ATHENS, Ga. — Saturday night's Auburn-Georgia football game inside Sanford Stadium was not unlike those that came immediately before in the series.
For a third consecutive occasion, coach Gus Malzahn's visiting Tigers scored a first-quarter touchdown to briefly silence the red-clad crowd. For a third consecutive occasion, Auburn would relinquish the lead and fail to reach the end zone again.
Auburn and Georgia were on pace to provide an overdue classic in the Deep South's oldest football rivalry, but the Bulldogs closed their latest contest on a 21-0 run to turn a 10-6 deficit into a 27-10 cruise.
"It's a good feeling," Georgia senior defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter said. "I guess history is repeating itself as far as us showing that we're being the dominant team. We came out and played hard in the second half, and we pride ourselves on being a four-quarter team.
"I think that speaks for itself."
In quite the series oddity, Auburn has produced the game's first touchdown in the 2014, 2015 and 2016 matchups against Georgia, as well as last December's Southeastern Conference title game against the Bulldogs and again Saturday night. Yet those early scores were never replicated by the Tigers.
Georgia actually struck for the first touchdown last November in Auburn before the Tigers roared back for a 40-17 win.
The Tigers had 85 yards on 13 first-quarter plays in their latest encounter and took a 7-3 lead on a 9-yard pass from running back Boobie Whitlow to tight end John Shenker. Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham was 7-for-7 passing in the first quarter, and Whitlow had a 14-yard run to open his team's lone touchdown drive.
"We didn't know how well they would be able to run the ball, and we thought that we couldn't give up big plays," Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart said. "We were a little confused early. When we play these guys, traditionally you survive the script and the first three or four drives with Gus.
"You make adjustments, and you go play. We did not play well early and were sloppy, but our offense did possess the ball in the first half for what seemed like an eternity."
The Bulldogs consumed more than 20 of the game's first 30 minutes, including a stretch late in the second quarter when they sandwiched two touchdown drives around an Auburn three-and-out possession that took just 41 seconds. Georgia had the time of possession edge in all four quarters, finishing with a healthy 38 minutes and 15 seconds.
The team that wins the time-of-possession battle in this rivalry has earned 10 consecutive victories.
Auburn senior Ryan Davis amassed 13 catches, the most by a Tigers receiver under Malzahn, but his seven second-half receptions yielded just 22 of his 72 yards. The Tigers produced only 48 yards in the fourth quarter and finished with 274.
"I thought we settled down," Smart said. "I felt like all week that they were going to come out and do what they did. There is so much to prepare for, because they have a ton of personnel groupings, so you spend an enormous amount of time for what you might get a little bit of.
"They gave us something we didn't work on as much, and we had to put some packages together at halftime and did some different things."
Stidham and Davis now comprise the most productive passing tandem in Auburn history with 141 career connections, topping the 140 Pat Sullivan and Terry Beasley produced from 1969 to '71.
Explaining the fake
With 3:20 remaining in the game and the Bulldogs already ahead by the final margin, they lined up for a 31-yard field goal they never attempted, with a direct snap going to kicker Rodrigo Blankenship. Tight end Isaac Nauta broke free from the line and headed to the end zone, but Blankenship's pass sailed over his head.
Smart was asked afterward why he attempted the fake and responded, "Why not?"
When the reporter answered, "Because you had a comfortable lead," Smart responded, "What's comfortable? 17? Because 17 plus three is 20, and 20 is a three-score game and you lose. Right? If the point differential is three scores, then what good does a field goal do you?
"It's all about point differential, and we wanted them to have to start backed up. It was something that was well thought out long before it happened. We talked about it before the drive."
Fromm's weird rivalry
It's strange enough that Georgia sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm already has played Auburn three times, but he can expect to see his younger brother on the opposite sideline next November. Tyler Fromm is a three-star tight end at Warner Robins High School who is committed to the Tigers.
From was asked if this game was about to become a bit more bizarre for his family.
"It might be," he said. "It's one that will be awesome, and I can't wait when he's there."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.