ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Three weeks after an ugly loss at Auburn, No. 6 Georgia is facing perhaps the biggest do-over in school history.
At stake Saturday will be the Southeastern Conference championship and a probable spot in the College Football Playoff.
Standing in the way is No. 4 Auburn, who a few weeks ago dominated Georgia.
The Bulldogs must fix the mistakes and be more physical than in the 40-17 embarrassing loss to the Tigers on Nov. 11.
Auburn (10-2, No. 2 CFP) was stronger on both lines, had the superior running game and better discipline. Still, Georgia (11-1, No. 6 CFP) believes the result was as much about what they didn’t do as much as what Auburn did do.
The lopsided score did not look like a fluke. If the Bulldogs’ assessment is correct, they must show dramatic improvement in all those areas to get revenge .
Georgia coach Kirby Smart had a one-word answer when asked what is the most important area in which his team must play better against Auburn.
“Physicality,” he said, no doubt remembering lost battles up front three weeks ago. Quarterback Jake Fromm was sacked four times.
Asked if the problem on the line of scrimmage was technique or attitude, Smart said it was “a little bit of both.”
“Physicality is an attitude,” he said. “Physicality is size. It’s a physics matter, too. It’s an attitude with which you approach the game and how you approach contact. We didn’t do as good a job as they did at that.”
Uncharacteristic mistakes, including on special teams, hurt the Bulldogs in the regular-season loss to Auburn. Georgia set up an Auburn touchdown with a roughing the punter penalty and also fumbled a punt return to set up another score. Another mistake, a 15-yard personal foul penalty, hurt the Bulldogs when the Tigers pulled away in the third quarter.
To erase the mistakes, senior linebacker Reggie Carter said Georgia has to play with discipline.
“We did a lot of undisciplined stuff in the first game so we’ve got to be more disciplined in the game and this week in practice,” Carter said.
Perhaps the most dramatic imbalance in the loss to Auburn was in the running game. Georgia leads the SEC in rushing, so it was humbling for the Bulldogs to be held to 46 yards on 32 carries. Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson also had 32 carries and 167 of the Tigers’ 237 yards rushing.
Georgia’s ground game has once again been productive in wins over Kentucky and Georgia Tech since the loss. But with all due respect to the Wildcats and Yellow Jackets, they don’t have Auburn’s defensive front.
Georgia needs to establish the running game with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel to avoid putting too much pressure on Fromm.
“I think Sony and Nick, they understood going into that game it was going to be tough,” Smart said. “Certainly didn’t expect it to be that tough. … We’re focused on this opportunity, and those two guys will be at their best, I know that, because they’re competitors and they’ll give us everything they’ve got.”
Michel said the execution will be pivotal to have success running the ball.
“Everyone has to do their job and be on the same page,” Michel said.
Auburn scored a combined 24 points in the second and third quarters and led 30-10 entering the fourth. Fromm threw 28 passes, his second-highest total of the season, as the Bulldogs were forced to abandon their normal run-first philosophy.
Wide receiver Terry Godwin said it’ll be important for Georgia to remain true to its normal offensive philosophy on Saturday.
“We went out there and didn’t play Georgia ball,” Godwin said. “We went away from what we’ve been doing the whole season, and it showed on the scoreboard.”
Smart said two impressive wins since the loss to Auburn, including last week’s 38-7 win at Georgia Tech , did not prove the Bulldogs can beat the Tigers.
“They’ve improved,” Smart said of his players. “We’ve seen them be resilient and respond to adversity because they had some adversity in that game. They had to come back out and play hard. But they haven’t played Auburn again. They haven’t played a team of that caliber just yet.
“It’s a great opportunity, to go out and play a really good football team with an opportunity to prove that we’ve got a good football team.”