We can dismiss any notion that LSU will be overlooking the game with their place in the BCS Championship a virtual lock. Despite the opinion that this game is now somehow without meaning, playing for an SEC title means quite a bit to anyone who puts on a uniform. Georgia’s absence from this game since 2005 has been noted, but LSU has experienced a lesser drought of their own. Few on the team were around in 2007, and everyone else has watched either Alabama or Auburn represent the West for the past three seasons. They’re about as likely to make light of their opportunity to be champions of the conference as Georgia was to overlook Tech last week.
In one of the more puzzling statements after the loss to Boise, the Dawgs claimed to have been rattled by the crowd noise in what was more or less a home game. Just so we’re all clear on this: LSU will have more fans on Saturday than Boise had. LSU fans are known for being a little loud. Hopefully the Dawgs will be more prepared this time.
We know both teams have a good defense. With that in mind, individual matchups are more interesting. Is Georgia well-seasoned enough up front to deal with LSU’s tailback rotation and pounding running game? Can they keep Jordan Jefferson’s mobility from being a factor? Rueben Randle is a beast, but only two LSU receivers have over 20 catches on the year. Can Georgia afford to cheat a little on Randle and Beckham?
When LSU gets into its power running game mode, they like to do it from one-back ace formations with two TE or from two-back sets. Against Arkansas it was noted that the Tigers often split out a third receiver instead of using that second tight end or blocking back. Because Arkansas wasn’t especially strong up front, LSU could get away with spreading the field without betraying their running game. The spread field opened up additional opportunities with the passing game and the occasional option play.
Georgia is certainly much stronger up front than Arkansas, so LSU will be faced with a few choices. The running game is still their bread and butter, so we could expect to see more power formations in order to establish the run against a good defensive front. At the same time, they’d forego the spread formation that made them more versatile and explosive against Arkansas. All of that depends on Georgia’s front playing as expected. If LSU can have early success running the ball, they’ll be able to spread out and put a lot of pressure on Georgia’s back seven or eight in pass coverage.
All sorts of things come to mind when Georgia has the ball. Can the Georgia offensive line that’s been so good in pass protection this month deal with a pure speed rusher like Mingo? Will the tight end be less of an option in the passing game if he’s needed to shore up the edge? Murray’s been much more efficient lately, but accuracy has never been his calling card. Can he get away with that against such a good secondary? Does that secondary lead Georgia to lean more on shorter passes, and can guys like Figgins or Charles be productive?
Can any tailback be counted on enough to develop a rushing strategy for this game? Will LSU’s Eric Reid be back? It looks that way. He’ll give them a more physical defensive backfield and make it tougher to run.
Will Georgia try their hurry-up? It was a train wreck in the season opener, but they’ve used it with more success during the year. It’s a reach to compare Georgia’s higher-tempo offense with Oregon, but the Ducks were able to put up yards on LSU. Just not points.
Turnovers and big special teams plays might seem like random events, but LSU has relied so consistently on them this year that they’re just about as reliable as 100 yards from a good tailback. We’ve seen everything from the fake punt against Florida to the kickoff return at West Virginia to a pivotal interception and punt at Alabama to the punt return against Arkansas. LSU can afford to get outgained in traditional yardage because it’s been so good at the margins. You don’t have to drive 80 yards when you’ve flipped field position with an interception or a long punt.
The challenge for Georgia isn’t just winning turnovers or avoiding special teams mistakes, though that matters. It’s doing those things in a way that create, if not points outright, an advantage that leads to points or changes how the opponent operates. That’s what LSU has done so well this year. Like a good defensive basketball team depends on a press to create easier transition chances, LSU effectively uses defense and special teams to score in spurts that bury an opponent.
Georgia has blocked a punt in both of Mark Richt’s SEC Championships. With Georgia retreating into a punt-safe shell after a couple of successful fakes, we’ll probably have to see if the Dawgs can win a title without a blocked kick. The Dawgs do at least look solid in the other areas of special teams. This is what I was just talking about though – it’s not enough to play neutral with few mistakes. Georgia needs those positive and point-producing plays from its defense and special teams to have success against an opponent of this quality.
If you look over the LSU schedule, the one game that gives more reason for hope than any other is the Mississippi State game. I don’t like comparisons using games from months ago – both Georgia and LSU are different and improved teams since then. That game though is the formula that gives Georgia its best chance to win. Play solid defense, don’t give up scores on big plays, make it a game of field goals, and do your best to get to the 4th quarter. Of course every other team has seen that film, and only Alabama was able to duplicate it.