Auburn's offense motivated by last season's 2nd-half failures against Georgia

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Auburn's offense motivated by last season's 2nd-half failures against Georgia

The memories are fresh, even nearly one year later.

A year removed from a road loss to Georgia in which Auburn's offense mustered just 32 yards in the second half, the sting from the Tigers' second-half performance in a 13-7 loss -- which knocked them out of SEC and College Football Playoff contention -- still persists.

"It really bothers us when we think about, you know, our defense really played lights out," Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson said. "We gave them, really, the touchdown that they won on. We threw a pick-six, and that killed it. So from an offensive standpoint, when we think about that game, we definitely have a bad taste in our mouth knowing that we still could have won that game if we had taken care of the ball and eliminated a simple mistake." 

Auburn entered last season's edition of the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry riding a six-game winning streak and ranked ninth in the CFP rankings. A win against Georgia, which was 5-4 overall and 3-4 in the SEC entering the week, would have set up a winner-take-all Iron Bowl between Auburn and Alabama for the SEC West title.

Auburn took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, when Johnson capped a 15-play, 80-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run, but that was about the extent of the Tigers' offense for the game, which they played without Kamryn Pettway (quad) and with an injured and ineffective Sean White at quarterback. Outside of the first-quarter touchdown drive, Auburn totaled just 52 yards in the first half.

"Really, shoot, the first half of that game wasn't pretty, either," Johnson said.

The situation deteriorated for Auburn's offense after halftime.

The Tigers had seven second-half drives, totaled just 32 yards and were held without a first down. White also threw a pick-six on the opening drive of the third quarter, which tied the game at 7-7 and was the only touchdown the Bulldogs scored in the game. Georgia added a pair of fourth-quarter field goals to secure the 13-7 win and thwart Auburn's aspirations.

"I definitely think about that," Johnson said. "A lot of guys on the team from Georgia definitely think about that, and a lot of guys from Alabama definitely think about it. It's going to be a lot of motivation. We really want this game, and with the opportunity we have in front of us, it only makes us want it even more."

Tenth-ranked Auburn (7-2, 5-1 SEC) enters Saturday's 2:30 p.m. matchup with top-ranked Georgia (9-0, 6-0) in a better situation than a year ago, though the stakes are similar. Auburn's offense has been rolling for much of the season thanks to Johnson and a renewed downfield passing attack led by Jarrett Stidham, and while the Tigers are again without an injured Pettway, both teams have plenty on the line.

Auburn embracing chance to play Nos. 1 and 2, starting with Georgia

A win for Auburn would set up another SEC West-deciding Iron Bowl on Nov. 25, and it would continue the Tigers' outside chance at making the playoffs if they win out.

"It probably motivates the fact that it was a tough loss, that's what motivates players," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "And the opportunity this year motivates players.... You don't dwell on the specifics but you can use things to motivate you, but the bottom line is the opportunity is that's before our players."

Naturally, Auburn's offense hopes to avoid a repeat of last season's collapse -- which was similar to Auburn's second-half struggles in its losses to Clemson and LSU this season.

"We want to come out in the third quarter and play strong all the way through the fourth," Auburn receiver Darius Slayton said. "I feel like ever since (the LSU loss), we've done a better job of doing that in games that followed."

Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.

from Auburn Sports Impact

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