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'The little things matter': Auburn falls short in 21-14 loss to No. 4 Georgia

When you're playing -- when two good teams are playing, it's something little. The little things matter. And that's what some of the stuff came down to."

Bo Nix (10) during the Auburn vs. Georgia game on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in Auburn, Ala.
Bo Nix (10) during the Auburn vs. Georgia game on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in Auburn, Ala.

It was just too little, too late.

Jake Fromm threw for 110 yards and three touchdowns and the Bulldog defense held when it mattered most, as No. 12 Auburn's comeback bid fell short in a 21-14 loss Saturday night inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.

After scoring 14 unanswered to trim the lead to one score, Auburn freshman quarterback Bo Nix took a sack on the Tigers' final drive of the game, on 4th-and-10, with 1:39 remaining to end a furious late rally. Auburn was held scoreless for three quarters and looked to be all but out of it entering the fourth, before outscoring the Bulldogs 14-0 in the final quarter and out-gaining the Georgia offense, 158-2.

A Nix touchdown pass to Eli Stove, as well as a 2-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, had the Tigers within striking distance. 

After Auburn's onside kick recovery was overturned because of an Anthony Schwartz illegal block, the defense forced a Georgia 3-and-out and the offense was marching into Georgia territory with an opportunity to complete the comeback. The offense's second to last drive came to an abrupt end, however, when Harold Joiner couldn't corral Nix's pass out of the backfield on fourth down—a throw that hit him in the hands but that was also behind him. 

"It was a sprint out and I threw it behind Harold," Nix said. "You can't make mistakes like that."

Nix finished the game 30-of-50 for 245 yards passing and added one touchdown run. Seth Williams led the team in receiving with 13 receptions for 121 yards, at 9.3 yards per catch. 

The story of the game for Auburn was offensive inconsistency. Up until the fourth quarter, the offense struggled to move the ball effectively and, even when field position wasn't a factor, it found itself stalling out.

"Field position, in a game like this with two great defenses, we knew it'd be a big factor," Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said. "You know, the first half, we didn't win the field position. The second half was a lot better, you know. So that was really a key factor. We figured field position and third downs would be a big factor... When you're playing -- when two good teams are playing, it's something little. The little things matter. And that's what some of the stuff came down to." 

Heading into the fourth quarter trailing 21-0, Auburn's offense had just 171 yards of offense and 49 yards rushing. The Tigers also continued to stumble on third downs, going 5-for-14 (36%) on third-down conversions. Auburn is now 1-3 against teams currently ranked in the Top 11.

"Yeah, you know, at times we're playing really good, and at times we're not," Malzahn said. "And we were inconsistent tonight. Like I said, I wish we could have put some points on the board on that first drive if we hadn't had the fumble there. But you saw once things got in the second half, we looked like a good offense."

Nix was asked after the game if something in the game plan changed going into the final quarter. 

"Uh, no. We were just down 21-0," Nix said. "Just fight and do whatever can to win the game. That's what we did. The whole offense did that. You really just can't point it to just one person. The whole offense fought. We competed our guts out there at the end. Unfortunately, we just didn't make enough plays."

Malzahn still considers this offense a run-first unit but the Tiger failed to eclipse the 100-yard mark Saturday evening, finishing the game with just 84 yards on the ground. And Nix, the true freshman quarterback, was the leading rusher with 42 yards on 13 attempts. The Tigers starting running backs, D.J. Williams and JaTarvious Whitlow, combined for 49 yards rushing and both failed to find the end zone. 

Auburn moves to 7-3 overall on the year, 4-3 in SEC play, and will host Samford on Saturday before facing No.5 Alabama in the Iron Bowl in two weeks. Despite the disappointing loss, Malzahn's postgame message for the rest of the season was simple: finish. 

"The team goes for, you know -- we've got a game next week, and then we play our rival right out here," Malzahn said. "That's where we're at. I mean, we're disappointed. I think everybody could see we've got a good football team. We've had some tough, close losses; that was another one. But we have great character in our locker room. Our guys are disappointed, but they'll rebound. They'll rebound and finish this thing."

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