Georgia proved the College Football Playoff committee right Saturday, at least for three quarters.
The Bulldogs, who are fourth in the committee's rankings, grinded out a 21-14 victory over No. 12 Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium, a third quality win on their resume heading into the final two weeks of the regular season. Georgia (9-1, 6-1 SEC) also clinched a spot in the SEC championship game for the third season in a row as East Division champion.
If not for a fourth-quarter rally by Auburn (7-3, 4-3), this would have been a much stronger statement. For now, just give the Bulldogs credit for having substance that overshadows their style.
Georgia enhanced the committee's belief in it on the field, and Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa's hip injury created another dynamic that was unexpected heading into the weekend. The LSU-Georgia two-SEC-team Playoff scenario now seems even more realistic than the LSU-Alabama Playoff scenario.
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Georgia used the same methodical approach that led it to victories over No. 11 Florida and No. 16 Notre Dame earlier this season. Jake Fromm (13-for-28 passing, 110 yards, three touchdowns) didn't have a prolific stat line, but scoring passes to Dominick Blaylock and Brian Herrien in the first half built a 14-0 lead. D'Andre Swift (17 carries, 106 yards) led the rushing attack, which grinded it out four yards at a time — or 3.9, to be exact — against a loaded Auburn defensive front.
The Bulldogs stretched the lead to 21-0 with a touchdown pass from Fromm to Eli Wolf before the Tigers mounted their furious rally. Until that point, Georgia flashed something that Alabama does not have.
That's a College Football Playoff-caliber defense that continues to get better. The Bulldogs have allowed more than 17 points in one game this season — the dreaded 20-17 overtime loss to South Carolina on Oct. 12 — but this unit was in peak form against the Tigers.
The run defense was especially nasty. Auburn managed just 84 yards on 36 attempts. Freshman quarterback Bo Nix had the ball with a chance to tie on the game's final possession, but Travon Walker's sack put the game away.
So what if the Bulldogs did not get the style points? The quality victory is what matters to the committee.
All of Auburn's losses this season have been to top-10 opponents. Georgia, meanwhile, set itself up for a third top-10 showdown against the SEC West champion, which likely will be LSU. There is no Alabama in the way this time, and all the Bulldogs need to do to keep the Crimson Tide out of the conversation is win the SEC championship. It's the best-case scenario all around for a program looking for its first national championship since 1980.
Georgia might not have an offense that can keep pace with LSU, Clemson or Ohio State, but it has the overall talent to win with the style that has produced nail-biters vs. the Crimson Tide each of the last two seasons.
The committee said that with confidence last week, and Saturday's victory will keep the Bulldogs in that coveted No. 4 spot — the top spot for the one-loss teams remaining in the CFP mix.
With three weeks left until the final selections are made, that is exactly where they need to be.