Georgia players rush the field prior to SEC Championship game
Well, they say defense wins championships. It certainly did Saturday afternoon in Atlanta.
The Georgia Bulldogs looked like a completely different team Saturday than the one that lost to Auburn Nov. 11. They fixed the issues on the lines of scrimmage, had a great running game and the freshman quarterback played well.
And man, did they play some defense.
Auburn’s first drive Saturday looked like Georgia’s first drive three weeks ago. They drove down the field and scored, helped by a big penalty on Georgia that kept the drive alive. But then the Georgia defense shut down Auburn’s offense.
It helped that Auburn’s star running back, Kerryon Johnson, was not totally healthy. What was more important, however, was a Georgia defense that obviously didn’t care what had happened three weeks earlier. They just came to play.
In two short years, Kirby Smart has given Georgia fans something they haven’t experienced in 12 years — a conference championship. The starving Bulldogs had almost given up hope, especially with everyone in the country saying an SEC East team would never again beat a team from the mighty SEC West.
Maybe that loss Nov. 11 was a blessing in disguise for Georgia. Smart said after the embarrassing 40-7 loss his team would be defined on how it responded. Now we know this team was so humiliated it was determined to not let it happen again.
This season got rolling after Georgia shut down a Mississippi State team that had rolled over LSU the previous week, and with the exception of one blip, Georgia never stopped.
Oh, that one blip on the schedule is now wiped away. With the victory in the SEC championship game, it’s as if the Nov. 11 game didn’t even happen, like it was erased from the history books. Auburn fans may relish that game for a while, but their team didn’t win the one that counted the most.
Once again Saturday, it was the Roquan Smith show. This Georgia defense needed a star, and Smith has gotten better every week. After being neutralized and plum absent three weeks ago, Smith went nuts with 13 tackles and two tackles for loss.
The first big defensive play for Georgia was on Auburn’s third drive of the game. They were driving down the field, about to make it 14-0. Davin Bellamy then sacked Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham who then fumbled.
Want to guess who picked it up?
And when the fourth quarter began, Auburn had the ball and coughed it up. Want to guess who picked it up to give Georgia another huge momentum swing?
With the season Smith has had, we may say his first name like we do other stars in Georgia’s history. If you say Herschel, you know it’s Herschel Walker. Champ is always going to be Champ Bailey. And now, we may look back on this 2017 season and know that Roquan will always be Roquan Smith.
Jake Fromm, the freshman quarterback from Warner Robins who took over in the third series of the first game of the season, may also go down in the history books. It’s been 37 years since a freshman made that big of an impact on a Georgia team. That Walker kid that season was also from middle Georgia.
Fromm came out Saturday and looked nothing like a first-year player. Georgia’s offense was balanced enough to keep Auburn’s defense scrambling. Fromm made no mistakes and led his team like a veteran. Heck, he looked better Saturday than he has all season.
And, unlike three weeks ago, Fromm’s line of scrimmage was outstanding.
This game was like Smart drawing up points on a chalkboard, going over why they lost the first game to Auburn and saying exactly what they had to do to not let it happen again. His team executed perfectly, and this game will be remembered a lot more than the first Auburn game.
It’s been 12 long years for the Georgia Bulldogs. They are now SEC Champions. They’ll find out Sunday what’s next and where this magical season will take them as they try for another championship.
But let everyone in red and black savor this one for a while, as it’s awfully sweet.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” 3-7 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” — 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.