Fast start puts Dawgs in control

AUBURN, Ala. -- The Georgia-Auburn series history is littered with examples of the underdog rising to crush its rival's championship hopes.

But Georgia didn't need any miraculous pass breakups to cause sugar to fall from the sky or last-minute touchdown catches reminiscent of David Greene to Michael Johnson to clinch its spot in this season's SEC championship game.

The fifth-ranked Bulldogs immediately took command against an overmatched Auburn team on Saturday night, with their 38-0 victory clinching their second straight SEC East title and fifth in Mark Richt's 12 seasons at the helm.

"Our goal really was to start fast. That's why we came out with the tempo, the no-huddle," said Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, whose players picked up 70 yards on five scripted plays to open the game before scoring with a 6-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Murray to Chris Conley on the sixth.

"We do no-huddle all the time, but we ran a faster-paced no-huddle with some set plays. The guys did a great job of executing that -- and that was big to take the first drive down and score a touchdown."

The last thing Georgia (9-1, 7-1 SEC) needed was to give the punchless Tigers (2-8, 0-7) any reason to believe they could compete on Saturday. Not after the way the Bulldogs allowed a similarly hapless Kentucky team to hang around into the fourth quarter before Georgia finally hung on for a 29-24 victory three weeks ago.

Unlike that trip to Lexington, however, Georgia started quickly on both sides of the ball and used touchdown drives on each of its first four possessions to go up 28-0. That was more than enough to break any semblance of will Auburn might have developed last week, when a win against New Mexico State ended a five-game losing streak.

"It has been one of those years where it has kind of snowballed in momentum, and we haven't been able to really catch any," embattled Auburn coach Gene Chizik said as rumors swirl about his job status only two seasons removed from a BCS championship.

In the end, the same Jordan-Hare Stadium where Auburn fans wildly celebrated an SEC West title the last time the teams met here was mostly empty -- except for the fans wearing red and black who soaked up every minute of the championship-clinching win.

Georgia easily could have topped its largest margin of victory in series history -- 41 points in 1946 -- but it left Murray and most of the other key offensive players on the sideline for the entire fourth quarter. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham was not as generous, however, as many of his starters remained on the field late into the final period, and the Bulldogs sealed their first shutout victory against Auburn since 1976.

Bulldogs coach Mark Richt was quick to spread the credit for Auburn's goose egg to the offensive and special teams players who didn't put Grantham's defense in any bad spots. Auburn's best starting field position all game was its 36-yard line. The Tigers started inside their own 15 five times in 12 possessions.

"Anytime you get a shutout is huge -- and you usually get a shutout because there aren't any turnovers," Richt said. "A lot of times your defense may play lights out, but if you throw a pick six or fumble it inside your 20 or your kick returner fumbles the ball on a kickoff and puts the defense in a bad position, it's hard to get a shutout when somebody's already in field-goal range.

"So shutouts really are a team thing, and as good as your defense is playing, I've seen a lot of great defensive performances and still gave up three or seven or 10 points because of some bad turnovers and bad field position."

Place credit wherever you like, but the streaking Bulldogs absolutely crushed their oldest rival in every possible way on Saturday, punching their ticket to Atlanta with one of their most dominant performances of the season.

The defense notched a shutout, and the Bulldogs outgained the Tigers 497 yards to 238. Murray completed his first 10 passes and finished 18-for-24 for 208 yards with touchdown passes to three different receivers. Jarvis Jones notched two sacks to reach 10.5 this season. Freshman tailbacks Todd Gurley (11 carries for 116 yards) and Keith Marshall (8-105) both topped the 100-yard mark for the first time since the Tennessee game.

And they did all of that at the same place where Georgia's veterans suffered one of the most bitter defeats of their college careers -- at Auburn, where a game full of cheap shots and general roughhousing left Murray bloodied and limping from the field and Georgia fans outraged as Nick Fairley, Cam Newton and company continued their trek to a national title.

"That was probably one of the toughest losses I've ever been a part of -- physically, mentally, it was a tough loss," Murray said. "But to come back this season and win here is great. I never want to come back here ever again."