AUBURN, Ala. — Georgia was almost as methodical and businesslike in its postgame celebration as in its dominant, balanced win over Auburn.
The Bulldogs are saving a bigger celebration for a bigger game.
Aaron Murray passed for 208 yards and three touchdowns, freshman tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall each ran for more than 100 yards and No. 5 Georgia overwhelmed Auburn 38-0 on Saturday night, sending the Bulldogs back to the SEC championship game.
Georgia (9-1, 7-1 Southeastern Conference) got the first shutout for either team in the series since its 28-0 win in 1976. The Bulldogs, who have won four straight, appear to be peaking at the end of the regular season.
“I think we’ve been improving as we go and hopefully we can keep it going,” said coach Mark Richt.
Auburn (2-8, 0-7 SEC) was held to 238 yards, including 57 yards rushing, as its disappointing season with embattled coach Gene Chizik suffered another embarrassing low.
“It’s what you see,” Chizik said. “It’s been frustrating. Again, it’s just been one of those years where it has kind of snowballed in momentum and we haven’t been able to catch any.”
Georgia, the Eastern Division champion, earned its second straight trip to the Dec. 1 SEC championship game in Atlanta. Top-ranked Alabama, beaten by No. 15 Texas A&M 29-24 on Saturday, can win the Western Division title by defeating Auburn on Nov. 24.
Georgia lost to Louisiana State in last year’s SEC championship game. This year, the Bulldogs want more.
“I think there’s a different feeling in everybody’s spirit that Atlanta is not the end of the road,” Richt said.
Richt said “I don’t want to belittle” winning the Eastern Division.
“It’s a big deal and there are six other teams in the East that would have loved to have done it,” Richt said. “I just think we really feel like since we were there last year and didn’t do well, we want to play better. We want to have a better performance when we get there.”
By the start of the fourth quarter, Bulldogs fans were the majority in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“It was awesome,” Murray said. “We looked up midway through the third quarter and I was like, ‘Man, we’ve got more fans here than they do right now.’”
After the game, Georgia players rushed to corner of the end zone to celebrate with their faithful, who chanted “SEC! SEC!”
Gurley had 11 carries for 116 yards and a touchdown. Marshall had eight carries for 105 yards, including a 62-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Georgia’s most important win in its search for an SEC championship was a 17-9 defeat of then-No. 3 Florida on Oct. 27, but the Bulldogs struggled on offense in that game. The win over Auburn was the team’s most well-rounded win of the season.
The defense, led by Jarvis Jones’ two sacks and Bacarri Rambo’s interception and forced fumble, posted its first shutout in a SEC game since a 43-0 win over Vanderbilt in 2010.
The offense boasted impressive balance with 289 yards rushing and 208 yards passing. The Bulldogs had no turnovers and only three penalties for 15 yards.
“We’re playing pretty good right now,” Richt said.
Murray completed 18 of 24 passes with no interceptions and touchdown passes to Chris Conley, Malcolm Mitchell and Tavarres King. Murray, who completed his first 10 passes, was rested in the fourth quarter as backups Parker Welch and Christian LeMay finished the game.
Freshman Jonathan Wallace, making his second start for Auburn, completed 15 of 22 passes for 181 yards with one interception. Emory Blake had six catches for 104 yards.
“We just didn’t finish,” Wallace said. “We didn’t finish our drives. We made mistakes. We didn’t capitalize when we had opportunities. That’s not going to win the game, but we just have to keep going. You have to keep going, and you have to keep pushing. That’s the biggest thing right now, not giving up. The guys aren’t giving up, and we just have to keep pushing.”
Tre Mason was Auburn’s leading rusher with 11 carries for only 33 yards.
For the Tigers, the lopsided defeat was similar to a 63-21 home loss to Texas A&M on Oct. 27. In each game, many Auburn fans left in the third quarter.
When asked after the game about his future at Auburn, Chizik said “I don’t entertain those thoughts.”
Asked if he has lost his team, Chizik said “I don’t. Absolutely not.”
He said his “one quest” is one more home win for his seniors. Auburn plays Alabama A&M in its final home game next week before closing its season at Alabama.
The biggest cheer from Auburn fans came early in the game during a break after Georgia’s first touchdown when the score of rival Alabama’s loss to Texas A&M was posted on the video board.
Georgia’s only punt of the first half came with only 45 seconds remaining.
Murray devastated the Auburn defense with his efficiency in Georgia’s no-huddle offense, directing quick-strike touchdown drives on his first four possessions.
Each of the four first-half touchdown drives lasted less than 4 minutes. A 49-yard run by Gurley set up Murray’s 6-yard touchdown pass to Conley.
Following a 5-yard touchdown pass to Mitchell, Georgia had a scare on its third drive when a hit from linebacker Cassanova McKinzy knocked Murray out of the game. Murray’s helmet hit the ground hard following McKinzy’s helmet-to-chest hit, but Murray missed only one play and returned to complete an 18-yard touchdown pass to King.
A 56-yard pass from Murray to King set up Gurley’s 6-yard touchdown run.
King, who usually wears No. 12, switched to Marlon Brown’s No. 15. Brown, a senior, suffered a left knee injury last week to end his college career.
Auburn’s first turnover spoiled a scoring opportunity late in the third quarter. Emory Blake gained 13 yards on a reception before he fumbled when hit by Bacarri Rambo. Georgia linebacker Michael Gilliard recovered at the Bulldogs’ 11.
Rambo intercepted a pass from Wallace on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Georgia’s win in the game called the South’s oldest rivalry tied the series at 54-54-8. Georgia has won six of the last seven meetings.