December 2, 2011

LSU aims to avoid letdown against Georgia

LSU has a superior defense, a better running game, more depth and more big-play potential than Georgia.

The Tigers are undefeated, ranked higher and have played stronger competition than Georgia.

So, is Georgia on their minds?

No question LSU appears to have all the advantages going into Saturday's SEC championship game in Atlanta. Yet, there may be a subtle crack in the door that gives Georgia a chance to break through and pull a stunning upset: While Georgia must win to get to the Sugar Bowl, LSU doesn't "need" to win to play for the BCS national championship.

The top-ranked Tigers have such a commanding lead in the BCS standings that they will advance to the national championship game even if they lose to Georgia.

LSU's situation is identical to Oklahoma's in 2003. The Sooners were going to the play for the national championship regardless of the outcome of the Big 12 title game. With little at stake for OU and a whole lot of Darren Sproles for Kansas State, the Wildcats hammered the Sooners 35-7.

Motivation could be the only true edge Georgia has. Alas, LSU players vow to take that away, too.

"We're not focused on the national championship game at this present time," LSU guard Will Blackwell said. "We're just worried about getting to Atlanta and bringing home another SEC championship to LSU."

Added strong safety Brandon Taylor: "It wouldn't feel as great going to the national championship if you don't win the SEC Championship because we feel it's not right. We've just got to keep playing hard and win the SEC championship because that's been one of our goals this year."

That's also been a goal for Georgia, and quarterback Aaron Murray said the Bulldogs are playing at a championship level.

"I think right now as a team we're playing great," Murray said. "All three facets of the game - special teams, defense has been playing lights out all year and offensively we're a very young team and I think a lot of our young guys have matured, have grown up this season and have gotten better.

"Right now, they're feeling confident. I have a lot of confidence in our young guys and we're ready to go."

The foundation of that confidence is a 10-game winning streak that propelled the Bulldogs to the top of the SEC East Division. But skeptics would point out that the streak was constructed against soft competition. None of the teams Georgia defeated are ranked.

Conversely, LSU has beaten No. 2 Alabama, No. 7 Oregon, No. 10 Arkansas and No. 20 West Virginia.

Each of those teams was held to 21 or fewer points by LSU. And all are ranked higher than Georgia in total offense.

Georgia has to prove it can move the football and protect Murray against an LSU defense that is ranked second in the nation overall and has produced 33 sacks.

"I have complete confidence in my O-line," Murray said. "Those guys have done a great job all year. I think the biggest reason why we've been so successful on offense is those guys. They've given me plenty of time, and they've opened up huge running lanes for our running backs."

Even if Georgia struggles against LSU's defense, the Bulldogs won't concede anything. Linebacker Jarvis Jones went as far as saying that Georgia's defense, which is ranked fifth in the country, is as good as LSU's, if not better.

"Everybody praises LSU's defense, but I know we've got a pretty good defense," Jones said. "We're not cocky at all. We're just going to play. We do our job and get out on the field. We like having fun. We love playing football. We're aggressive. We play just as well as them.

"A lot of people don't give us credit of how they play and how we play. I think we play two different styles. I think our defense is just as good as theirs, if not better."

Claiming equality and perhaps superiority to LSU's vaunted defense?

If LSU did indeed need motivation for the SEC championship game, Jones may have provided it.

[Video: SEC Championship Preview: Can Georgia upset LSU?]

WHO GETS THE EDGE?

Georgia run offense vs. LSU run defense: The Bulldogs have had some big games running the football - but some pedestrian ones, too. Leading rusher Isaiah Crowell, who has gained 832 yards, missed last week's game and played sparingly the previous week because of an ankle injury. He has looked good in practice this week, though. LSU has allowed just one opponent to rush for more than 130 yards - and that was Ole Miss in a 52-3 blowout. No individual has gained 100 yards against the Tigers, who are ranked fourth in the nation against the run. Physical CB Tyrann Mathieu leads the team with 66 tackles, and 11 players have at least 38 stops. EDGE: LSU

Georgia pass offense vs. LSU pass defense: QB Aaron Murray leads the conference in passing efficiency; he has thrown for 2,698 yards and 32 touchdowns. TE Orson Charles is one of the best in the country at his position. Freshman WR Malcolm Mitchell and junior WR Tavarres King are productive, too. But protection sometimes has been a problem, and Georgia has allowed 25 sacks. That's a huge red flag when facing LSU, which has 33 sacks. Es Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo have eight sacks apiece. The Tigers also have arguably the premier secondary in the country. There isn't a better set of CBs than Mathieu and Morris Claiborne, while Ss Brandon Taylor and Eric Reid are having excellent seasons, too. LSU is sixth in the nation in pass defense. EDGE: LSU

LSU run offense vs. Georgia run defense: No secrets here. LSU has a big, powerful line that aims to control the line of scrimmage and allow its running backs to hammer opponents into submission. Spencer Ware, Kenny Hilliard, Michael Ford and Alfred Blue are capable of big performances. The Tigers have rushed for at least 286 yards in each of their past three games. In the first half last week, Georgia had some trouble with Georgia Tech's triple-option (who doesn't?), but adjusted and shut it down in the second half. Aside from that, the Bulldogs have been difficult to run on. Seven opponents finished with fewer than 100 rushing yards. The Bulldogs are big up front and have quick, active linebackers. EDGE: LSU

LSU pass offense vs. Georgia pass defense: There is a misconception that LSU cannot pass. The Tigers prefer to move the football via the run, but they can get it done through the air, too. QB Jordan Jefferson is coming off his best showing of the season, a 208-yard outing in a victory over Arkansas. WR Rueben Randle is a deep threat and freshman WR Odell Beckham Jr. has become a solid complementary threat. Georgia is No. 11 in the nation in pass defense. The Bulldogs have allowed just 10 touchdown passes all season - and three of those came in the season-opener against Boise State. They haven't allowed more than one touchdown pass in any other game. Hard-hitting FS Bacarri Rambo is second in the nation with seven interceptions, and Georgia has 17 interceptions as a team. The Bulldogs are second in the SEC with 32 sacks; LB Jarvis Jones is a terror off the edge with a league-leading 13.5. LSU has allowed 12. EDGE: Georgia

LSU special teams vs. Georgia special teams: This is an area of strength for LSU. Mathieu (punts) and Claiborne (kickoffs) are dangerous return men. The Tigers' coverage teams are exceptional, too. K Drew Alleman has converted 16-of-18 field-goal attempts and has hit 10 in a row. P Brad Wing averages 43 yards and has killed 21 inside the 20. Georgia isn't bad, either. CB Brandon Boykin has big-play potential on returns and K Blair Walsh, though surprisingly inconsistent this season, has hit from 56 yards. P Drew Butler averages 42.0 yards. The coverage teams have been shoddy at times. EDGE: LSU

[Video: College football upset watch]

Georgia coaching staff vs. LSU coaching staff: Georgia coach Mark Richt is 106-36 in 11 seasons in Athens; that includes two conference championships. But he was under fire this season after the Bulldogs started 0-2. His job is no longer in jeopardy after 10 consecutive victories. Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo has been a target of criticism, but the Bulldogs are averaging 34 points per game. The defense has made dramatic strides in two seasons under Todd Grantham. The Bulldogs are ranked fifth nationally in total defense. Les Miles is 74-17 in seven seasons as LSU's coach. with an SEC championship and a national championship. Defensive coordinator John Chavis is as good as any in his field. First-year offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa has done a nice job as a play-caller, and quarterback coach Steve Kragthorpe deserves credit for Jefferson's continued growth as a passer. EDGE: LSU

X-FACTOR: LSU's intensity level bears watching. BCS computer experts say the Tigers will advance to the national championship game even if they lose. With that goal already reached, there is a risk the Tigers might not be as sharp as usual. Conversely, Georgia must win to get into a BCS game. It would seem Georgia actually has more at stake.

GEORGIA WILL WIN IF: Protecting Murray is a high priority, but taking care of the football is even more vital. Scoring opportunities figure to be scarce, so the Bulldogs must capitalize when they get the chance. Missed field goals could prove costly - just ask Alabama. The defensive front seven must contain LSU's running game.

LSU WILL WIN IF: The Tigers are the better team, so they must play like it. The Tigers must run effectively on offense. Defensively, they would love to force Georgia into obvious passing situations on third down.

[Wetzel: Flawed BCS process must be scrapped]

EXPERT PICKS

Olin Buchanan: LSU 27, Georgia 13
David Fox: LSU 28, Georgia 14
Mike Huguenin: LSU 27, Georgia 10
Steve Megargee: LSU 24, Georgia 13

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Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com, and you can follow him on Twitter.



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