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THESE TIGERS WERE AU-SOME
The electronic scoreboard in Jordan-Hare Stadium flashed AU-SOME, and that summed up Auburn's 20-10 victory over Georgia in the most important SEC game so far this season. On this day, before the biggest crowd—85,214—ever to see a football game in Alabama, the Tigers' erratic offense finally caught up with their murderous defense. Beyond that, they proved what their coach, Pat Dye, has suspected all season long: that this is the best team he has had in his eight years at Auburn.
The Tigers' only loss of 1988 came in Baton Rouge on Oct. 8. After having let LSU cross midfield only once in the game, Auburn allowed Louisiana State quarterback Tom Hodson to engineer a late drive that culminated in an 11-yard TD pass and a 7-6 LSU victory. That play put Louisiana State in position to claim at least a share of the conference title, which it did on Saturday by beating Mississippi State 20-3. Now, to gain a tie for the championship, Auburn must defeat Alabama on Nov. 25 at Legion Field in Birmingham.
The Tigers should have no difficulty with the Crimson Tide if they play the way they did against Georgia. The game was widely expected to be a battle between the Bulldogs' clock-eating ground game, led by SEC rushing leader Tim Worley, and Auburn's fearsome defense, spearheaded by defensive tackle Tracy Rocker and linebacker Brian Smith, which had given up fewer points (6.6 per game) and yards (210.4 per game) than any other team in the nation. In other words, it was to be old-fashioned Southern-style football. None of that sissy passing stuff.
But Georgia, with coach Vince Dooley going for his 200th victory since taking over in Athens in 1964, surprised everyone when quarterback Wayne Johnson threw back-to-back passes early in the first quarter for a total of 56 yards. More important, the second pass produced the first touchdown scored against Auburn in the first half this season. That was the Dawgs' only surprise of the day, however. Between that touchdown and the final seven minutes of the game, Johnson completed zero passes in six attempts, and Georgia got only two first downs.
The only things that kept the Bulldogs in the game were some silly Auburn penalties and a 59-yard kickoff return by Worley at the start of the second half. That put the Dawgs on the Tigers' 41, and six plays later they booted a 47-yard field goal to make the score 10-10. In 15 rushing attempts, Worley gained only 69 yards, which was all but one of Georgia's total on the ground. By the final quarter, said Auburn linebacker Craig Ogletree, "we kind of owned him."
Tiger quarterback Reggie Slack, who has often been criticized for disappearing in big games, orchestrated a balanced attack that amassed 263 yards in the air and 207 on the ground and kept the Bulldogs' defense on the field for more than 37 minutes. Auburn tailback Stacy Danley, who accounted for 172 of those rushing yards, carried 38 times to tie Bo Jackson's school record for most attempts in a game, set in 1985 against Ole Miss.
Slack connected with star receiver Lawyer Tillman for a seven-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter and thereafter relied on short passes to his tight end and running backs. On the play that produced the game-winning touchdown, in the third quarter, Slack rolled left and feathered a six-yard toss to tight end Walter Reeves, who was alone in the end zone. Win Lyle's second field goal of the game provided three insurance points.
Afterward, in arguing that his Tigers deserve to be ranked much higher (going into the game they were ninth in the AP poll and seventh in SI's), Dye said his defense had proved that it measures up to those of recent national champions Miami and Penn State. "The score isn't going to impress many people," he said, "but the way the game was played should. To hold Georgia to 70 yards rushing when it's averaging 285.... I don't know what they want around the country, but that's pretty stout."
Maybe even Au-some.