If No. 10 Auburn was going to have any chance to knock off No. 1 Georgia, they were going to need their best players to step up. Playing in front of a raucous home crowd at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the Tigers played their most complete game of the season and dominated the Bulldogs 40-17.
Jarrett Stidham struggled down the stretch in losses to Clemson and LSU earlier this season, leaving questions about his ability to lead the Tigers in big games.
Stidham answered any and all questions with a flawless performance from start to finish. The Stephenville, Texas native was 16-for-23 for 214 yards and three touchdowns. Stidham’s touchdown pass to Darius Slayton late in the first half was one of his best throws of the year, and swung the momentum completely as the Tigers led 16-7 at halftime.
Stidham wasn’t afraid to move outside the pocket and make plays with his legs. His seven-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter gave Auburn a commanding lead, and a 32-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Davis all but put the game away with 8:12 remaining in the third quarter.
“Jarrett [Stidham] played great. We had some trouble at first protecting the first couple of drives and then things settled down,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said. “We were able to run the football and mix it up a little bit. I’m really proud of Jarrett. He had the running touchdown, and I feel that was big. When he runs it just enough, I think it changes everything.”
Kerryon Johnson came into the game as the SEC’s leading rusher, but he cemented himself as one of the best running backs in college football with a 32 carry, 175-yard performance Saturday.
Johnson showed great patience as he waited for space to open before hitting the hole with conviction. While he didn’t get into the end zone, his 5.2 yard per carry average helped the Tigers move the ball at will.
“I don’t know if there is a better running back out there. If so, I’d like to see it,” Malzahn said. “He’s one of the better players in college football, and he’s proven that time and time again. I’m proud of our offensive line too, they imposed their will on them in the second half.”
Jeff Holland was once again a force on the Auburn defensive line. Further establishing himself as one of the SEC’s premier pass rushers, the Jacksonville, Florida native harassed Georgia QB Jake Fromm. Holland recorded five tackles, and added a sack.
“Jeff is a dynamic player, a lot of times we were putting him back and chipping on him,” Malzahn said. “We felt like if he could put constant pressure on the quarterback we could stop the running game, make him respond a little bit to our defense and our crowd.”
The Auburn front seven controlled the line of scrimmage throughout and held Georgia’s star running back tandem of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel to just 48 yards on 20 carries. As Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said postgame: “They just whipped us up front. Bottom line.”
Auburn will now play for the SEC West title November 25 against Alabama with the winner going to the SEC Championship game. For a team that some thought couldn’t win big games, defeating No. 1 Georgia should inspire a great deal of confidence.
“It felt great. Our team seized the moment. It was a huge moment, and our team seized the moment. I think everyone in this room knows that,” Malzahn said.