Georgia won its first SEC title since 2005 and punched its ticket to the College Football Playoff in the process Saturday, downing Auburn 28-7 in the SEC championship game.
Auburn manhandled Georgia 40-17 on November 11, but the Bulldogs were much more physical this time around, stifling Auburn’s rushing attack – it helped that Tigers running back Kerryon Johnson obviously wasn’t anywhere near 100 percent – and grinding out 238 yards on the ground themselves.
Georgia, which led 10-7 at halftime, was sixth in this week’s CFP rankings, but should move to at least fourth in the final set of standings. The Bulldogs — the first SEC East team to win the league title since eventual national champ Florida in 2008 — are bound for a semifinal game in either the Rose or Sugar bowl.
Georgia won with the formula that worked in every game except the first matchup with Auburn — a strong rushing attack and a stifling defense.
Johnson rushed for 167 yards in Auburn’s regular-season rout of Georgia, but after suffering a shoulder injury in last week’s Iron Bowl victory over Alabama, he finished with just 44 on 13 carries against the Bulldogs.
Auburn motored down the field on its first drive, going 75 yards in 10 plays for a 7-0 lead. But the Tigers managed just 184 the rest of the game. Georgia held Auburn to 114 rushing yards and outgained the Tigers 421-259.
Nine of the past 10 SEC championship games have been decided by at least 11 points and this was the seventh in that span decided by at least 17.
Georgia (12-1) has won 12 games for just the third time in school history; the others came in 1980, when the Bulldogs won the national title, and 2002, when the Bulldogs went 13-1, including a win over Florida State in the Sugar Bowl.
Auburn (10-3) had been second in the CFP rankings, but will fall out of the top four. The Tigers still will be in a New Year’s Six bowl.
While Georgia can focus on preparing for its playoff appearance, Auburn now will have to deal with chatter regarding coach Gus Malzahn, who is likely No. 1 on Arkansas’ coaching wish list. Malzahn is an Arkansas native who was a longtime Arkansas high school coach and is a former Razorbacks assistant.
(You can follow Mike Huguenin on Twitter @MikeHuguenin)
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