AUBURN, Ala. — This one was over from the opening kickoff.
Georgia restored some order to a chaotic Saturday afternoon in the SEC by locking up the East with a 38-0 rout of Auburn at Jordan Hare Stadium, the worst home loss for the Tigers in 32 years.
Even though Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said he expected a lot tougher fight out of the Tigers — “We thought they had defended the pro-style offense very well in the past,” — this was as dominating a performance as the Dawgs have enjoyed all year.
That says a lot about both teams.
Georgia could be kindly described as the most schizophrenic top-10 squad in the nation. They struggled against teams like Kentucky that they should have dominated, and fell asleep for a quarter or two here and there against teams like Buffalo and Ole Miss.
Their defense let Tennessee score 44 points, and then held then No. 2-ranked Florida to nine, forcing four Gator fumbles.
Then there was the loss at South Carolina, a game where Georgia looked as hapless and pathetic as they appeared unstoppable against Auburn.
And they looked championship caliber this night on the plains.
The Dawgs racked up 497 yards of offense, 289 on the ground and 208 in the air with quarterback Aaron Murray completing 10 consecutive passes to start the game.
They scored on their first drive, and their second, and their third. When they scored a fourth time with 5:08 remaining the first half on a six-yard Todd Gurley run, orange-clad Auburn fans scurried to the exits like it was a fire drill.
By the beginning of the fourth quarter, with head coach Mark Richt resting the starters and getting everybody on the field, the fan cam had to pan to the small Georgia section in the southeast corner of Jordan-Hare to find anything resembling a crowd.
“It’s wonderful to win in front of our fans,” Richt said. “And it’s great to win the East again, don’t get me wrong. There are six other teams that would love to have done it. But there’s a different feeling this time that Atlanta (and SEC Championship Game) isn’t the end of the road.”
Georgia players, coaches and fans have their eyes on a bigger prize. It has been six years since the SEC champion has missed the BCS title game. While they all claim that they don’t pay much attention, you can bet that every Dawg will be watching Oregon, Notre Dame and Kansas State and figuring out who has to beat whom for Georgia to have a shot at the title.
“The computers do what they do,” outside linebacker Jarvis Jones said. “We’ll watch, but all we can control is what we do and how we play. If we continue to win, we’ll let everything else work out.”
In an ironic twist, SEC fans will now be pulling for Lane Kiffin and his USC Trojans to knock off the Irish and then win their division in the Pac-12 to get another shot at Oregon.
“I always look at the BCS rankings, you can’t help but look at them,” Richt said. “I’m not going to look and say, ‘If they do this or they do that,’ then we’ll move in. But I know we’re still in it. We still have a chance. But there are probably 10 teams that think they have a chance . . . We probably have six teams that are legitimate top-10 teams (in the SEC).”
Auburn is not one of those, and hasn’t been since mid-September.
Which brings us to the question puzzling everyone who follows college football: How can a team less than two years removed from winning a national championship be this bad?
And have no illusions. They are a terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad football team.
Georgia could have easily beaten Auburn by 50. As it was, this was the worst home SEC loss for Auburn since Tennessee beat the Tigers 42-0 in Jordan-Hare in 1980.
“It’s what you see,” head coach Gene Chizik said. “It’s been frustrating. Again, it has just been one of those years where it has kind of snowballed in momentum, and we haven’t been able to really catch any. This league is what it is every year. It’s very good football teams, and we haven’t played very well in some games. Tonight was one of those games.”
Chizik had already apologized after the 63-21 drubbing Auburn took at the hands of Texas A&M. But being sorry doesn’t answer the fundamental question: How did they get so bad so fast?
Granted, they lost all but a handful of players from the national championship team to graduation, the NFL, or various career-ending infractions. But a BCS trophy in your athletic center is supposed to attract top-flight recruits.
Instead, Auburn has been woefully lacking at almost every spot on the field.
“It’s very painful,” Chizik said. “It is painful for the coaches and players, certainly the fans and the alumni. It is very painful for everybody.”
The fans have taken it particularly hard. Long viewed as one of the nicest places in the SEC to visit, the hospitality and courtly nature of the Auburn base hasn’t changed. They just don’t hang around as long to offer it.
One of the elevator operators even apologized, saying, “I’m really sorry you had to come see us play like this, but unfortunately, I’ve been saying that all year.”
It’s a far cry from Georgia’s last visit to Jordan-Hare. Two years ago in that one, Nick Fairley knocked Aaron Murray out of the game with a pile-driving tackle that Murray still remembers well. “I walked past that training room and shuttered,” he said. “I don’t ever want to see that place again.”
That night the Auburn fans were as loud as they’ve ever been.
This night, the biggest and longest eruption came when final score of Texas A&M-Alabama flashed on the big screen.
Other than that, it was golf claps and footfalls as the place emptied out.
They can be forgiven a little schadenfreude. When your team is this bad, there are nights when it’s all you have left.