game), to, of course, Ricardo Louis' miracle catch in 2013.

Just remember, Auburn: those were all big passes. You've got the golden-armed quarterback. Time to see what he can do.

And yeah, this is a really big rivalry.

1. It’s got deep history.

Auburn-Georgia did not get the moniker of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry by accident. The teams first played in 1892 at Piedmont Park in Atlanta in a game that was described as “the social event of the year.” (And you wonder why Southerners dress up for college football games.)

North Carolina-Virginia has the title of “the South’s Oldest Rivalry” despite kicking off later in 1892. It’s been played slightly more frequently than Auburn-UGA, which most recently took a year off during World War II.

Still, entering the 121st meeting, Bulldogs-Tigers is one of the five most-played FBS rivalries, passing the dormant Missouri-Kansas this year.

2. It’s familial.

Auburn is a stone’s throw from the Georgia border. The nearest major city to Auburn is Columbus, Georgia. Over 10 percent of Auburn’s students come from Georgia, twice as many as any other state (save for Alabama itself). There are more Auburn graduates in Atlanta than any other city, including Birmingham and Auburn itself.

Auburn plays on Pat Dye Field. Dye is a Georgia native and 1960 UGA graduate. Georgia’s athletic campus is named the Vince Dooley Athletic Complex. Mobile’s Dooley is a 1954 graduate of Auburn.

Auburn and Georgia fans bump up against one another on a constant basis. They work with one another, go to church with one another, cut one another off in traffic, and occasionally bond and reproduce together. That social dynamic means that this game, er, just means more.

3. It’s chaotic.

In the last 25 meetings, the home team has won only 10 times. Home field advantage is supposed to be worth three or four points in college football. In the Auburn-Georgia rivalry, it appears to be a burden rather than a benefit.

And four more reasons in there.