AUBURN, Ala. — From the day it was overwhelmed nearly 11 months ago in the second half of the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, the Georgia football team began eyeing a return trip to Atlanta.
The goal picked up momentum in January when all its draft-eligible defensive underclassmen passed on the NFL Draft.
The mission was accomplished Saturday night when the No. 5 Bulldogs easily secured a second consecutive spot in the league title game by steamrolling Auburn 38-0 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The rout wasn’t unexpected, but having to wait until Nov. 24 before its SEC title game opponent is officially locked down is a twist.
Top-ranked Alabama was upset by No. 15 Texas A&M 29-24 Saturday, so the Crimson Tide will have to wait to get the SEC West spot. That will come by beating Auburn in Tuscaloosa. If the Crimson Tide lose and Texas A&M beats Missouri, then the Aggies will go.
Given how Georgia (9-1, 7-1 SEC) had its way with the Tigers, that’s a considerable long shot.
The Bulldogs won for the sixth time in seven games against Auburn, shutting out their oldest rival for the first time since 28-0 in 1976.
Auburn (2-8, 0-7 SEC) was shutout for the first time in embattled coach Gene Chizik’s four seasons. The last time the Tigers were held scoreless in an SEC game at home was 20-0 to Mississippi State in 1997.
The Bulldogs scored touchdowns on its first four possessions to bolt out to a 28-0 second-quarter lead.
Quarterback Aaron Murray completed his first 10 passes and connected on 18 of 24 for 208 yards and three touchdowns.
Georgia got a pair of 100-plus yard rushing games from freshmen tailback Todd Gurley (116 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries) and Keith Marshall (105 yards and a touchdown on eight carries).
The Bulldogs kept an Auburn offense that ranked 113th in the nation sputtering on a night when Jarvis Jones had a pair of sacks and Bacarri Rambo snagged his 15th career interception. Auburn had nearly as many punts (nine) as first downs (11).
Georgia, which will play Dec. 1 in the Georgia Dome, gets another shot at an SEC crown after losing last year to Louisiana State. The Bulldogs were outscored 35-0 in the second half in a 42-10 loss.
The Bulldogs shook off a four-touchdown beatdown at South Carolina to win four consecutive conference games to secure their place in the championship game and remain in the mix for a BCS bowl berth and even the national title game, which players maight have focused on as much or more than the title tilt.
The Alabama loss actually could hurt Georgia’s chances of going there unless two of the unbeaten teams above them in the BCS standings—Kansas State, Oregon and Notre Dame--lose. The SEC, which has won the last six national titles, might not even get a team in the title game.
Georgia is making its fifth trip to the league title game in Richt’s 12 seasons. That’s the most of any SEC East team during that stretch and tied with LSU for the most in the league. Florida and Tennessee played in the game three times.
The Tigers looked every bit like a team headed for its first winless SEC season since 1980.
Georgia drove 76, 80, 64 and 90 yards on its first four possessions.
Gurley rushed for 77 yards on six carries in the first half, scoring on a 6-yard touchdown run to make it 28-0.
Even without injured Marlon Brown, Georgia’s three starting receivers each hauled in first-half touchdown passes.
Murray took aim at an Auburn defense run by former Georgia defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder and a secondary coached by former Bulldogs defensive coordinator Willie Martinez.
Murray found Chris Conley across the middle in the back of the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown pass for a 7-0 lead with 10:51 left in the first quarter.
He faked a handoff and fired 5-yard touchdown to Malcolm Mitchell for a 14-0 Georgia lead with 1:19 left in the first.
After leaving the game for a play after getting knocked down hard, Murray rolled right and threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Tavarres King in the right side of the end zone. The play was reviewed and it was ruled King was inbounds and Georgia led 21-0.
The biggest cheer for Auburn fans on the night might have been when the final score was shown of rival Alabama losing.
Auburn fans began heading for the exits at halftime.
They didn’t have to witness Marshall breaking free up the middle and turning on the speed for a 62-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Auburn threatened in the second half, but Emory Blake fumbled after a catch when Shawn Williams knocked ball loose and Mike Gilliard recovered at the Bulldogs’ 11.
Georgia’s stayed with nearly all of its defensive starters until late in the fourth quarter to preserve the shutout.