LSU has been the most dominant team since jump street. They opened 2011 by shutting down Oregon’s
fraudulent dynamic offense, followed that up by pasting West Virginia on the road only to top that by taking out mighty Alabama in Tuscaloosa. The cherry on top of that badass sundae was the complete domination of 3rd ranked Arkansas to close out the regular season. Simply put, they’re awesome.
Georgia, on the other hand, pissed down their leg to open the season and then beat 10 teams they were supposed to beat en route to an SEC (L)East title. They come into the Georgia Dome as 13 point underdogs, the largest line this decade in the SEC Title game. Most pundits have LSU walking over Georgia and cruising into the Super Dome in New Orleans to take on either Alabama (the best team) or Oklahoma State (the most deserving team…should they beat big brother this weekend).
While I think LSU will most likely win the game, I don’t buy that impending doom is in store for Georgia (insert calling me a homer here). Does that mean that I would bet on UGA to win the game? No. But I do think that there is a bit of a perfect storm brewing for Georgia to push this game into the 4th quarter, and the team lined up across from them will have all of the pressure should that scenario play out.
First let’s take a look at the numbers. LSU is 2nd in total defense, 4th against the rush, 6th against the pass, 2nd in allowing first downs and 3rd in pass efficiency defenses. Georgia is 5th in total defense, 6th against the rush, 11th against the pass, 3rd in allowing first downs and 4th in pass efficiency defense. Both of these teams can play defense.
Offensively, LSU is 62nd in total offense, 18th running the ball, 100th in passing and 12th in scoring. Georgia is 34th, 36th, 47th and 25th, respectively. The Dawgs will be the most balanced team LSU has faced all season.
LSU has played the better schedule (by far) so their numbers are even more impressive. They gave up a ton of yards to West Virginia (500+) but they shut down Oregon, Alabama and Arkansas. Georgia didn’t give up many yards to Boise State compared to what the Broncos usually put out, but that’s the only team they’ve faced all year that one could call an offensive juggernaut. Georgia Tech is a rushing powerhouse, and Georgia held them well below their averages, but really, the Dawgs have feasted on bad offenses (Ole Miss, Miss State, Florida, Tennessee and Kentucky come to mind). But that doesn’t mean that Georgia’s defense isn’t as legit as the numbers would say.
LSU and Georgia have faced 6 common opponents (Miss State, Ole Miss, Auburn, Tennessee, Kentucky and Florida) and that gives us a pretty big sample size to look at and compare. In those games, LSU gave up (just offensive points) 7.33 points per game to Georgia’s 8.67. LSU surrendered 207.17 yards per game to Georgia’s 208.5 but the number that stands out the most is rushing yards per game conceded. LSU gave up an average of exactly 100 yards rushing per game while Georgia surrendered just 20.67 yards per game (no, that’s not a typo). The numbers are insanely close save for the last stat. Does that mean that Georgia’s defense is as good as LSU’s? Of course not, but it does mean that people should take this defense seriously, something many aren’t doing yet. Offensively, LSU averaged 399.3 yards per game to Georgia’s 392.5.
Perception is always tied to reality, and the perception of Georgia is that they were whipped by Boise so they can’t be all that good. The true reality is that the team people watched on September 3rd is nothing like the one they’ll see on December 4th. The past three months have seen UGA transform in numerous ways. They are finally healthy on defense (something that wasn’t the case against Boise) and they’re experienced. In the second quarter against Boise, the Dawgs were playing 2-3 true freshmen on defense as well as a walk-on LB who had never played before. On offense, the line was breaking in 4 players seeing their first action at new positions and the team’s best WR and RB were true freshmen playing in their first college game. So much has changed since then, and I think you’ll see that come Saturday.
As far as how I would attack the LSU defense, well…umm…yeah, about that. The Tigers don’t have a weak spot, but they do have one line that isn’t pure badass. The two linebackers are the only players I can find that aren’t just all around awesome. The one thing Alabama did well was getting the ball in space to Trent Richardson in the passing game. Assuming Isaiah Crowell is healthy enough to go, he can do some work out of the backfield isolated one on one against the ‘backers. Orson Charles, the best tight end in the SEC, needs to be a focal point. It’s going to be tough dealing with the two LSU corners, though I will say that as a pure cover corner, the Honey Badger is bit more reputation than reality.
The biggest area of concern for Georgia will be their use of play action. The Dawgs thrive on play action, but if you can’t run the ball enough to get the safeties and linebackers to bite, play action will get Aaron Murray killed. Crowell and Carlton Thomas are going to have to get 3 or more yards per carry in this game if only to allow Murray to pull some fakes. UGA likes to throw the ball down the field, but that’s going to be difficult with as much NFL talent LSU employs in the secondary. What they can do is emulate West Virginia a bit and use the short passing game to dink and dunk their way down the field. Yes, they will need to take a shot or two deep, but that’s a risky proposition.
Georgia needs to rely on it’s rock-solid defense and punter (yes, I said punter) to play the field position game a la Alabama. It’s imperative they don’t turn the ball over as that’s how LSU just buries teams. The Tigers have turned it over a scant 8 times all season compared to 27 takeaways. Georgia simply cannot afford to turn it over as LSU doesn’t throw the ball enough to count on getting some of their own, though they are very good at turning teams over (29 takeaways this season).
Georgia enters this game with very little to lose compared to their opponent. LSU is most likely in the title game no matter what, and they’ve been hearing just that since dismantling Arkansas last Friday. Meanwhile, Georgia has heard nothing but how badly they’ll be beaten. If you don’t think that plays into UGA’s favor, I don’t know what to tell you. The crowd will be pro Georgia, the pressure will be almost exclusively on LSU and the Dawgs will bring a stout defense to the party.While that doesn’t guarantee anything, I think we’ll see those factors contribute to a much closer SEC title game than many expect. LSU has played one great defense all season and they needed overtime to score 9 points. This will be their second bite at the apple, and it’s going to take more than 9 points to beat this Georgia team.