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Georgia tight end Eli Wolf (17) runs the ball after completing a pass from Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm (11). Georgia defeated Auburn 21-14 on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo/Ryan Cameron, rcameron@randb.com)

Georgia’s performance on third down against Auburn wasn’t anywhere close to what it wanted. 

Tight end Eli Wolf said the Bulldogs expect to convert around 45% of their third downs. On Nov. 16 in Jordan-Hare Stadium, they extended their drives just 20% of the time, converting three of 15 attempts. 

“Auburn’s defense gave us a lot of problems,” Wolf said. “They’re a very talented group, but we expect more out of ourselves. We expect to get third-down conversions, and we weren’t doing that very well. First and second downs lead into third downs, so we’ve got to do better on those, too.”

This season, Georgia is third in the SEC with 43.8% third-down conversion percentage — not much worse than its goal. But the problem was amplified when the Bulldogs went 0-for-3 on third downs in the fourth quarter against the Tigers. 

Excluding the final drive when Jake Fromm took a knee, Georgia possessed the ball for three minutes and 17 seconds in the fourth quarter. It didn’t come at a good time. Georgia’s defense allowed 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter before stopping Auburn on its final drive. 

For the most part, though, it’s been the defense that has picked up the slack. 

“Our defense has done a great job of keeping us in games,” Wolf said. “We have to step up and do our part and execute better.”

All but one of Georgia’s 3-and-outs against Auburn came after failing to convert a play from five or more yards from the first-down marker. Head coach Kirby Smart said that’s a price the Bulldogs might have to play in their effort to be less predictable. 

“With our offense, [a manageable] third down has been anything from one to 12 [yards],” Smart said. “I certainly don't want to be in those [third-and-long situations], but if you want to keep people off balance and you want to change things up, you're going to have to live with some third-and-10s, because you're not always going to complete some shots and some explosive play-actions.”

Wolf said tight ends have multiple roles under first-year offensive coordinator James Coley’s system. On third down, that can include lining up in the slot, on the offensive line or in the backfield. 

But it was on first down when Wolf caught his first touchdown as a Bulldog.

“It was a cool moment,” Wolf said. “It’s not lost on me at all. I’m sure after the season is over, whenever that is, I’ll look back and it’ll be a memory [I’ll have] the rest of my life. But right now, we have some more things to take care of.”

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