Auburn's Rodgeriqus Smith scores after catching a pass in the second half.
Nov. 11, 2006
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) -Tra Battle and the Georgia Bulldogs snatched away No. 5 Auburn's title hopes.
Battle intercepted three first-half passes, returning one for a touchdown, and the Bulldogs salvaged a disappointing season with an emphatic 37-15 victory over the Tigers on Saturday.
Auburn (9-2, 5-2 Southeastern Conference) entered the game nearly a two-touchdown favorite and was among a handful of one-loss teams trying to play into a Bowl Championship Series title shot. The Tigers were ranked sixth in the latest BCS standings, but were unable to put up much of a fight in this one.
Instead, an Auburn team that struggled against other underdogs such as Mississippi and South Carolina and was dominated by then-unranked Arkansas imploded. So did the Tigers' hopes of winning even an SEC title.
The Bulldogs (7-4, 4-4), who had lost four of their last five games, jumped out to a stunning 30-7 halftime lead against the nation's No. 4 scoring defense on big plays by freshman quarterback Matthew Stafford and the defenders.
They sacked Brandon Cox four times and Battle swiped three of Cox's eight first-half passes.
No team had scored that many points against Auburn since a 38-17 loss to Arkansas in 2002.
Stafford completed 14 of 20 passes for 219 yards and ran seven times for 83 yards, accounting for two touchdowns.
Georgia outgained the Tigers 446-171 and held onto the ball for 38 minutes, 12 seconds. The Bulldogs could have piled it on late, but opted to kneel on four consecutive plays deep in Auburn territory.
It was a huge turnaround for a team reeling from embarrassing losses to Kentucky and Vanderbilt, and for Stafford, who had thrown eight interceptions in the past three games. He had none this time.
Instead, Cox was the one who kept making errant passes. He was picked off four times and completed just 4 of 12 passes for 35 yards in the worst game of his career. Two of his passes were for negative yards.
Stafford lost two fumbles but had big plays running and passing for the Bulldogs, continually catching the Tigers off-guard with runs up the middle.
Kregg Lumpkin rushed for a career-high 105 yards and had a touchdown run and catch.
Stafford went untouched for a 9-yard touchdown with a draw on third-and-goal early in the fourth quarter to make it 37-15.
That ended Auburn's short-lived rally attempt.
Courtney Taylor had run 31 yards on an end around and Cox hit Rod Smith for a 34-yard touchdown pass, set up by a Stafford fumble. The Tigers converted a two-point pass to make it 30-15 with 4:27 left in the third quarter.
Stafford, who set up TDs with passes of 53 and 40 yards in the first half, and the Bulldog defense refused to let Auburn get any closer.
Battle returned his second pick 30 yards for a touchdown with 4:56 left in the opening half. It was the first three-interception game by a Georgia player since 1982.
Georgia's Gordon Ely-Kelso, a punter pulling double duties for the first time, kicked a 34-yard field goal but had an extra point blocked.
Auburn's Kenny Irons was held to 49 yards on 10 rushes. Lester gained 40 yards on four carries, including a 21-yard touchdown run in the first half.