ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia knows it is going bowling.
OK, that may not be something that many would think would be worth celebrating back when the season started, but considering the Bulldogs were in a four-loss-in-five game tailspin two weeks ago, it wasn’t a certainty.
A road win at Kentucky and an upset of No. 8 Auburn, 13-7, Saturday, means offensive tackle Tyler Catalina’s final college season will be the first that will extend beyond November.
The graduate transfer didn’t come close to sniffing the FCS playoffs at Rhode Island so he isn’t choosy about which bowl game the Bulldogs play at during holiday time.
“It really doesn’t matter to me,” Catalina said. “Going to a bowl is fun enough for me. It’s a tremendous experience I get to do now and I’m going to make the best of it.”
Georgia (6-4) looks to be in the mix for one of the SEC’s pool of six bowls after the College Football Playoff, the Sugar Bowl and Citrus Bowl.
Those pool of six bowls are the Outback in Tampa, Music City in Nashville, TaxSlayer in Jacksonville (unlikely since Georgia played there last year), Liberty in Memphis, Texas in Houston and Belk in Charlotte. The SEC assigns teams with consultation from schools and the bowls
“I’d rather go to Tampa,” defensive back Maurice Smith said. “Wherever we go as a team is a blessing. We started off with people not even counting us and for us to get this win it’s just a tremendous statement to the world and to the SEC.”
Smith, the graduate transfer, was on Alabama teams that played in two Sugar Bowls and last year the Cotton Bowl before winning the national championship game. The Bulldogs are one of 58 teams now bowl eligible, eight from the SEC.
The Bulldogs finished 4-4 in the SEC, avoiding their first losing record in league play since 2010 and can ensure a winning overall record with one more victory.
“Every win means a lot but this one, a win at home is always great feeling and hopefully we carry the momentum on,” said running back Nick Chubb, who rushed for 101 yards on 23 carries Saturday and moved into fourth on the school’s all-time rushing list with 3,086 yards.
Next up is Louisiana-Lafayette (4-5) Saturday at noon in Athens on the SEC Network Alternate Channel.
“I told them in the locker room, I don’t care if we’ve gotta play a high school, we’ve got to play up to our level and dominate,” Smith said.
After holding Auburn to 164 yards, Georgia moved up to No. 11 nationally in total defense at 308.1 per game, which ranks behind only Alabama and Florida in the SEC. The Bulldogs are second in the SEC in pass defense at 189 per game after holding Auburn to 37 passing yards, the 16th fewest allowed in an FBS game this season.
Georgia’s defense didn’t pin its success in stopping the run to the good fortune of not having to go up against Kamryn Pettway, the SEC’s leading rusher who was out with a leg injury.
Auburn had 127 yards on the ground, including 20 in the second half when the Tigers ran the ball only eight times and went without a first down.
“We don’t gameplan for a specific person,” outside linebacker Davin Bellamy said. “We don’t do team run for Pettway on Tuesdays and Wednesday. We do team run to stop the run. Whoever’s back there is the guy we’re kind of focused on. The way we played (Saturday), you could have had anybody back there, man.”
After throwing for 208 yards on 20 of 31 passing, Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason now has gone four straight games without an interception.
He has the lowest interception rate (5 in 303 attempts for 1.65 percent) this season of any true freshman quarterback who has started 75 percent of his games, according to NCAA statistics.
Georgia is averaging just 22.6 points per game, which ranks 112th nationally. The Bulldogs became the first team to defeat a top 10-ranked AP team without an offensive touchdown since LSU beat Alabama 9-6 in 2011, according to the SEC Network.
But the Bulldogs had only two three-and-outs all game to help the defense’s cause and chewing up clock negated Auburn’s tempo, Georgia coach Kirby Smart said.
“The defense got to rest,” coach Kirby Smart said. “Going into this game that was my major concern was not getting to rest on defense because of their tempo….All the things we did wrong, we possessed the ball. “