ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia coach Kirby Smart didn't deny it.
Sure, he wishes his Bulldogs could have given a better account of themselves in their previous nine games.
But although Georgia hasn't quite lived up to expectations, Saturday's 13-7 victory over No. 9 Auburn gave him reason to be hopeful for the seasons yet to come.
"Our goal all along has been to make this team what it's capable of," Smart said. "We wanted it to happen early, of course, but what matters most is it does happen and we're starting to see some of that resiliency and push, getting better and improvement that we've talked about all year. We've still got a ways to go, we've still got some young puppies out there, but I'm proud of those guys."
As for Auburn, Saturday's loss could not have come at a more inopportune time as not only did it snap a six-game-winning streak, but it eliminated the Tigers (7-3, 5-2) from the race for the SEC West title, which goes to Alabama.
"Obviously a disappointing loss, a really tough loss," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "Our defense played outstanding, but our offense couldn't get it done today. It's as simple as that.
Malzahn wasn't kidding.
The Tigers came in averaging more than 40 points and an SEC-best 299 yards rushing per game. Against Georgia (6-4, 4-4), Auburn managed 164 total yards and finished with 127 on the ground, thanks largely to running back Kerryon Johnson who led the Tigers with 22 carries for 99 yards.
"That was just a great job by Mel Tucker (defensive coordinator) and that defensive staff," Smart said. "Those players believed every time they went on the field that they were going to stop them. Those guys have bought into the system that Mel has installed and they really believe they could stop anybody. They're playing with a lot of confidence right now and they're playing hard."
"They outplayed us," he said. "They obviously wanted to win the game more than we did. That is what they did. They came out and beat us."
Leading 7-0 at the half, Auburn took the ball to start the third, but instead of sticking to the ground -- the Tigers' bread and butter -- quarterback Sean White went to the air.
That turned out to be a big mistake as defensive back Maurice Smith stepped in front of a third-down throw for the interception and returned it 34 yards for the game-tying score.
"For me to be a part of this team and be able to help this team, I just love it," said Smith, a graduate transfer from Alabama. "I've been wanting to get that one for the longest time."
Auburn's offense, meanwhile, hit the virtual wall.
The Tigers' four possessions of the third quarter resulted in a mere 19 yards until the Bulldogs were finally able to put together a 50-yard drive that resulted in a 45-yard field goal by Rodrigo Blankenship to put Georgia up 10-7 with 13:44 left.
Another field goal by Blankenship -- a 21-yarder with 2:25 to play -- extended the lead to 13-7, putting the game once again in the hands of the Georgia defense to seal the win.
The Bulldogs did just that, allowing eight yards before White's fourth-down pass fell incomplete allowing Georgia to secure the win.
"We believed in this team even when nobody else did," linebacker Davin Bellamy said. "We're just going to keep grinding from here on out, we're going to keep grinding, man."
White finished 6-of-20 passing for 27 yards.
"We just didn't get it done," Malzahn said. "We didn't execute very good. We didn't do a very good job offensively; that was obvious."
Georgia, meanwhile, put up 343 yards of offense with running back Nick Chubb leading the way with 23 carries for 101 yards. Bulldogs quarterback Jacob Eason completed 20 of 31 passes for 208 yards for Georgia.
"That was more than team-wide," Smart said when asked what the victory meant. "It was university wide and fan wide. These kids don't have any quit. They fight."
NOTES: Auburn played the game without SEC leading rusher Kamryn Pettway, who injured his leg last week against Vanderbilt. Pettway, who came in with 1,106 yards, traveled to Athens but did not dress. ... Former Pittsburgh Steelers star and Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward was honored on the field during the game with Chicago Cubs pitcher Justin Grimm taking part in the Georgia pregame tradition by "Calling out the Dawgs." ... Blankenship's miss from 49 yards out with 10:21 to play snapped a string of 10 straight for the redshirt freshman.