Seven observations, and a bonus final thought, as Georgia leads Auburn 17-7 at halftime at Sanford Stadium.
1. Georgia's offensive performance: Why all this attention on Todd Gurley? It's Nick Chubb who's been the offensive star. Obviously the hype given to Gurley's return (myself included) was warranted, but Chubb, the freshman, is showing why there was little dropoff in Georgia's running game during Gurley's absence. He has 67 yards on seven carries, including a touchdown, as well as a 21-yard catch-and-run. Hutson Mason has also been on point, and deserves better than his stat line (7-for-15 for 83 yards and a TD). Mason has just been hurt by a few drops. But the fact he's throwing it as well as he did last week portends very well for Georgia, which will still have to pass.
2. As for Gurley, his stats are still good (52 yards on 13 carries), they just pail in comparison to his pre-suspension stats, and to Chubb's tonight. Of course Gurley's electric first touch post-suspension was negated by a holding penalty. So he's still got it. But his ability to get that second gear hasn't been there yet on his offensive plays. Gurley's first two touches on offense were for minus-3 yards. He had just nine yards on four carries in the first quarter. He did better in the second half, but still couldn't break away. Keep in mind, Auburn has a pretty good run defense. But Chubb has been the one able to gash it so far.
3. Georgia is in great position, leading by 10 with the ball to start the second half. All of this after Georgia should have equaled it right away left some points on the board on its first possession, or rather had them taken away. Georgia had penalties negate a kickoff return for a touchdown and a fake punt that would have put the ball at the 2. And Isaiah McKenzie dropped a deep ball on third down that was placed perfectly by Mason. The penalty negating Gurley's 105-yard kickoff appeared to be a legit call on Ryne Rankin, although if it wasn't called I'm not sure anyone would have noticed. The penalty that ruined the fake punt completion, however, looked suspect. It was illegal man downfield, but if he was past the 5-yard mark, it wasn't by much. And it didn't look like he was.
4. The early turning point happened Georgia got a break it probably deserved after the previous stuff we mentioned: Auburn's Quan Bray muffed a punt, which he had fair caught, and Georgia recovered at the 18. Four plays later, on third down, Mason hit Malcolm Mitchell on a 7-yard slant pattern for the touchdown. That was a huge lift, perhaps on par with Florida's fake field goal touchdown two weeks ago, which made it 7-7, and spurred the Gators on a similar run that the Bulldogs find themselves in now.
5. Another important moment: Mark Richt's decision to go for it rather than kick the short field goal may have been inspired by the offense insisting it had a play that worked. And it did. Lining up in a three-back set, basically the wishbone, Chubb went up the middle 9 yards. The offensive line did a stupendous job on the play, with the seas parting for Chubb.
6. Jeremy Pruitt had a good gameplan in the first half. Any team that holds Auburn to seven points and 158 yards in the first half is doing great. Pruitt had Leonard Floyd at the star much of the time, in an effort to put a good tackler outside to help contain. Floyd played the star a bit last year, but that's something Pruitt said he wouldn't do last spring, saying he would have a defensive back at the star. But this appears to be a unique circumstance. Pruitt has also been subbing in a lot of defensive backs, including freshman Malkom Parrish, who hadn't played much on defense this year.
7. There was a key sequence late in the half, centered around the roughing the punter call on Auburn. But the question there was how in the world Collin Barber got the punt off. That was quite the move by the punter, and it helped that the Auburn player appeared to go for broke, and got burned. That negated what was a potentially critical drop two palys earlier by Chris Conley. Instead of the ball inside Auburn's 20, a chance to make it a two-score lead, Auburn got the ball with plenty of time. But the penalty on the punt gave Georgia back the ball, and it was back on the move, eventually getting Marshall Morgan's 32-yard field goal.
Final thought: A great first half for Georgia on both sides of the ball. You have to figure Gus Malzahn will have some good adjustments, so Mason, Chubb, Gurley and company need to keep moving the ball and putting up points. The important thing for Georgia is it has momentum, a strong crowd, and a lot on the line. The next 30 minutes are huge for the team. Soon, it may clinch the SEC East Division. But there's still a lot of work to be done against a very good Auburn team.