Georgia had its early struggles with No. 24 Auburn on Saturday, but it eventually cruised to victory because of the plays the Bulldogs made in pivotal situations on third down. The Bulldogs delivered time and again, on both offense and defense, on third down en-route to a 27–10 win over the Tigers.
Georgia’s offense went 8-for-14 on third down, while the Bulldog defense held Auburn to just a 27.3 percent conversion rate. Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm was especially sharp on third down, going 6-for-8 for 106 yards and a touchdown, while also throwing a 37-yard, fourth-down touchdown pass to Terry Godwin in the second quarter.
"Third downs are huge,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “They keep drives alive. What they do is they keep the defensive line from getting pounded. When you sit there and you're getting pounded, pounded, pounded, over and over, every third-down conversion is more chopping wood. We continue to do a good job on third-down conversions. We've got good route runners. We've got good pass protectors. And we've got quarterbacks who can make plays on third down. I thought that was the difference in the game.”
The Bulldog offense has been successful on third down this season, ranking second in the SEC in third-down conversion rate entering Saturday’s game. But Fromm’s dynamite passing display on third down took the Georgia offense to another level against a strong Auburn defense which was allowing just a 32.2 third-down conversion rate coming into Saturday.
The most notable of Fromm’s third-down passes was a 14-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Simmons on third-and-4 with 2:47 left in the first half to give Georgia a 13-10 lead.
"We've got good route runners. We've got good pass protectors. And we've got quarterbacks who can make plays on third down. I thought that was the difference in the game.”
- Kirby Smart, Georgia head coach
Fromm dropped a ball in perfectly to Simmons, who was between a couple of Auburn defenders while heading toward the left side of the end zone. The score was the first time that Georgia converted a red zone trip into a touchdown after settling for two field goals, and Fromm’s great throw saved the Bulldogs from having to settle for a third.
“He's making good decisions with the ball on those third-down plays," Smart said of Fromm. "He's getting good protection. The biggest difference to me is the protection. The pocket hadn't melted down on him. He's looking at it and making good decisions. And when run the right route — which we had a busted route tonight in the red area — and we protect, we're pretty good at getting guys open and throwing the ball and catching the ball."
The Georgia defense’s success in getting off of the field made life much more stress-free for the offense, as Fromm and company took time to get going.
Auburn scored on two of its first three drives of the game, but failed to sustain drives as the game progressed because of Georgia’s tenacity on third down. The Tigers converted just two third downs in the second half and were dominated in the time-of-possession game.
Georgia held the ball for 38:15 to just 21:45 for Auburn, and Georgia’s control of the game was established because of its success on the money down.
“Our offense was doing a great job of controlling the ball,” senior defensive lineman Jonathan Ledbetter said. “We love football games like that. We get to get rested, and they just keep wearing down on teams, running the ball, mixing it up with some passes. We’d come out there and get them the ball right back. When you start playing like that, it's hard to be beaten."