No. 4 Georgia hangs on to beat No. 12 Auburn, clinch SEC East

Georgia’s chances at the College Football Playoff are alive and well. And its chances of making the SEC championship game are at 100 percent.

Days after jumping two spots to No. 4 in the rankings following losses by Alabama and Penn State, the Bulldogs hung on for dear life in the fourth quarter for a 21-14 win to clinch the SEC East title.

The Bulldogs appeared in control of the game with a 21-0 lead in the fourth quarter. But Auburn scored quick touchdowns to pull within seven points and got the ball back twice with chances to tie the game.

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The first chance ended when Bo Nix missed a wide-open Harold Joiner on a fourth-and-2 play inside of three minutes to go. It would have been a surefire first down.

An accurate pass gets a first down. (via CBS)
An accurate pass gets a first down. (via CBS)

Auburn got the ball back again after forcing Georgia into a three-and-out. But the Tigers only got four plays as Nix was sacked on fourth down to effectively end the game.

The secret to Georgia’s success — at least before the fourth quarter — was a stifling run defense. The Auburn rushing game simply couldn’t get anything going. The Tigers rushed for fewer than three yards a carry. That put the freshman Nix in a position to carry the team with his arm and that didn’t work out all that well. Nix averaged fewer than five yards per pass attempt.

“[We] played really well early, lost our composure and didn’t finish the way we needed to,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said of his defense’s performance both in the first three quarters and then in the fourth quarter.

Nix threw for 245 yards on 50 attempts. He also scored the first rushing touchdown of the season against the Bulldogs.

Georgia’s third straight SEC East title

Georgia has one more game remaining on its SEC schedule. But at 6-1 in the conference, Georgia can do no worse than 6-2. No. 11 Florida, which beat Missouri 23-6 on Saturday, is done with its SEC schedule. The Gators are 6-2 in conference play and lost to Georgia on Nov. 2. Since Georgia has the head-to-head tiebreaker, next week’s game against Texas A&M doesn’t matter for the division title.

It matters a whole hell of a lot for Georgia’s College Football Playoff hopes, however. The Bulldogs are heading to the playoff with wins in the next three weeks. If Georgia beats A&M, Georgia Tech and then (likely) LSU in the SEC title game, the Bulldogs are one of the four teams in.

A loss anywhere in that stretch, however, eliminates Georgia from contention.

Fromm throws 3 TDs, averages 3.9 yards an attempt

Playoff contention needs to come with a more consistent passing attack, however. Georgia QB Jake Fromm finished just 13-of-28 passing for 110 yards and three touchdowns. He averaged fewer yards per attempt than Nix did.

A quarterback averaging fewer than four yards a pass attempt is never good. And it’s really not good when there’s a 51-yard completion involved. Fromm found Dominick Blaylock for the first touchdown of the game in the first quarter on a 51-yard pass. 

After that, no pass went further than 13 yards. Georgia’s offense is at its best when Fromm is throwing downfield effectively — like he did in the first half. It sputters and allows opponents to hang around when it only manages short completions. 

Alabama needed Auburn to win

Saturday was a really bad day for Alabama. The Crimson Tide lost Tua Tagovailoa for the season with a serious hip injury. And they didn’t get help from their hated rivals.

An Auburn win could have put Alabama back into the top four of the playoff rankings this week. And it would have been a boost to Alabama’s strength of schedule. The Crimson Tide don’t have a strong win so far in 2019 and a potential victory over an Auburn team that entered the game at 9-2 and in the top 10 would be a nice résumé booster.

Auburn won’t fall too far in Tuesday’s rankings. But the Tigers will be 8-3 when Alabama comes to town. Touting a signature win over an 8-4 team as an 11-1 team that missed its conference title game isn’t a very good boast.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports

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