Auburn, Alabama, November 11, 2006
Play starts at 0.54.
A 3-10 A21 Brandon Cox pass intercepted by Tra Battle at the AU30, Tra Battle return 30 yards to the AU0, TOUCHDOWN, clock 04:56.
------------ 3 plays, 0 yards, TOP 00:46 ------------
Gordon Ely-Kelso kick attempt good.
GEORGIA 24, AUBURN 0
Along with the rest of Bulldog Nation, I was pretty bummed going into the 110th playing of the Georgia-Auburn rivalry. We'd just lost to Kentucky, we'd coughed up four of our last five games, and at that point I really think I just wanted the season to be over. I certainly wasn't jumping around with excitement over the Auburn game -- even though I'd gone to the game nine years in a row, my sister nearly had to drag me to the game to make it an even 10.
I will always be grateful that she made me go. We made it into the stadium just in time to see Stafford complete a beautiful 53-yard pass to A.J. Bryant on Georgia's first drive, followed by Kregg Lumpkin punching it in for a TD; on the last play of the first quarter, Tra Battle picked off Brandon Cox -- this is what's called "foreshadowing," y'all -- and we turned it into a field goal. On the next drive, Stafford completed another long bomb, Southerland went up the middle for a score, and somehow we had a 17-0 lead. My dad was stuck in a seminar in Atlanta and had asked me to text-message him whenever Georgia scored; with each message I sent him, I was thinking, Good Lord, I can't believe this is happening. And truthfully, I couldn't help but wonder if our luck was going to start running out.
It never did. On the very next drive, Brandon Cox fired two incomplete passes -- at that point, he had one completion in the game, for negative yardage -- and then dropped back to pass again on third-and-10. The badly underthrown ball fluttered toward Rodgeriqus Smith, who had two defenders hanging around him; Tra Battle once again got to be the lucky duckie who jumped in front of the ball and started runnin'. Tra smoked three Auburn defenders before leaping into the end zone, and all of a sudden a team that had managed to lose to both Vandy and Kentucky in the preceding month was leading the fifth-ranked team in the country 24-0 in their own house.
And that was pretty much it. Tra Battle picked off Cox again with a little over a minute left in the first half, and Georgia went into halftime with a 30-7 lead; Paul Oliver intercepted Cox in the third quarter just for good measure, and with a line of 4-of-12 for 35 yards, one TD, and four picks, Cox completed as many passes to Georgia's players that afternoon as he did to his own. In fact, with three catches for 69 yards and a score, Tra was Auburn's leading receiver in the game. His performance earned him the National I-A Defensive Player of the Week award from the Walter Camp Foundation.
We got rained on right after halftime, and the temperature proceeded to plummet into the 40s right after the game ended, but between the adrenaline from the victory and the liquor a-flowin' at Jason's tailgate afterward, we didn't feel it much. Jack Daniels? Like a heating pad for your bloodstream, son.
There couldn't have been a better way for us to break out of our 1-4 skid. Granted, a lot of it had to do with Brandon Cox having the worst day of his career, but still, it was a jump-on-'em-and-plant-a-boot-on-their-throat performance from a defense that hadn't really had one since pitching back-to-back shutouts early in the season. And the quick lead took a lot of pressure off of a struggling offense and allowed them to open it up a bit with confidence. It's no coincidence that Stafford had a 4:12 TD:INT ratio going into that game but a 3:1 ratio after (21:10 if you add his excellent 2007 season). But most importantly, the Auburn win kicked off a three-game win streak over ranked opponents to end what had once looked like a lost season.