Originally created 11/12/06

BATTLE-TESTED VICTORY



AUBURN, Ala. - A season that had gone so wrong for Georgia suddenly took a U-turn. No wonder freshman quarterback Matthew Stafford let all the emotions pour out as he headed toward the sideline after a first-half score.

Stafford ran wild and connected deep. Safety Tra Battle was picking off passes like they were ticket numbers at a deli counter and Georgia's defense was punishing Auburn quarterback Brandon Cox.

All that added up to Georgia's 37-15 thumping of No. 5 Auburn, just when the Bulldogs needed it most.

"There was a lot of energy there that I was excited to be a part of," said Stafford, who completed 14 of 20 passes for 219 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 83 yards and a score in his first signature win at Georgia.

"It was something that we hadn't had in a while, and maybe it took playing an Auburn when we're down and out to spark us."

Political pundits could see a power shift coming this week, but football prognosticators never expected this.

Auburn (9-2, 5-2 SEC) entered as a 12 point favorite but left with its national title hopes smashed after Georgia's largest victory over Auburn since a 28-0 win in 1976.

The Bulldogs (7-4, 4-4) won for just the second time in six games and ensured their 10th consecutive winning season.

"We won a big game today, there's no doubt," Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. "We played a great football team and beat them at their home, and that's great in any season. But considering people's perception of what was happening to our program, it's huge. There's no question, it's a huge victory for us. I'm sure in my mind it will be one of the games that was maybe most important to me."

Funny how knocking off a top-five team can lessen the pain of losing to Kentucky and Vanderbilt in the same season.

Georgia suddenly is more attractive to the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta, especially if it can end the regular season by beating rival Georgia Tech on Nov. 25.

"This is a new season for us," said defensive tackle Ray Gant, who had two of Georgia's four sacks. "This is the way we started it. In my mind, it erases everything - Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida. I'm not even thinking about any of that right now."

Heroes were everywhere, including Stafford, Battle and Georgia's much-maligned receiving corps.

Working behind an offensive line that did not give up a sack, Stafford set up two touchdowns by completing deep balls and feasted on the Auburn defense with quarterback draws.

Georgia receivers did not drop a pass. A.J. Bryant had a career-best 53-yard reception to set up an 8-yard Kregg Lumpkin touchdown. Georgia set up its next touchdown on a 40-yard grab by Kenneth Harris to set up a Brannan Southerland 1-yard touchdown run and Stafford's emotional display.

Battle tied a school record with three interceptions but drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty after diving into the end zone on a 30-yard interception return for touchdown.

"That's the best penalty I've gotten in my career," said Battle. "I had to represent for the strength staff for getting my vertical up"