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Penalties, turnovers and a lifeless offense spelled disaster for Auburn (3-3, 1-2 SEC) once again, this time in the 127th playing of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, as the Tigers were dominated by Georgia (6-0, 3-0 SEC) to the tune of 42-10. 

This was Auburn’s worst loss against the Dawgs since the dreaded 2012 season, in which the Tigers went 3-9. 

One of the most storied rivalries in all of college football, Georgia has won 17 of the last 22 matchups, including six straight since 2017.

Few plays signify the day for Auburn quite like the fake punt in the first half and the forced fumble in the second half. 

It was a punt trade to start the game, but then Auburn, from its own 34, ran a fake punt sweep to the right with John Samuel Shenker, one that Georgia was ready for, and gave the No. 2 team in the land the ball at the 36. 

"That was the look. That was something that we had something happened to us earlier in the year,” Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin said when asked about the fake punt. “It was something that we felt like it was gonna be the right opportunity.” 

Trick plays were part of Bryan Harsin’s success at Boise State, but they have not been as beneficial on the Plains.  

Despite the gamble, and the Georgia touchdown that followed it, Auburn stayed competitive on the defensive end, limiting the Georgia offense where they could and holding Stetson Bennett IV to just 25 passing yards in the first half. 

The Bulldogs were able to score again in the first half, taking a 14-0 lead after a flurry of missed tackles on a Ladd McConkey punt return set Georgia up at the Auburn 31. 

The defense kept Auburn in the game at halftime, trailing 14-0, despite an offense that just could not get anything working. The Tigers had 50 penalty yards, one good drive that was wiped out by a Robby Ashford fumble, and Ashford completed only 8 of his 23 passing attempts for 60 yards.

Still, Auburn was in the game at that point and got the break it needed despite Georgia getting the ball first to start the third quarter.

Marcus Bragg, replacing Eku Leota in the game, made an impact on the first drive of the second half, forcing a Stetson Bennett fumble, Auburn’s fourth forced turnover of the year, and giving the offense prime field position. 

“We created a turnover today on defense. So that's something we've been struggling with towards the beginning of the season,” senior captain Owen Pappoe said. "We're still heading in the right direction, I think that's three weeks straight."

Auburn had all of the momentum and excellent field position, but the Tigers could not do anything with it, managing just seven yards and settling for an Anders Carlson field goal, cutting the lead to 11. 

That would be Auburn’s last real chance as Georgia scored on its next drive and then, two drives later, Stetson Bennett sprinted for a 64-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter, the longest run of his career, making the game 28-3. 

"I thought the run that Stetson [Bennett] had, that was big," Harsin said. “That was the one that really opened it up.”

Bennett’s two best rushing performances have come against the Tigers in back-to-back seasons.

Auburn’s offense managed little more in the second half, finishing the half with 121 yards, though 62 of that came on a Jarquez Hunter touchdown reception to make it 35-10. 

The offense as a whole could not find any rhythm or production. Robby Ashford finished the day with 13 completions on 38 attempts for 165 yards and the touchdown, and he was also Auburn’s leading rusher with 52 yards.

"We're too up-and-down throughout games. That's what we have to clean up. That's really the challenge,” Harsin said. “We have to do a better job coaching, putting guys in the right position to succeed, and then we've got to execute those things,” Harsin said on the struggles Saturday.

The dynamic running back duo of Jarquez Hunter and Tank Bigsby managed just 39 yards combined on the ground, with Bigsby averaging 1.9 yards per carry, the lowest of his career. They ran behind a patchwork offensive line that struggled in all respects on Saturday, including injuries to Alec Jackson and Austin Troxell. 

The struggles in the second half continued for Auburn, managing just one second-half touchdown in the last three games, and two through six games overall. 

“Well, I wish I had the answer for that,” Harsin said when asked about second-half issues. “If I did, we would fix those things.” 

Auburn has no time to breathe, however, as the SEC schedule continues next weekend and the Tigers will look to bounce back from the heartbreak one week ago and the domination today.

The team is still remaining as focused as they can as the pressure mounts for a turnaround. 

“We're gonna continue to try to put our best foot forward starting tomorrow and just start preparing to get ready for the next week,” senior captain Derick Hall said. Hall went down with an injury late in the game, missing most of the fourth quarter, but he said he should be good to go for Ole Miss.

The SEC gauntlet has no breaks for the Tigers as Auburn will hit the road once again next week and head to the Grove to take on the No. 9 Ole Miss Rebels (6-0, 3-0 SEC). The game is scheduled to kick off next Saturday at 11 a.m. CST on ESPN.

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