ATLANTA — The ticket has been punched for the No. 6 Georgia Bulldogs.
In a revenge game for the ages, the Bulldogs destroyed No. 2 Auburn 28-7 in the 2017 SEC Championship Game to take their first SEC title since 2005 and presumably punch a ticket to the College Football Playoff.
Bulldogs quarterback Jake Fromm went 16-for-21 for 183 yards and two touchdowns, running back Nick Chubb rushed for 77, fellow back D’Andre Swift went for 88 and the defense stymied the high-octane Tigers offense that went nuts in a 40-17 win over these Bulldogs last month.
What did we learn from Georgia’s victory lap inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium?
1. Jake Fromm isn’t a star-in-the-making, he’s just a star: Big stage, no problem for Georgia’s true freshman quarterback. As has been the case all year save for one hiccup when his offensive line forgot to block on The Plains, Fromm has been lights out. In his revenge against the Tigers, Fromm had the poise of a veteran, making clutch throw after clutch throw — including two across the field on third and long in the first half — to lead Georgia to the Promised Land.
The former star of the 2011 Little League World Series was as big league as they come, and he stared down a defensive front in the face that terrified even the most seasoned quarterbacks in 2017. He can handle this stage. He can handle the bigger stage of the College Football Playoff. He can handle any stage.
In the month leading up to the College Football Playoff, don’t think of Fromm as a “true freshman.” By definition, that’s accurate. But think of him like you thought of Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts last year — an unflappable force who is capable of pulling his team through. He proved it Saturday night.
2. Roquan Smith needs to get Heisman Trophy love: If you’re looking for a defensive player to give some Heisman love to, consider the Bulldogs linebacker. His 13 tackles, two for loss, one sack, two quarterback hurries and fumble recovery made him the most important player of a team that has relied heavily on defense all year long. What’s more, his impact disrupting plays in the backfield, the attention he drew from Auburn’s offense, and his ability to take away massive portions of the field on every play was evident on virtually every drive.
This isn’t your everyday linebacker. This is the unquestioned leader of a defensive that’s not only full of established stars like fellow linebackers Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter, and lineman Trenton Thompson. A finalist for the Bednarik and Butkus Awards, Smith deserves to be at least mentioned in a field that, more or less, is Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield “and everybody else.”
3. Auburn ran out of gas: Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson injured his shoulder/oblique late in last week’s win over Alabama, and it was clear from the opening kick that coach Gus Malzahn was trying his best to save him for the perfect time. The problem? There was no perfect time. Auburn couldn’t get into manageable situations on second and third downs with swings, screens and its other running backs, which prevented the offensive explosion that won the game for the Tigers during the first go-round between the two rivals.
There was no Plan B, because they didn’t develop one throughout the course of the season. As was the case in the loss to Clemson in Week 2, the Tigers’ offensive line was vulnerable in obvious passing situations, quarterback Jarrett Stidham got happy feet and there was no offensive identity from the middle of the first quarter on.
That doesn’t mean Auburn was a fluke. It is fully capable of dominating games against the best teams in the country and proved it this year. But the offense was limited due to depth issues at running back and an inability to create another identity throughout the course of the regular season.
4. Georgia should be the CFP favorite: The old cliche is that “defense wins championships,” and the Bulldogs proved it this year. While that definition might have changed to “just enough defense” over the last decade due to the advent of high-octane, creative offenses, the Bulldogs have the right recipe for success.
This group of veteran defenders won’t be fooled by eye candy before the snap, are fully capable of handling what some of the best offense in the country throw at them and have paired that with an offense that’s fully capable of taking over games with running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.
What defense in CFP contention can slow those backs down? What offense can get Georgia out of its comfort zone. I don’t see one out there.
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