Auburn’s Statement Is a Stump Speech

Times Staff Writer

It took far less than 60 minutes on a chilly Saturday for Auburn to take the sheen off Georgia and, then, take its case to the people.

Proving it belongs front-and-center in what is shaping up as a crowded-house national title discussion, No. 3 Auburn dismantled No. 8 Georgia, 24-6, in front of a crowd of 87,451 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Auburn improved to 10-0 and then took the podium to further its political cause in a potential debate over which two teams deserve to play in the Jan. 4 Orange Bowl for the bowl championship series national title.

“I’d hate to play us,” Auburn Coach Tommy Tuberville said.

“I hope people would be fair when they vote. That’s all we can ask.”

Only in the mixed-up world of college football can the prospect of another crazy controversy occupy thoughts in mid-November.


But, perhaps, here we go again.

Auburn began the day third in the BCS standings behind No. 1 USC and No. 2 Oklahoma.

Auburn’s fate may be in the hands of voting coaches and sportswriters and the six computer operators who make up the BCS standings system.

The Tigers are No. 3 in all three BCS components but could make a push for Oklahoma’s No. 2 spot in the coming weeks.

“It’s going to be hard not to vote for us, I know that,” Auburn tailback Carnell Williams said.

While Oklahoma closes the season against Baylor and then some multi-loss team in the Big 12 championship game, Auburn plays at Alabama next week before facing a likely rematch against Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference title game.

If you believe, as many do, that the SEC is college football’s toughest conference, how could Auburn finish 12-0 in that conference and not end up in the BCS title game?

It’s a question that will be asked more and more in coming weeks.

In terms of making a statement, Auburn’s performance against Georgia could be described as bone-jarring and jaw-dropping.

“They’re the best team we’ve played,” Georgia defensive end David Pollack said.

Mark Richt, the Bulldogs’ coach, had nothing much else to add.

“We gave them no resistance,” Richt said. “They just beat us.”

Auburn played Saturday’s game at a different speed than Georgia (8-2), considered an upper-echelon SEC team.

Auburn allowed Georgia to march downfield on its first drive, but the Bulldogs messed up the first-strike opportunity by missing a 36-yard field goal.

After that, it was pretty much all Auburn.

The Tigers set the tone on their first offensive play, with tailback Ronnie Brown receiving a Jason Campbell pass in the left flat and racing 34 yards to the Georgia 46.

Seven plays later, Williams scored on a one-yard run around right end to make it a 7-0 game.

Auburn made it 14-0 in the second quarter on a 29-yard halfback pass from Williams to Anthony Mix, a play Williams said has almost never failed in practice.

In fact, when Williams heard the play in the huddle, he said, “It’s a touchdown, let’s get ready to celebrate.”

Auburn led, 17-0, at the half and gave Georgia few chances to even think it had a chance to get back into the game.

Auburn appeared on its way to making it 24-0 in the third quarter, but Campbell’s pass was intercepted in the end zone by Tim Jennings.

Was this the break Georgia needed?

Not quite.

From their 20, the Bulldogs mounted an impressive drive that ended violently in Auburn territory after David Greene completed a pass for a first down to Reggie Brown.

A few steps after making the catch, Brown was crushed on a blindside hit by Auburn safety Junior Rosegreen.

Brown fumbled the ball, with Auburn safety Will Herring recovering.

Herring said he didn’t see the hit on Brown, but he heard it.

“I think people in the nosebleed section at the top [of the stadium] heard it,” Herring said later.

Brown lay sprawled on the field near the 11-yard line, unconscious. He was motionless for what seemed like minutes as players from both teams, fearing the worst, dropped to their knees in prayer.

Only later, after Brown had left the field under his own power, having suffered nothing worse than a concussion, could Rosegreen describe the tackle with any sense of satisfaction.

“When I hit him I felt a rush through my whole body, an excitement I can’t explain,” he said. “There was a power through my body. They say I knocked him cold. Someone said, the doctors I think, that I broke his face mask.”

Rosegreen said the hit should serve as a warning.

“People are learning they shouldn’t go over the middle on us,” he said.

Auburn added a fourth-quarter touchdown on a 15-yard pass, Campbell to Ronnie Brown, for a 24-0 lead.

Georgia scored a touchdown late to prevent the shutout, but it barely put a dent in Auburn’s armor.

The Tigers emerged from Saturday’s game energized and emboldened.

No one knows yet how any of this will shake out in the end.

Will it be USC versus Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, or USC versus Auburn? Or, will it be some other scenario not yet fathomed?

As for this BCS process, Herring, the Auburn safety, said, “I think it’s a disgrace to sports and a disgrace to college football.”

From now until Dec. 5, however, it’s the only system college football has to offer.