AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn would fare much better against Georgia if their football games were decided by the first team to score.
The homestanding Tigers embarked on an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to open Saturday's contest inside Jordan-Hare Stadium, but that would be the last time they would cross the goal line. Georgia held Auburn to 90 yards in the second half and defeated the Tigers 20-13 to improve to 7-3 overall while closing out its Southeastern Conference schedule at 5-3.
"They get you on your heels during that first drive, because it's hard to practice that pace," Georgia inside linebacker Jake Ganus said after tallying a team-high 11 tackles. "They tempo you and Coach (Gus) Malzahn is over there waving his arm, but we were able to make some adjustments and stopped them after that."
Auburn scored first last year in Athens to take a 7-0 lead, but it was all Georgia from there as the Bulldogs cruised 34-7.
By winning last year and again Saturday, the Bulldogs have taken a 56-55-8 lead in the Deep South's oldest rivalry. It's the first time Georgia has led the series since 1986.
"This was a great victory for Georgia," Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said after improving to 10-5 against the Tigers. "It was a lot of fun afterward in the locker room, getting a chance to celebrate with the players and the coaches and just seeing a smile on everyone's face. It's always a war to come here and play."
Saturday's chapter had been billed as a "Disappointment Bowl," given that Auburn began this season ranked No. 6 in the Associated Press poll and Georgia was No. 9.
Auburn failed to follow up last week's impressive 26-10 win at Texas A&M in falling to 5-5 overall and 2-5 within the league. The Tigers must beat Idaho this week to assure bowl eligibility before the Nov. 28 arrival of Alabama.
"That was a tough one today," Malzahn said. "Our defense played well and held them to 243 yards, and they have a lot of playmakers on that side of the football. Our offense did a good job in the first half, but obviously in the second half we didn't get it done."
Saturday was not a quarterback display for the ages, but Georgia's Greyson Lambert was decent enough in completing 12 of 17 passes for 97 yards. Malzahn started Jeremy Johnson but also turned to Sean White, with that duo combining to complete 15 of 27 attempts for 61 yards and an interception.
Isaiah McKenzie's 53-yard punt return for a touchdown with 9:28 remaining gave the Bulldogs their first lead at 17-10, and Jordan Jenkins sacked White moments later, causing a fumble that Aaron Davis recovered at Auburn's 17-yard line. That set up Marshall Morgan's 38-yard field goal that made it a 10-point game.
The Tigers drove to the Georgia 1-yard line with 3:22 remaining but came away empty when Ricardo Louis, the hero of Auburn's 2013 series win, fumbled. Auburn lost two fumbles Saturday after losing two in the first nine games combined.
"I knew I had to hit him, but I thought he had thrown an interception," Jenkins said. "It wasn't until I got up and looked around and saw everybody pointing our way."
During the first half Saturday, big plays weren't going Georgia's way.
Late in the first quarter, the Bulldogs began a possession at their 34-yard line and drove to Auburn's 2 early in the second quarter after a 9-yard run by Sony Michel on first down. Michel fumbled and fell on the ball on second down and was stopped for no gain on third down before Lambert's fourth-down pass was thrown behind Malcolm Mitchell in the end zone.
"I had to change my arm angle a little bit, which is no excuse," Lambert said. "Down there you have to body him up, and I didn't. I was definitely mad at myself, but this was a great team win.
"A couple of players had big games, and our defense definitely stepped up."
The Bulldogs got in the red zone later in the second quarter but had to settle for Morgan's 40-yard field goal after Lambert was sacked on third-and-1 from the 12 for an 11-yard loss.
Auburn went back up by seven on Daniel Carlson's 42-yard field goal with 34 seconds left in the half, taking a 10-3 lead after a 12-play, 53-yard drive. The Tigers rushed for 161 first-half yards, compared to 60 by Georgia.
Georgia will have its home finale this week against Georgia Southern, with the 7 p.m. game being televised by ESPNU.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.