BY BRANDON HUGHES FOR THE OBSERVER
PHOTOS BY ROBERT NOLES / THE OBSERVER
With 2:52 seconds remaining in the game and the score tied 20-20, Georgia tight end Brock Bowers caught a 12-yard pass at the Auburn 27-yard line from Bulldog QB Carson Beck and weaved his way across the field and into the end zone, punctuating a monster fourth quarter performance by the All-American and breaking the hearts of the upset-minded Tigers who did not seem to have an answer for the future NFL first-round pick in crunch time. When the game was on the line, and the pesky, but undermanned Tigers, were threatening the visiting Bulldogs’ 21-game winning streak, Bowers reeled in four catches for 121 yards and the game-winning TD.
“Brock’s a good player, a really good player,” said Auburn LB Eugene Asante about Bowers. “He’s an All-American for a reason. We just put him in different situations where different people were covering him, and he did a really good job. So kudos to him and to what type of tight end he is. He’s a great tight end.”
Georgia won the coin toss and deferred its decision to the second half giving Auburn the ball to open the game for the second game in a row. And for the second game in a row, the Tigers went three-and-out.
The Tigers gave up a first down on Georgia’s opening offensive possession but forced a punt which pinned Auburn deep in its territory. Taking over at their own seven-yard line, the Auburn offense looked impressive on an 84-yard drive culminating in a 27-yard Alex McPherson field goal giving the underdog Tigers a 3-0 lead.
Two plays into the following Georgia drive, Auburn’s Jaylin Simpson got his nation-leading fourth interception of the season, giving the Tiger defense a turnover in its seventh consecutive game going back to last season. The interception was the defense’s sixth on the season, matching last season’s total. Simpson’s pick set the Tigers up just inside Bulldog territory, which led to the first touchdown of the game. Aided by a fourth down conversion on a Payton Thorne run, the Tiger offense drove the ball to the Georgia five-yard line, with Jarquez Hunter finding pay dirt on a tough inside run, putting the home team up 10-0.
On the ensuing kickoff, Georgia would use a 41-yard kickoff return as a catalyst to an 11-play, 56-yard drive giving Georgia its first points of the game on a two-yard plunge by RB Dijon Edwards.
Auburn followed up with another three-and-out, and Georgia kept the offensive momentum going with a 10-play 61-yard drive that resulted in a field goal to tie the game 10-10.
The Tigers had an opportunity to take a lead into halftime, but Auburn head coach Hugh Freeze eschewed a chip shot field goal attempt from the Georgia 12-yard line in favor of going for it on fourth down. After seeing Hunter stuffed for no gain on an inside run on the previous play, the offensive coaches called another inside run that was out of sorts from the start owing to a high snap. Just like the play on third down, Hunter was stuffed at the line of scrimmage for a turnover on downs.
Georgia received the opening second-half kickoff, but the drive was short-lived as Auburn defensive lineman Marcus Harris forced a fumble after a seven-yard catch and run on the first offensive play of the half. The fumble was recovered by linebacker Jalen McLeod at the Georgia 32-yard line. Auburn parlayed the takeaway into a three-play drive that ended in a touchdown by QB Robby Ashford, giving the Tigers a 17-10 lead.
On Georgia’s next drive, the Tiger defense appeared to have forced its second turnover in as many plays, but the call was overturned when replay review determined the runner was down prior to the fumble. The teams traded punts, and Auburn punter Oscar Chapman came up big, pinning the Bulldogs at their own two-yard line. However, the Georgia offense was unfazed, ripping off a 16-yard run on first down, which spurred on a 10-play 98-yard drive culminating in a 13-yard run by Edwards with 1:02 remaining in the third quarter knotting the score at 17-17.
The Tigers would fall behind for the first time in the game early in the fourth quarter when Georgia kicked a 38-yard field goal. The Auburn offense, however, answered back immediately with a 51-yard drive of its own, ending in a McPherson field goal, to even the score at 20-20 with 6:21 left in the game.
Georgia, though, would take the lead for good on its following possession marching 75 yards in seven plays, with Bowers adding the exclamation point with a 40-yard catch and run for a touchdown.
With 2:52 on the clock, Auburn garnered a first down, but any hope of an upset ended four plays later when, on fourth down and nine, Thorne threw an interception with 1:28 left on the game clock.
There was no sugar-coating the near miss in the postgame Auburn locker room.
“Really, really proud of our kids, but it hurts in there right now, and that’s good to see,” Freeze said. “It hurts; it hurts those kids and our coaches and our fans, I’m sure, too. You have a chance to beat the number one team in the country and back-to-back national champions at home. The feeling that you get if you can pull that off is just ecstatic, and you can certainly build off of that, and hopefully, we can build off of the way we played better today. But it hurts, and it’s disappointing that we didn’t find a way to get it done today, but I am really proud of our kids.”
Thorne weighed in on the painful loss.
“Yeah, it’s extremely difficult, extremely disappointing, extremely frustrating. I thought that we should have won the game, to be honest. I give credit to them, though, obviously. They’re a great team, two-time defending champs. You know they’re rolling over there. But it was frustrating, I feel like we let it slip away.”
BY THE NUMBERS
Georgia snapped Auburn’s four-game home win streak against No.1 teams. (Oct. 13, 2001 vs. Florida, Nov. 20, 2013 vs. Alabama, Nov. 11, 2017 vs. Georgia, Nov. 25, 2017 vs. Alabama)
Georgia was 6-7 on third down conversions of seven or more yards.
Auburn’s first third down conversion of the game came in the third quarter. It was the Tigers’ first third quarter third down conversion all season.
Auburn led or was tied for 52:39 of the game.
Auburn has failed to pass for 100 yards in six consecutive games against Power Five opponents dating back to last season.
PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Offense — Brock Bowers, TE, Georgia with eight receptions, 157 yards, TD
Defense — Marcus Harris, DL, Auburn with seven tackles (five solo), two tackles for loss, forced fumble, pass break up.
Auburn will be off this upcoming weekend. The next game will be Oct. 14 at LSU.