SEC Championship Analysis: LSU vs. Georgia

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If you've ever read this blog, which I'm guessing you have since you are here now, then you know that I am a Georgia guy. I could sit here and analyze this game up and down (which we will do later this week when we post our SEC Championship Game Preview on Friday) but sometimes it's nice to get a different perspective on the game. For that different perspective I reached out to Kris Brauner of the great LSU based blog Saturday Night Slant. You can follow them on Twitter @SNSlant or Facebook. Now onto the questions and answers....

LSU should come into this game as a pretty big favorite, where do you see LSU having the biggest advantages?

LSU's run defense probably gives them the biggest advantage in the game.   Georgia wants to run the football.  They rely on balance offensively, and they need to run the football in order to set up Aaron Murray in the play action game, where he is exceptional.  But if LSU's front seven can stop the run without needing help from the safeties, then the secondary won't have to pay attention to any ball fakes.  If Georgia finds themselves in a lot of 2nd and 3rd and long situations, they could be in for a very long afternoon.  

LSU has not allowed any team to rush for more than 150 yards on them this year.   Only four have broken 100 yards and two of those (Ole Miss and Western Kentucky) were games in which LSU's back-ups played a whole lot.

LSU has been exceptional at stopping the run on early downs and then rushing the passer on third down.  I see them doing the same on Saturday, even against Georgia's strong running game.  

You've watched LSU from the first snap of the season up until now. Where do you see them as the most vulnerable?

It's incredible, but this team seemingly has no weakness.  They do not necessarily have superstars at every position, but they are not weak anywhere.   However, they have shown a vulnerability in the kick return game.   A number of teams have had big returns against LSU, and Georgia may have an opportunity to get a short field with a good kick return.   

If forced to become one dimensional on offense and pass the football exclusively, then Jordan Jefferson could become a liability.  But it's tough to see LSU in that situation.  They would have to be down late or Georgia would have to play completely lights out on defense in shutting down LSU's run game.   Jefferson is at his best when the offense is balanced, or really when it's a 1.5 to 1 or even 2 to 1 run vs. pass ratio.   Georgia's run defense is very, very good, but I don't think they'll be able to shut down LSU enough to where they just abandon the run game. 

Which players on the Georgia team will LSU need to key on?

Obviously, linebacker Jarvis Jones is someone that LSU must account for.  Jones leads the SEC in both tackles for loss and sacks.  He's a guy that can really hurt you with negative plays and kill drives.   LSU's line has played extremely well all year, but Jones is having a special season.  I would not be too surprised to see LSU run the option right at him several times, choosing to read him rather than block him.   

Freshman receiver Malcolm Mitchell has been great and is someone that Georgia likes to take shots with down the field.  LSU has to key on that play action fake from Murray and on Mitchell on the back end of those plays.  A big play or two could be what Georgia needs to stay competitive in this game.  LSU needs to make sure it doesn't happen.  Both Morris Claiborne and Tharold Simon are terrific at defending the deep pass. 

If you were the OC for LSU, how would you attack the Georgia defense?

I'd continue to stretch the defense horizontally, spreading the ball from sideline to sideline.   We all know LSU likes to run the ball between the tackles.  That is their identity.  But they have done a great job of mixing that with either runs to the outside, often on option plays, or quick passes to the receivers.   If the defense stretches to cover those plays, LSU hits them up the middle again.  Of course LSU take shots down the field deep, where they have had a ton of success with Rueben Randle, and they will work the intermediate middle of the field too.  I see no reason for LSU to deviate from this.   They will have to be strong in all areas in order to find success against a strong Georgia defense, but the offense is clicking well right now.  

When Georgia crowds the box to stop the run, LSU has to make them pay for it in the passing game.  

I'm not going to ask for a prediction, but tell me what LSU must do to win this game.

LSU just needs to do what they have done all season long.  Stopping the run on early downs allows LSU's defense to do what they really want which is to get after the passer and create mayhem.  And running the ball with success on early downs allows LSU's offense to be at its best.  LSU counters any resistance with ridiculously good special teams, often forcing the opposition to start drives inside their own 15 yard line.   And if that's not enough, LSU dominates the turnover battle.  They simply do not turn the ball over very often.   The Tigers lead the nation in turnover margin at +19.   

Georgia is certainly good enough to compete with LSU in this game.  But I do not believe they can win it unless LSU helps them with uncharacteristic turnovers and with allowing big plays.   If this game is played "straight up" with an even turnover battle and no huge mistakes on either side, then LSU is two touchdowns better than Georgia.