With two undefeated teams ranked above it, No. 3 Auburn can only win on the field and hope to impress voters enough to elevate them ahead of No. 2 Oklahoma.
The Tigers stated their case emphatically against eighth-ranked Georgia on Saturday.
Auburn’s no-name defense kept a vaunted Georgia offense out of the end zone until the final two minutes of the game and the offense found ways to beat the Bulldogs en route to Auburn’s 24-6 Southeastern Conference win over Georgia at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
One simple sign amidst the 87,451 fans said it all: “Our Tigers are Orange, just like our bowl game,” a reference to the national championship game in Miami on Jan. 4.
The Bowl Championship Series national championship game pits the top two teams from its ranking playing for the title. “The voters have to respect us now,” Auburn tackle Marcus McNeill said. “If they don’t, we’re still going to earn our respect. We don’t want anything given to us.”
Jason Campbell pointed out the toughness of the SEC and said that should be enough to make Auburn’s case. While most Auburn players spoke diplomatically about the voting process, center Jeremy Ingle refused to be polite.
“I shouldn’t have to state my case to the AP voter,” he said. “If you go through the toughest conference in the country and beat teams handily like we’ve beaten them, I shouldn’t have to make a case. If they don’t put us in that game, this whole thing is a travesty and they need to go to a playoff.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt also gave a nod to Auburn.
“They’ve got some more work to do, but if they win the rest, they ought to be in the game for sure,” Richt said.
For Georgia (8-2, 6-2), the game wrecked a chance for the Bulldogs to make it into a BCS game. Ranked eighth in the latest BCS standings, Georgia will surely fall. A sixth or better finish would have garnered a spot in a BCS bowl.
It marked only the second time during the Richt era that Georgia lost on an opponent’s home field. The Bulldogs were 15-1 on the road during Richt’s four years.
“We can’t sit here and dwell on it. Our season isn’t over by a long shot,” Georgia safety Thomas Davis said. “If you’re a true competitor, when you lose, it’s going to be tough on you.”
Auburn (10-0, 7-0) put together one of its most complete games against the Bulldogs. Campbell played at his precision best, while running backs Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown found every way possible to hurt Georgia.
Williams and Brown combined for 366 yards of total offense and three touchdowns. Williams almost demolished the Bulldogs single-handedly. He ran for 101 yards and a touchdown, tossed a 29-yard scoring pass to Anthony Mix, caught four passes for 20 yards and returned four punts for 77 yards, including a 40-yarder which set up Auburn’s final score.
Brown led all receivers with a career-high seven catches for 88 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown, and ran for 51 yards.
It was dancing in the stands time for Auburn players following the dominating performance over the Dogs. After the final seconds ticked down, keeping the Tigers perfect, players T.J. Jackson, Jay Ratliff, Montae Pitts, Tim Duckworth, Anthony Mix and Mayo Sowell joined blue-and-orange painted Auburn fans to celebrate.
Jackson donned some fan’s sunglasses and a Naval ROTC member’s hat as he showed off his dancing style.
But Auburn’s most spectacular moves came on the field
Georgia took the opening kick and rolled down the field to the Auburn 26 before the drive stalled and the Bulldogs brought on kicker Andy Bailey. His 36-yard attempt sailed low and Auburn never looked back.
The Tigers opened with a 34-yard pass play to Brown and the 80-yard drive ended minutes later with Williams virtually walking into the end zone on an option pitch from Campbell.
Campbell threw for 189 yards on 18-of-22 passing, mostly short throws to Campbell and Brown. They combined for 11 catches for 108 of Campbell’s yards.
Auburn’s defense delivered huge plays, creating turnovers just when the Tigers needed them. Defensive back Carlos Rogers appeared beaten on a long route down the middle, but leaped in front of David Greene’s pass intended for Reggie Brown and picked it off in the end zone.
Auburn used that momentum to push out to a 14-0 lead, again moving 80 yards for a score. Williams capped the drive by running to the right on an apparent sweep, then pulling up and delivering a scoring pass to Mix.
Auburn tacked on a 32-yard John Vaughn field goal before the half for a 17-0 lead.
Greene finished 15-of-22 for 159 yards, unable to beat the Tigers with a deep throw. Brown caught four passes for 62 yards, but went out with a concussion in the third quarter, fumbling the ball on a big hit by Auburn safety Junior Rosegreen. Georgia’s second-leading receiver, Fred Gibson, did not make a catch and dropped on pass.
Auburn finished its scoring with a 15-yard pass from Campbell to Brown. Georgia avoided the shutout with a 6-yard scoring reception by Leonard Pope from Greene.
“Tonight was just a classic example of those guys going out there trying to play assignment football, doing their job,” Auburn defensive coordinator Gene Chizik said of his defensive unit. “I couldn’t be prouder of them.”