But Georgia made an announcement here Saturday - the program’s obituary was written a little too soon. The Bulldogs whipped No. 5 Auburn 37-15 in front of 87,451 at Jordan-Hare Stadium, beating a top five opponent on its field for the first time in school history.
Led by the Matthew Stafford the Bulldogs have been waiting for, Georgia had a season-high 446 yards and its highest point total against the Tigers in a regulation game since 1951. Auburn came into the game ranked fourth in the nation in scoring defense and 13th in total defense but surrendered its most points since a 38-17 loss to Arkansas in 2002 and most yards this season.
Pretty good, considering Coach Mark Richt felt the need to pray for his game plan Friday night.
“I looked at the game plan I had and said, ‘This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen,’” Richt said. “I’m not kidding you. I’ll be frank with you, I said, ‘Lord, if anything is going to work, you’re going to have to help out because this is bad.’”
Georgia (7-4, 4-4 SEC) had lost four of five coming in, including games against Vanderbilt and Kentucky, and Richt didn’t sugarcoat his pre-game speech, he said.
“I talked about all the dreams and goals we had at the beginning of the season, and how they were gone,” he said.
His team responded by leading 30-7 at halftime.
“This is the best win I’ve ever experienced in my entire career of playing football, high school, college, Pee Wees, whatever,” senior defensive lineman Ray Gant said. “We’ve been going through a lot of turmoil and this season has not been the way everybody planned it, but we kept fighting, we stayed together, kept our composure and everything paid off.”
Gant sacked Auburn junior quarterback Brandon Cox on the Tigers’ first play of the game, and then the Bulldogs turned it over to safety Tra Battle. The Forsyth native became the first Georgia player to have three interceptions in a game since Terry Hoage did it against Vanderbilt in 1982.
“He really did set the tone really for the whole game,” cornerback Paul Oliver said. “It seemed like every time they started getting something going, he would get another pick.”
Battle ran one of his interceptions back for a 30-yard touchdown to put Georgia up 24-0 in the second quarter, and Oliver picked off Cox for a fourth time later in the game. The Tigers finished with a season-worst 171 yards as Cox completed as many passes to Georgia players as to his teammates (four for 35 yards). He was sacked four times on top of that.
“It definitely looked like (Cox was rattled),” Oliver said. “I think the first play Ray sacked him and from there, it was mistake after mistake by them.”’
Stafford, a true freshman, looked like the veteran. He had 219 yards and one touchdown on 14-of-20 passing and didn’t throw an interception for the first time in four games. Richt was most proud, he said, of a pass Stafford threw away in the end zone rather than forcing.
“I would say this is a signature victory for Matthew,” Richt said. “It may be a defining moment for him.”
Maybe also for the Georgia receivers, who didn’t drop a pass and accounted for gains of 53 (A.J. Bryant), 40 (Kenneth Harris) and 26 yards (Martrez Milner).
“We haven’t made a lot of plays this year,” quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo said. “If you can make big plays, it’s a lot easier to go down and score. I thought we believed today. Even when it got tightand they made it 30-15, we were able to drive down and get another (touchdown), which was huge.”
Stafford also had 3 rushing yards, 32 more than any Auburn player, and a touchdown on seven carries as the Bulldogs called several designed running plays for him. He did lose two fumbles, his third and fourth of the season, while fighting for extra yards.
“When he learns to hold onto the ball, people are going to have to start worrying about him a little bit,” Richt said.
Stafford was the Bulldogs’ leading rusher until Kregg Lumpkin racked up 59 yards in the fourth quarter to finish with 109 on 21 carries.
“It’s definitely a big (win) for me and my team,” Stafford said. “It’s one that’s going to put this season in a positive light, and if we go out and win this next one, it’s going to be even better.”
Georgia now gets a week off before facing state rival Georgia Tech on Nov. 25 in Athens. Auburn, which was bumped officially from the national title and BCS bowl picture by falling to 9-2 and 5-2 in the SEC, takes on archrival Alabama next week.
“(Georgia) came here today on a mission, and they got it done -- at the expense of us,” Tigers coach Tommy Tuberville said. “Everything and anything didn’t go our way. Don’t take anything away from Georgia. They’re a good football team. You find out a lot about yourself when you stumble like they did. They bounced back.”