AUBURN, Ala. — J.R. Reed loves playing in hostile environments. A sellout crowd of 87,451 raucous fans at Jordan-Hare Stadium fits the bill. For Reed and the rest of Georgia’s defense, that energy became fuel. But it almost ran out.
“I love it,” Reed said on Monday. “It gets me going. Any day we get to practice with crowd noise, it turns up the practice another notch.”
Auburn averaged 32.7 points per game before kickoff. It finished with just 14 Saturday as Reed and the rest of the Bulldogs narrowly escaped with a 21-14 win. The victory gave Georgia a ticket to the SEC championship game for the third consecutive year.
In a stuffy locker room after the game, Reed was poised as he reflected on his final SEC road game. He knew the Plains lived up to the hype.
“This is probably the No. 1 hostile environment I’ve ever played in, "Reed said. “Especially two years ago, and then now. It’s very loud. I love it, coming in here and getting the win.”
Georgia led 21-0 heading into the fourth quarter. Then Bo Nix took over the game. Auburn’s offense erupted. The true freshman commanded the Tiger offense for 158 yards in the fourth quarter and nixed Georgia’s three-touchdown lead. But it wasn’t enough.
“We were bend don’t break,” head coach Kirby Smart said. "They hit some plays. They went tempo. I thought [Nix] got a little more confident. We had a couple of busts and when you combine those things, guys get hot.”
With 2:24 on the clock, Nix’s pass to Harold Joiner on fourth down slipped through Joiner’s hands and Georgia took over. Nix had another chance 21 seconds later. This time, there was no magic.
Georgia’s relentless defense mustered up one final stop and sacked Nix on fourth-and-10 on Auburn's ensuing drive to seal the win. The buildup didn’t come without doubt, though.
As the stadium swayed with anxiety, Nix nearly mounted an improbable comeback. The Bulldog offense continued to stall, and after punting the ball back to Auburn, Nix orchestrated a game-changing drive as the clock ticked to seven minutes.
Nix exposed the secondary and threw for 47 yards on a touchdown-scoring drive. He capped it off with a 2-yard touchdown lunge to snap Georgia’s nine-game streak of not allowing a rushing touchdown.
With 10:25 left in the game, Auburn faced fourth-and-5 from the Georgia 9-yard line. Nix looked to pass, and aired it out to the sideline where the play was smothered. However, Georgia’s Eric Stokes was whistled for pass interference.
The Tigers were gifted a fresh set of downs and two plays later, Nix swung a pass to Eli Stove for a 3-yard touchdown and Auburn’s first points of the game.
Then Auburn reached into its bag of tricks. An onside kick recovery was negated after an illegal block, and Georgia exhaled – for the slightest moment.
Georgia’s defense was pliable down the final stretch. But it never completely broke.
“We kind of didn’t have enough answers when we needed it most,” Smart said. “But I’ll say this, they went out there the last time and came up with some big stops.”