It’s hard to pinpoint one play from a game of many where Georgia’s defense had trouble bringing down Auburn ball carriers, but the 32-yard touchdown by Ryan Davis in the third quarter on a screen pass may have illustrated the type of day Saturday was for the Bulldogs.
Quarterback Jarrett Stidham hit Davis on the left side. Inside linebacker Roquan Smith, a likely All-American, went for Davis’ leg and missed on a tackle just three yards off the line of scrimmage and Davis had room to run in the open field.
Cornerback Malkom Parrish got a hand on Davis’ leg at the 12-yard line and inside linebacker Natrez Patrick jumped at the 10 to try to bring the receiver down but bounced off and Davis scored to open a 30-7 lead in what became a 40-17 Tigers blowout.
“That wasn’t the performance we were looking forward to,” cornerback Aaron Davis said. “We didn’t play Georgia football on Saturday and that’s something that showed in the scoreboard towards the end.”
Georgia surrendered its most rushing yards—237—and second most passing yards—251—this season against Auburn.
Its previous high for rushing yards given up was 183 against Florida and most passing was 253 against Missouri.
The 488 total yards of offense was the most in 19 games since Ole Miss rolled up 510 in a 45-14 rout of the Bulldogs on Sept. 24, 2016.
Georgia’s defense had been ranked among the nation’s best for most of the season, but coach Kirby Smart insisted Monday that the tackling issues for Georgia were more than just this game.
“I have been really concerned about our tackling all year,” he said. “I have not been happy with it anytime.”
Even after a 42-7 blowout of Florida, Smart said: “We had a lot of sloppy tackling.”
Two games earlier following a 45-14 win at Vanderbilt, Smart said: “We didn’t strike up front, we didn’t tackle well.”
He elaborated on Monday as No. 7 Georgia prepared to play Kentucky in a 3:30 p.m. game Saturday in Athens.
“You measure tackling by how many one-on-one situations you get in and how many of those you win,” he said. “Typically, our ratio has been the same all year. It has not been real good. People measure things differently. When there’s two guys standing there to tackle a guy and one of them makes it, it’s a whole lot different than a one-on-one situation. We lost a lot of one-on-one situations but we lost a lot of one-on-one situations throughout the year.”
Nose guard John Atkins had at least three missed tackles at Auburn—he said it was more than he usually does-including on a chance to get a tackle for loss on a second-and-1 in the third quarter on Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson.
“That’s a great running back,” Atkins said.
Johnson forced six missed tackles and had 96 yards after contact, according to Pro Football Focus.
He rushed for 167 yards, scored on a 55-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter and finished with 233 all-purpose yards.
“We have to come together and tackle as a group whenever you have a good back,” Davis said.
Johnson was named SEC offensive player of the week Monday and center Casey Dunn was named the conference’s offensive lineman of the week after making what was said to be six blocks that led to first downs or touchdowns.
“We didn’t play good, we didn’t play good as a whole,” Atkins said. “We didn’t strike. They kind of outphsycialed us a lot.”
That included junior defensive tackle Trenton Thompson having a tough time with Auburn guard Braden Smith.
Thompson missed two games with a sprained knee ligament in October.
“I really don’t think the injuries are affecting Trenton at this point,” Smart said. “He’s healthy— practicing good, playing good. I think across the D-line as a whole, I’m not talking about Trenton, I think we can play better. We have to strike and get off blocks, but every player on our team can do that. It’s easy to look at a lot of the things that reared their head in the last game, they were in the game before and the game before that. … We as a coaching staff have been saying for a while that we have to fit runs better. We have to tackle better, we have to strike and get off blocks better.”
Georgia will get another test of its tackling Saturday when Kentucky comes to town for a 3:30 p.m. game.
Benny Snell is third in the SEC, averaging 101.3 yards per game and is tied for the SEC lead with Johnson with 15 touchdowns.
“He’s a great back,” Davis said. “It’s not going to be just one guy being able to bring him down. That’s a testament to the work he’s put in. Gang-tackling’s probably going to be the emphasis this week.”
The defense can get its own test from going up against Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.
“Good thing is we get to practice against some pretty good backs in our practices,” Smart said. “We get to thud them, we do not get to tackle them, but we have to do a better job for sure.”