AUBURN, Ala. — Georgia coach Mark Richt is getting tired of “dodging bullets” and coming from behind for close wins in the final minutes.
Richt watched the No. 13 Bulldogs score a fourth-quarter touchdown and then hold off two late drives from Auburn to defeat the Tigers 17-13 on Saturday.
“The keys to this game were perseverance, guts and sticking together,” Richt said. “Neither team played good enough to win. We both made enough mistakes to lose.”
Last week, Georgia had to rally in the fourth quarter to beat Kentucky 42-38.
Knowshon Moreno rushed for 134 yards and caught a touchdown pass for the Bulldogs (9-2, 6-2 Southeastern Conference). They went ahead for good with 8:24 to play on a 17-yard pass from Matthew Stafford to A.J. Green.
The final chance for Auburn (5-6, 2-5) came on a fourth-and-1 play from the Georgia 14 when quarterback Kodi Burns overthrew Ben Tate in the end zone with a second remaining.
Stafford completed 15 of 24 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns. He drove Georgia 60 yards in six plays for the winning touchdown.
“They are a very good football team and they play us tough every year,” Stafford said of Auburn. “It’s a rivalry game, so you never know what can happen.”
Auburn had taken the lead with 11:05 left after grinding out an 11-play, 90-yard drive. Auburn went for it on fourth-and-1 at its 20 and Burns converted with a 1-yard sneak. Auburn’s touchdown came on a winding 35-yard run by Mario Fannin.
The drive took up almost six minutes of the third and fourth quarters. It started after Georgia had extended its lead to 10-6 at 1:48 in the third quarter on a 27-yard field goal by Blair Walsh.
Making his first career start at tailback, Fannin ran for 59 yards and caught four passes for 48 yards and another TD.
After Georgia’s go-ahead score, Auburn drove 49 yards to the Bulldogs’ 21 before a fourth-down pass from Burns to Montez Billings fell incomplete with 4:17 to play.
Auburn’s final drive started at its 20 with 1:44 left and was kept alive by third-down runs of 14 and 17 yards by Burns.
Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said the Tigers had too many opportunities deep in Georgia territory that ended with no points.
“That can’t happen in a game like that,” Tuberville said.
He said he was proud of the effort of his team, despite what has been a disappointing season.
“Our guys couldn’t have laid it on the line any more,” he said.
Tuberville praised the play of running backs Fannin and Tate, who rushed for 43 yards, but said the offense, which has struggled all season, needs to improve before the finale in two weeks against No. 1 Alabama.
“We are not there yet on offense in terms of being able to make the play at the crucial time,” Tuberville said.
Georgia’s win gave the Bulldogs a 54-50-8 lead in the Deep South’s oldest rivalry that began in 1892. After 112 games, Georgia has outscored Auburn by 49 points.
Georgia started the game fast on a cool, cloudy day, as Moreno rushed for 11 yards over left tackle on the first play from scrimmage and the Bulldogs took off on an 80-play drive from their own 17 to the Auburn 3.
But it ended there when Auburn’s Tez Doolittle blocked a field goal attempt.
From there the defenses took over and the teams swapped punts until the final seconds of the first quarter, when Georgia’s Prince Miller fumbled an Auburn punt and the Tigers’ D’Antonie Hall recovered.
On the next play, Burns threw a 52-yard touchdown pass to Fannin. The extra-point attempt failed because of a bobbled snap.
“Kodi put the ball in a great spot and I just ran,” Fannin said.
The Bulldogs took a 7-6 halftime lead thanks to Moreno, who caught a screen pass from Stafford and outran much of the Auburn defense down the left sideline for a touchdown with 3:08 to play.