AUBURN, Ala. – It was clear that Georgia’s fans were headed back to the Georgia Dome in three weeks about the time Auburn’s fans began heading home Saturday night.
Chris Conley's 6-yard touchdown on the first drive ignited Georgia's rout of Auburn. (Photo by Sonny Kennedy/Special to Dawgs247)
Seats at Jordan-Hare Stadium started to empty in the first half, home fans weary of a rough season that wasn't offering much improvement.
Georgia's team, as it turned out, wasn’t in a generous mood.
The Bulldogs struck early and often to rout rival Auburn 38-0 and secure a second consecutive trip to the SEC championship game.
"Obviously, we played well," UGA coach Mark Richt said. "I was really proud of everybody. It was a very outstanding performance by everybody -- offense, defense, special teams. ... I'm very excited about winning the East. There's no doubt about that. There's a lot of work to be done between now and then."
Its conference schedule now complete, Georgia (9-1, 7-1 SEC) has won the SEC's Eastern Division courtesy of a head-to-head tiebreaker with Florida. The Bulldogs will face the Western Division champ Dec. 1 in Atlanta’s Dome for the SEC title.
"It feels great," safety Bacarri Rambo said. "All the seniors, that's what they came back for. We still haven't finished. This is just a ticket to the Georgia Dome for the SEC championship, so we have to go there and handle business."
SEC West leader Alabama (9-1, 6-1) will be the opponent for Georgia in Atlanta if the Crimson Tide can beat Auburn (2-8, 0-7), which didn’t offer much resistance in keeping Georgia from that goal Saturday.
Keith Marshall rushed for 105 yards, including a 62-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. (Photo by Sonny Kennedy/Special to Dawgs247)
The Bulldogs reached the end zone on their first four possessions in the first half, converting drives of 6, 9, 9 and 5 plays to push the score to 28-0 at intermission.
At halftime, Georgia had 323 total yards of offense and Murray had thrown three touchdown passes, hitting Chris Conley (6 yards), Malcolm Mitchell (5 yards) and Tavarres King (17 yards). Gurley added a 6-yard touchdown run with 5:09 remaining in the second quarter.
"We knew we had to come in here and try to get on them really early and try to put some points on the board," Murray said. "Trying to get their fans out of it is the biggest thing."
Georgia kept rolling after halftime, with Marshall racing 62 yards to extend the lead to 38-0 at the 4:34 mark of the third quarter, allowing the benches to begin to empty in a similar fashion as the bleachers.
A large majority of the home fans were no longer in the stadium well before Auburn's first shutout loss to Georgia in 32 years ended, voting with their feet about the shaky future of Auburn head coach Gene Chizik.
Meanwhile, Mark Richt has now directed Georgia to the SEC title game for the fifth time in his tenure. The Bulldogs have dates with in-state foes Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech the next two weeks before having a shot at their first SEC title since 2005.
"I think we've been improving as we go," Richt said, "and hopefully we keep it going."