AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Pushed to the brink on the road, No. 1 Georgia turned matters over to Carson Beck and Brock Bowers.
Beck-to-Bowers proved unstoppable in the end, even if the Bulldogs had appeared anything but up to that point.
With Georgia’s No. 1 ranking and lengthy winning streak on the line, Bowers caught a 40-yard touchdown pass in the final minutes of a 27-20 win over Auburn on Saturday. The Bulldogs (5-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) remained perfectly imperfect in their SEC start.
Two games, two scares, two wins.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart called his Bulldogs “a very resilient team” after escaping successfully from their first road game. That’s kind of a Catch-22 for the two-time defending national champions.
“We’re not going to get where we want to go if we don’t get better,” Smart said. “That’s the biggest thing.”.
Bowers caught a dart from Beck coming over the middle, shook off a couple of defenders and ran away from a third on his way to the end zone against the Tigers (3-2, 0-2) with 2:52 left. The All-America tight end had four catches for 121 yards in the fourth quarter and converted a third-and-long to keep the go-ahead drive alive.
He had two straight one-handed grabs, though one was called back by a penalty.
Georgia’s school-record winning streak ultimately stretched to 22 games, even if the Bulldogs only dominated when they absolutely had to.
Auburn, which led 10-0 after the first quarter, had tied it on Alex McPherson’s 42-yard field goal with 10:57 left. It left the Tigers and new coach Hugh Freeze with hopes of their fourth straight win over a No. 1 team in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The Bulldogs, who also trailed South Carolina 14-3 at halftime in their SEC opener, didn’t let it happen.
Auburn’s final drive was halted with a fourth-down interception by Malaki Starks just across midfield.
“I’m really proud of our kids, but it hurts in there right now,” Freeze said. “And that’s good to see. It hurts. It hurts those kids and our coaches, and our fans I’m sure, too. You have a chance to beat the No. 1 team in the country — back-to-back national champions — at home. The feeling that you get if you can pull that off is just ecstatic.”
Held to just 77 yards passing in the first half, Beck finished 23 of 33 for 313 yards with an interception and touchdown. Bowers had eight catches for 157 yards for his second straight 100-yard game. He had just 9 yards at the half.
“Bowers did what he does,” Smart said. “I mean, the guy is amazing. It’s a wonder why you don’t just go to him every play.”
Beck proved his own mettle in his first road game since replacing Stetson Bennett. Having Bowers didn’t hurt.
“That’s huge to have a guy that’s going to make plays in a bigtime game,” Beck said. “He’s a big-time player.”
Payton Thorne passed for 82 yards with an interception and ran for 92 yards for the Tigers, including an early 61-yarder.
Daijun Edwards ran for 76 yards and two touchdowns, including a 13-yarder that capped a 98-yard Georgia drive in the third quarter.
But Auburn’s 219 rushing yards was the most Georgia has given up since 2016.
“I don’t think people respect playing on the road in the SEC as much as I do,” Smart said. “Being an SEC player, a veteran of this league, it is really, really hard to win on the road.”
Georgia: The two-time defending national champion Bulldogs’ slow starts could come back to haunt them. They’ve been matched 17-17 in the first quarter through five games.
Auburn: Freeze gave beleaguered Tigers fans something to cheer even if they fell short of the upset. Auburn looked much better than in a 27-10 loss at Texas A&M a week earlier. The passing game is still a major issue.
Could the close call cost Georgia the No. 1 spot it has held since Oct. 16, 2022? No. 2 Michigan dominated Nebraska 45-7.
Georgia receiver Ladd McConkey played for the first time this season after back issues. The team’s second-leading receiver last season, McConkey had four catches for 38 yards, including a key third-down catch on the 98-yard march.
“It was awesome. I’m so glad to be out there with my guys,” McConkey said. “I’ve been craving to get out there.”
Georgia gets an even tougher test against unbeaten Kentucky.
Auburn has an open date before hosting No. 13 LSU.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll