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Georgia football head coach Kirby Smart leaps in the air to hug Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker (44). Georgia defeated Auburn 21-14 on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo/Ryan Cameron, rcameron@randb.com)

AUBURN, Ala. — Monty Rice squeezed his hands together with an unrelenting grip to demonstrate the suffocating nature of the Georgia defense. But when he recalled Auburn’s 14 unanswered points thrown up in the fourth quarter, Rice loosened the grasp on his hands.

“We about had them,” Rice said. “You just got to keep playing.”

Georgia started the fourth quarter with Auburn in its grip. Another SEC shutout was on the horizon with a 21-0 lead, and the Tigers hadn’t even found the red zone through three quarters.

Auburn quarterback Bo Nix made five consecutive completions for 49 total yards and rushed for 9 yards to put the Tigers on the Georgia 16-yard line. A couple of short plays and a Georgia pass interference penalty set Nix up for a 3-yard touchdown pass to Eli Stove, and the home crowd at Jordan-Hare Stadium erupted.

“That atmosphere was definitely something,” safety Richard LeCounte said. “We kept everything in front of us, not freaking out.”

Georgia’s offense didn’t help its defense out, recording its seventh of nine 3-and-outs and only shaving 1:45 off the game clock. Auburn returned to the field on its own 43-yard line and ran a high-tempo offense, getting back to the end zone in just 1:08 and put the game at 21-14.

“Next time we’re in that situation — up a couple of touchdowns — we need to step on their throat and not let them come back,” Rice said.

To make matters worse, Georgia gave up its first rushing touchdown on that drive. Nix scampered 2 yards into the end zone to cap off the drive.

“We’re supposed to hold them down there,” senior safety J.R. Reed said. “We shouldn’t have let them score down there. They shouldn’t even be down there.”

Georgia’s offense took the field again just to go 3-and-out once more. Auburn had already snapped the ball 72 times, and the Bulldogs’ defense started to feel the pressure. Head coach Kirby Smart said that’s when the defense started to play their best football.

“We have some good players, and they play better with their backs against the wall,” Smart said. “But that’s not what it should be. It should be you play your best all the time, not when you get your backs against the wall.”

Auburn used nine plays to drive to the Georgia 34-yard line before Nix’s screen pass on fourth down fell just off the hands of Harold Joiner. Smart didn’t give the credit to his defense for that incompletion. He simply called it a “gift.”

Georgia’s offense was on the field for 21 seconds before Auburn got the ball again. At that point, the Tigers had exhausted all of their timeouts, so Smart elected to defend the pass.

Nix failed to complete on three pass attempts, and freshman Travon Walker sacked the quarterback on fourth down to seal the victory that was almost given away.

Rice and the Georgia defense were exhausted following the game, and rightfully so. Auburn had run 86 plays against the Bulldogs, the most allowed in the Smart era.

“On that last drive right there, we just put the fire out [and] threw the water on the fire,” Rice said. “Travon had a game call, he executed, got him a sack to win the game. It’s time to go home now.”

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