Heading into this week’s SEC showdown between the LSU Tigers and Georgia Bulldogs one thing is for certain: there is no lack of confidence on either side.
During a recent interview regarding the looming game, Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones fired the first shot in what promises to back an interesting back-and-forth when he said that his team’s defense was "just as good, if not better" than LSU’s. Needless to say, given the fact that the Tigers have largely hung their hats on the notion that they are the best defensive team in all the land (even though the Alabama Crimson Tide is, if you go by stats), the remark was expected to generate a response.
But it didn’t.
If anything, LSU players appear so secure in the strength of their calling card that they don’t mind being a little humble – with reporters around, at least.
"He may have a point," Tyrann Mathieu said. "I know those guys are going to go out there and play hard. I know he's going to go out there and play a little bit extra hard. It's just about us playing our style of football."
It’s not as if Georgia doesn’t have a reason to be confident. Whereas the Tigers currently allow nearly 249 yards per game, the Bulldogs aren’t far behind with a similarly impressive 271 yards. The two teams rank at No. 2 and No. 5 in the nation, respectively. LSU also allows 86 yards per game rushing, whereas Georgia allows nearly 95 yards. The rank breakdown is fourth and sixth when it comes to rushing yards given up, respectively. The only real asterisk by Bulldogs’ stats is that they haven’t played as a tough a schedule as their Louisiana-based counterparts.
Then again, earning 10 consecutive wins, lighter schedule or not, is still impressive. And while defense has been absolutely instrumental in that, Georgia has also been firing on all cylinders offensively as of late. Quarterback Aaron Murray currently leads in the SEC in both touchdown passes and efficiency, and if anyone can challenge an LSU secondary that has intercepted 16 passes on the year it’s definitely him.
Not that he’s going to admit that, of course.
"It's amazing, just how many plays they make," Murray said. "You talk about Mathieu, you've got to worry about him on special teams. They're great athletes.
"You put them in the category, when I was watching the film, of just athletes like Jarvis Jones on our team. They're football players. They know how to go out there and make plays, and they're exciting to watch."
That obvious respect for what the LSU defense can do is appropriate, given the fact that it has allowed 12 touchdowns in 12 games. That, coupled with a nose for interceptions makes the unit a nightmare for any quarterback, including one as efficient as of late Murray.
The biggest question for the Tigers in this one is how their offensive production will counteract the production of the opposing offense. Both tremendous defenses notwithstanding, quarterback Jordan Jefferson’s ability to play above his 18-of-29, 208-yard, one touchdown and one interception effort versus the Arkansas Razorbacks will be key. While LSU clearly proved that they knew how to put points on the board in a hurry following an early 14-0 Arkansas lead, Jefferson remains relatively unproven this year because how dominant his team has been on the other end.
A repeat of last week's performance from running back Kenny Hilliard -- who had 102 yards and a score on 19 carries -- will also be instrumental in earning a win this time around.
Ultimately, if the Tigers play the game their way and don’t allow the Bulldogs to pressure them, they should emerge victorious in this one.
As admirable Georgia’s confidence is, and as impressive as the 10-game winning streak undeniably has been, the better team typically wins in college football.
LSU is that better team.
The game kicks off at 4:00 p.m. eastern time, Saturday.