- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Despite the enormously inviting rendition of “Sweet Caroline” played by Georgia’s band in the third quarter, the Bulldogs were far from courteous hosts to Auburn.
Georgia scored on its first drive and never looked back, smacking Auburn around on its way to a 45-7 victory on “Must-win Saturday.”
Aaron Murray lit up Auburn’s secondary for 224 yards and four touchdowns, the Bulldogs pounded out 304 rushing yards -- getting two 100-yard rushers for the first time in a game since the 2009 against Georgia Tech -- and Georgia’s defense left the Tigers battered and bruised. The Bulldogs had a handful of bone-ratting hits and had Auburn’s running game stuck in reverse.
Georgia’s commanding win showed how good it can be, and should have been all season. Georgia could have frozen after seeing South Carolina’s 17-12 win over Florida, but the Bulldogs popped Auburn right in the mouth.
Georgia converted 12-of-15 third-down attempts on offense and had the ball 20 minutes more than Auburn.
This was as dominating a performance as we’ve seen from the Bulldogs against an SEC opponent since their 27-13 win over Ole Miss back in September.
While it’s yet to be seen if Georgia or South Carolina could actually hold up against LSU or Alabama, the Bulldogs have improved each week since losing to the Gamecocks and look like the best the East has to offer.
It might not mean much to most, but it means everything to the Bulldogs, who are now a win away from playing for the SEC championship in Atlanta.
“We control our own destiny and we controlled it this week and we came out and performed,” tight end Aron White said.“We’re finally starting to put the pieces of the puzzles together, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. We really came out and made physical statement today. That was something we planned on doing and we came and fulfilled our game plan.”
Short of Georgia’s win over Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl after the 2007 season, White said Saturday was the most complete game he’s been in at Georgia.
Safety Bacarri Rambo marveled at how the defense suffocated Auburn, and admitted he knew the Bulldogs would shut out the Tigers following a score on the Tigers' opening drive. He praised the lack of special teams errors and applauded the offense for driving down the field and consistently getting touchdowns, not field goals.
“That’s what we were missing,” Rambo said. “We’re improving every week and the sky’s the limit for this team.”
Georgia has been to hell and back this season. Coach Mark Richt started the year with embers strapped to his seat and had to endure the scorching feeling they produced after an 0-2 start.
Counted out from the beginning, players never toyed with doubt, and are cruising through an eight-game winning streak that has them atop the SEC East.
Like the 2007 season, Georgia is playing its best football at the right time.
Some will point to Georgia’s softer conference schedule as a reason for its resurgence, but there is no denying Georgia has improved week-to-week and is as hot as ever.
“Man, I don’t care who you are, if you’re playing in the SEC that’s not an SEC schedule,” White said. “This is the first time we’ve won against a ranked opponent this year, but there’s always talent in the SEC. Maybe, if those teams were in another conference we’d be saying how good they are.
“We had just as tough a schedule as anybody, in my opinion. Hopefully, we can get into a game where we can play another team in the West and we can prove ourselves again.”
Georgia more than proved itself Saturday. The atmosphere was electric as fans dressed in red and black roared as their team huddled below the stands minutes before kickoff. You got the feeling that a pretty good team was going to take the field.
Georgia charged out onto the field and completely overwhelmed its best opponent since South Carolina.
This team is prepared for more criticism and disapproval, but it doesn’t care. Georgia’s schedule is what it is, and the Bulldogs have won the games they were supposed to.
We have found the East’s top team and a win next week over Kentucky will cement it.
“We’re coming along well,” linebacker Jarvis Jones said. “We’ve been through a lot this season -- started 0-2. We just kept our focus and we’ve been fighting and clawing. We come into every game like we’re 0-2. We remind ourselves of where we came from and keep fighting.”
13hGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough