Georgia grounds Auburn
ATHENS, Ga. — Now that he’s no longer calling plays, Mark Richt has more time to think of ways to fire up his players.
The Georgia coach came up with another winner Saturday.
Richt sent out the No. 10 Bulldogs in black jerseys for the first time in the modern era, and boy did they look good in their new color.
Matthew Stafford threw two touchdown passes, Knowshon Moreno had 100 yards rushing for the fourth consecutive game and Georgia kept alive its Southeastern Conference title hopes with a 45-20 victory over 18th-ranked Auburn.
“That was a lot of fun,” said Richt, who suddenly has gone from a laid-back, by-the-book coach to someone willing to resort to all sorts of motivational tactics. “That was maybe first or second on the fun meter for me.”
Just two weeks ago, Richt broke character by ordering his team to celebrate excessively after their first score against Florida. The whole team stormed the end zone, drawing all sorts of penalties, but the Bulldogs went on to a 42-30 victory over the defending national champions.
Richt actually cooked up the jersey switch over the summer, giving in to a senior class that was desperate for a chance to wear black instead of Georgia’s traditional red. Everyone else was kept in the dark — literally.
The Bulldogs donned red in pregame warmups, then returned to the locker room for their normal ritual of praying privately with the lights turned out. When they came back on, everyone had black jerseys at their lockers.
“Oh, man, we were so jacked up,” said senior receiver Sean Bailey, who had four catches for a career-best 96 yards.
The Bulldogs (8-2) remained on top of the SEC East with a 5-2 mark, but they’ll need a little help to reach the Dec. 1 championship game in nearby Atlanta. Tennessee has only two SEC losses, too, and holds the tiebreaker over Georgia.
Whatever the outcome in the league race, the Bulldogs will long savor this win over their longest-running rival. In the 111th meeting between the schools, Stafford threw a 58-yard TD pass to Mohamed Massaquoi and a 13-yarder to Bailey.
Moreno, a redshirt freshman, had another big game with scoring runs of 24 and 2 yards, finishing with 101 yards on 22 carries.
Thomas Brown, returning from a broken collarbone, finished off the Tigers (7-4, 4-3) with a 53-yard run to the Auburn 1 early in the fourth. Brannan Southerland powered over on the next play, and the celebration was on for the black-clad Bulldogs and all their fans wearing the same color.
Georgia scored the final 28 points against an Auburn defense that was leading the SEC and ranked fifth nationally in points allowed, just 14.5 per game. Georgia has eclipsed 40 points in three consecutive games, the first time that’s happened since 1942.
“I thought we looked confused out there at times,” Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. “When you give up 45 points, you’ve been taken to the woodshed.”
The Tigers rallied for the lead in the third quarter but couldn’t overcome four interceptions by Brandon Cox.
“Just one of those nights,” said Cox, who also threw four interceptions against Georgia last year. “Their defense really got too much pressure on us.”
Months ago, Richt circled the Auburn game as the perfect opportunity for a “blackout.”
The Tigers had beaten Georgia in 12 of their past 15 meetings at Sanford Stadium, so Richt knew his team could use an emotional edge. Early in the week, he hinted at what was to come by requesting that all fans wear black, saying he was merely passing along the wishes of the seniors.
The Internet buzzed with speculation that something was up, but the Bulldogs came out for warmups wearing their normal home attire. When the four captains walked out of the locker room still in red, there was a bit of a groan from the crowd.
It was all a ruse, of course.
The rest of the team charged out through the main entrance wearing black jerseys, sending the 92,000 fans into a tizzy, the massive stadium rocking out to the AC/DC anthem “Back in Black.”
“It was important to make coach Richt look good,” Bailey said. “He put himself on the line by letting us where black.”
On Auburn’s first play from scrimmage, Kelin Johnson snatched the first of his two interceptions, setting up Brandon Coutu’s 32-yard field goal and sparking Georgia to a 17-3 lead by early in the second period.
But the outcome was still in doubt after Auburn, still smarting from a 37-15 loss to the Bulldogs a season ago, ripped off 17 consecutive points.
Ben Tate ran it in from the 7, Mario Fannin hauled in a 12-yard touchdown pass from Cox and Wes Byrum put the Tigers ahead for the first time on a 33-yard field goal with just under 7 minutes left in the third.
But Georgia wasn’t about to lose on its special night.
“We just looked in the mirror and said, ‘This is our house. We don’t want to get embarrassed,’ ” Johnson said.
The Bulldogs dominated the rest of the way, reclaiming the lead with two big plays. First, Stafford went deep down the right sideline for a 45-yard pass to Bailey that actually was called by Richt instead of offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.
Then, Moreno ripped off a brilliant run, sprinting through a big hole over left tackle and, just when it looked like he would head for the corner, cut back to his right and left Auburn safety Zac Etheridge grasping at air. Moreno posed in the end zone with both hands on his hips, having barely been touched.
When it was over, the Bulldogs sprinted toward the student section, dancing along with one more playing of “Back in Black.”