The state of Georgia has been aching for that first national title since back in 1980 when Herschel Walker and Vince Dooley led the Bulldogs to a victory over Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. Coincidently, this year’s National Championship will be played at the same place, in the Superdome in New Orleans. But first comes a date with the boys from the bayou in Atlanta.
For the third consecutive season, Georgia has conquered the Eastern Conference. And for the second consecutive season, they enter as substantial underdogs. Last year, they were a double-digit dog against Alabama. This time around, LSU is favored by more than a touchdown, and some might say for good reason.
The Tigers have had somewhat of a storybook season. Looking at their schedule to begin the year, nobody thought they would be 12-0. Hell, nobody even knew if they would be 2-0 as a date with Texas loomed in Austin, testing LSU early. But as each opponent presented a different challenge, the Tigers had an answer.
Most weeks, that answer was Joe Burrow, who is a lock to win this year’s Heisman trophy, but his performance, while spectacular, also has to do a lot with the guys around him. Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson create perhaps the best receiving duo in the country, with the former slated as the favorite to win the Biletnikoff Award, which is given to the nation’s best receiver. Their offense also features perhaps the most versatile back in the country, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and they have a magician pulling the strings in Joe Brady, one of the best at scheming receivers open for easy touchdowns.
As a result, The LSU offense is second in total offense, yards per play, and total touchdowns. They are averaging over 550 yards per contest and have only been held under 36 points once all season, and that was in a 23-20 win over Auburn at Tiger Stadium. But they haven’t met a defense like Georgia’s yet.
Statistically, the closest defense LSU has played to Georgia is Alabama, which ranks 17th in the country in total yards. The Tigers went on to slap 46 points on the Crimson Tide, but I would thank soft scheduling for Alabama’s high ranking. They allowed 46 and 48 points respectively to the only two top-25 teams they faced, losing both. Stylistically and physically, the closest defense LSU has played to Georgia is Auburn, which should breathe some confidence into the Bulldog faithful leading into Sunday.
Georgia has only allowed 12 touchdowns all season. To put that in perspective, LSU is averaging over five a game. Something has to give, and I don’t see the Tigers running freely up and down the field in this one.
The Bulldogs rank fourth in total defense, second in scoring defense, and are in the top-five in red-zone defense. They are not just the best defense LSU will have played all season, but the best defense in the country. Still… if you’re thinking about holding the Tigers to under 20 points, you’re dreaming. Georgia is going to have to get their offense rolling better than it has all year, or they will be run out of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, a place that has haunted them several times over the last few years.
That’s going to be extra challenging without Lawrence Cager, who has been the X-factor all season for the Dawgs’ receiving core. When he’s in there, Jake Fromm looks like a potential first-round pick. Without him, this offense has looked stagnant. His ankle injury will keep him out of Saturday’s SEC championship. On top of that, Georgia will be missing freshman wide receiver George Pickens for the first half as well. He is suspended after being ejected against Georgia Tech for fighting. D’Andre Swift is also nursing a shoulder injury but is expected to play. The only good news in that regard is that Georgia is loaded at the running back position.
It’s going to be tricky for Jake Fromm to overcome all of that against an LSU defense that looked more like themselves in their last outing against A&M, holding the Aggies to just seven points and 169 yards. Say what you want about LSU’s defense, but when the Tigers have needed a stop, they have shown up every time, and they feature first-rounders across the board. But one thing that should not be overlooked is Fromm’s success in big games, specifically the SEC championship. He’s thrown for nearly 500 yards, 5 TDs, and no interceptions in the last two SEC titles combined, including a 300 yard and 3 TD performance last year against Alabama. The Bulldogs are going to need that type of showing from their veteran QB on Saturday and then some, which may be impossible to do without his favorite targets.
I might piss off some of the Georgia faithful, but I’m going against the home state in this one. While I think Georgia will have success getting some stops against LSU’s potent offense, the Bulldogs are going to have an extremely tough time sustaining drives and putting up points. I don’t see Fromm looking like he has in the past two SEC Championships. He knows he has to score and doesn’t have his top weapons, which should lead to mistakes. It will be a close game at half time, but this season is meant to be for LSU. The story of Ed O and Joe Burrow will go down in the history books of Lousianna, and those two will not let their team take any opponent lightly, even if they’ve already clinched a berth in the College Football Playoff. With their backs against the wall, the Bulldogs will put up a valiant effort and maybe come the closest to beating the Fighting Tigers, but it won’t be enough to keep LSU from hoisting up their first SEC Championship trophy since 2011.
LSU 28, Georgia 20