After their first two games of the season, the Georgia Bulldogs were left for dead. They opened up the season by losing to Boise State in the Georgia Dome 35-21. But let's not kid ourselves, this is a completely different Georgia team than the one that played in the Dome in the opener.
Georgia played that game without ball-hawking Safety Bacarri Rambo (12 career INTs with 3 career INTs for TD) and LB Alec Ogletree (who was injured in the first quarter). It was also the first game for Georgia's most dynamic player LB Jarvis Jones since injuring his neck when he played for USC in 2009. Jones has gone on to lead the team in tackles with 66, lead the SEC in sacks with 13.5 (4 more than the closest player) and also leads the conference with 19.5 tackles for loss. It was also the first game for JUCO Nose Johnathon Jenkins (6 TFL, 3 sacks) and it was the first start for Safety Shawn Williams (60 tackles, 3 INT). It might seem like this is a hard sell for the Georgia defense but it's really just showing how far they've come so far this year. This Georgia team has grown and is a completely different team than it was at the beginning of the year.
Georgia has improved dramatically but have they improved enough to beat a deep and talented team like LSU? LSU comes into this game as one of the most tested teams in all of college football. You can stack their victories up against anybody in the country (Oregon, West Virginia, Alabama and Arkansas). They've beaten 7 teams that were ranked in the Top 25 at the time of victory. LSU has also had to overcome some tremendous off-the-field issues like when Jordan Jefferson was suspended and missed the first four games and when newly hired OC Steve Kragthorpe stepped down from his position before the season started because of healthy concerns. LSU has weathered a lot this year and is a mentally and physically tough football team.
Let's take a look at how these two teams compare against like opponents (Miss State, Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee, Auburn, Ole Miss)
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Common OppGeorgiaLSUAdvantageScoring Offense26.538.3LSUScoring Defense127.3LSUScoring Margin14.531LSUTotal Offense392.5399.3LSU (slight)Total Defense208.5207.1LSU (slight)TO Margin0.51.83LSU3rd Down Off44.79%43.40%Georgia (slight)3rd Down Def25.60%32.05%
When you look at the numbers a couple of things are clear. LSU and Georgia are about the same in terms of offensive and defensive yardage but LSU scores significantly more points. LSU is a very opportunistic team and has guys on defense that make plays. In those six games, LSU scored 4 defensive TDs and also had 5 scoring drives of 26 yards or less. A key to this game (and really any game) is who wins the turnover battle and in Georgia's case, if you do turn it over you can't let the LSU defense take it to the house. Interestingly, Georgia has actually created 29 turnovers (9th in Nation) this year to LSU's 27 (16th in Nation). The difference is that LSU has only turned it over 8 times (tied for #1 in Nation with Wisconsin) this year whereas Georgia has turned it over 19 (45th in Nation). LSU has had a great combination of creating opportunities on defense and not shooting themselves in he foot offensively.
The big keys in this game that I see are the LSU defensive line against the Georgia offensive line (specifically OT Justin Anderson), Georgia's ability to establish something on the ground, Jordan Jefferson against the Georgia defense and Special Teams.
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On paper, the biggest advantage LSU has is their DL against Georgia's OL. Georgia's OL has improved throughout the year under first year OL Coach Will Friend but LSU is deep and physical on the line and Georgia has not played a team like them this year. It's critical for Georgia to give Aaron Murray some time to throw the football and to give time for their play-action plays to develop.
If Georgia cannot do this then they need to quickly make gameplan changes to more of a dink and dunk type offense like the one Boise State used against them in the Dome in the opener. The match-up to keep an eye on is Justin Anderson against LSU's DEs. Anderson has improved this year but there are still times where he stands out on tape in a bad way. Just last week he got beat on back-to-back plays in the first half of the Georgia Tech game. Georgia Tech's DEs are not even on the same planet as LSU's in terms of talent.
In order for Georgia to move the football they are going to need to get something going on the ground to keep LSU honest. That means that freshman Isaiah Crowell is going to need to step up. When he's been on the field this year, Crowell has been really good. Crowell is actually fifth in the league in rushing with 832 yards and 83 yards per game. The issue with Crowell has been his durability as he seems to get banged up every game. The good news is that he should be pretty rested as he's only carried the ball 26 times over the last four games and has only carried the ball twice in the last two weeks. Crowell doesn't have to have a huge game but he and Carlton Thomas need to get something going in order to give Aaron Murray some time to throw and keep LSU a bit unbalanced.
Special Teams has been an eye sore for Georgia this year. Georgia's kicker Blair Walsh has been in a funk and it almost cost Georgia in several games. Walsh is dead last in the league at 62.1% on his FG attempts. He went 4 for 4 against Kentucky but then went 1 for 2 last week against Tech so there is no way to know how effective he will be against LSU. This is a huge concern because scoring TDs against LSU is not an easy thing (just ask Nick Saban).
Georgia also ranks last in the SEC in kick-off returns giving up 23.79 yards per return and 2 TDs on the year. Georgia has looked better of late as they addressed this after the Florida win and held the league leaders in this category (Auburn) to 19 yards per return on 5 returns. Another area where Georgia is not very good on Special Teams is in punt returns where they are second to last (only Arkansas is worse) giving up 14.29 yards per return and 1 TD. One note here is that Georgia has only allowed 1 punt return on 17 punts in the last 5 games and that was just an 8 yard return from Florida. That will be an interesting thing to watch. Can Georgia limit punt returns like they have been lately, because if not then Tyrann Mathieu will be waiting to make a play.
The last thing to watch is the Georgia defense against Jordan Jefferson. The first thing Georgia has to do is limit the run. Georgia has been pretty good against the run this year as they are 6th in the Nation in yards given up, and 10th in yards per attempt. If Georgia can limit LSU running the football then it will force Jordan Jefferson to make plays with his arm and that could end up pushing him into making mistakes. LSU's lowest rushing totals of the year have come against Alabama and Mississippi State (148 yards in both games) and those two games represent LSU's lowest point totals of the season (19 against Miss State and 9 against Bama). Georgia has picked off 17 pass this year (tied for 6th in the Nation) so you can bet that if they force LSU to throw the ball it will be in their favor.
Here's our predictions:
Jay: No offense to Georgia, but I'll continue to believe that LSU and Alabama are at least 2 touchdowns better than every other team in the country until proven otherwise.
Kevin: I've already talked about the keys above. Now for the prediction. I think this is going to be a relatively low scoring game in which points are a little tough to come by. In that scenario you have to think LSU has the advantage because of their Special Teams. I think LSU will either have a defensive or Special Teams TD and that will be the difference in this game. For Georgia to win, it's defense must win this game. It can be done but if I was a betting man, I would have to take the team that has proven it's worth on the field and against better overall competition throughout the year.
Look for LSU to win this one 27-17. All is not lost for Georgia as this team is still learning to play in big games. It's defense only has two seniors on it's two deep depth chart. Georgia will learn from this and will be back and will win this game next year.
Pete: The Bulldogs boast a 10-game winning streak going into their conference championship game. That is a feat of which very few teams can boast. Unfortunately for Georgia, its opponent has a 12-game winning streak (13 including last season’s Cotton Bowl victory over A&M). The Georgia Dome will provide a friendly environment for the Dawgs, but the Tigers have proved they can win tough games on the road. Aaron Murray will have his hands full against the LSU secondary, but with Isaiah Crowell returning from injury, he should have ground support. The Georgia defense plays an inspired game and, in a crazy BCS season, the Dawgs surprise the Tigers in Atlanta, 24-23.
Ross: All credit to Georgia: they picked themselves up off the mat after two gutting early-season losses to Boise State and South Carolina (the latter of which nearly torpedoed their SEC East hopes before the season had even hit mid-September) and strung together 10 wins in a row, the third-best winning streak in the country at the moment (behind LSU and Houston). Their defense has come together nicely -- since getting torched for 35 and 45 by Boise and South Carolina, respectively, the most points they've conceded was 28 to Vanderbilt and they've held eight opponents to fewer than 20 points. The offense has also improved under the direction of QB Aaron Murray, arguably the SEC's best quarterback this year.
On the other hand, there's also no ignoring that they've benefited from one hell of a fortuitous schedule after that early season meat grinder: they avoided the three best teams in the SEC West (LSU, Alabama, and Arkansas), played just two ranked teams (Auburn and Georgia Tech), and reaped the benefits of playing in one of the softest divisions in college football in 2011 (the SEC East). That's not their fault, mind you -- you can only play the teams on their schedule -- but it does provide a solid rationale for picking against them here, 10 game-winning streak or not. That and the fact that LSU is just flat-out better and looking like a team that simply won't be denied this season. Their defense is nasty, their special teams are otherworldly, and their offense is, if not pretty, brutally effective. They may not even need this win to get to the BCS National Championship Game... but they're going to get it anyway. THE PICK: LSU 34, Georgia 14
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