One stop was all the Georgia defense was asked in the second half, and it turns out that is all they got. It turned out to be the difference in the game and propelled Aaron Murray and company past a resilient, but mistake prone, LSU squad in Athens Saturday afternoon.
The much ballyhooed matchup that featured LSU’s Zach Mettenberger facing his former school, coach, roommate and competitor at quarterback, Murray, lived up to the hype and then some. Mettenberger was brilliant in his return to Stanford Stadium. His strong arm and play making ability in throwing to the best pair of receivers in the nation in Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. brought the Tigers back time and time again, in a raucous SEC road atmosphere featuring top 10 teams.
Contrary to the smothering, dominating defenses the SEC elite has been known for in recent years, these two teams put on an offensive slugfest that the pirate Mike Leach would enjoy. Neither defense had an answer for the opposing offenses, and dynamic plays were plentiful. Both offensive coordinators had their way, with their defensive counterparts constantly exposing the young, athletic, but albeit inexperienced, secondary players on both squads.
LSU can attribute much of their demise on themselves and a couple critical late game breakdowns; credit the Georgia Bulldogs for forcing those late miscues. In the last two Tigers drives, the offensive line was very suspect, allowing sacks and pressure on Mettenberger at the most critical times. The Bulldog defensive line deserves the game ball, as their pressure the last two series was able to take the heat off a Bulldog secondary that was incinerated by Mettenberger and company the entire game. The epitome of this pressure was never more evident than on the fourth down, when a hurried Mettenberger pass sailed high over the head of his receiver, and with it, LSU’s opportunity to get out of Georgia with a win.
The other glaring weakness was the LSU secondary. They had shown some early season vulnerabilities and had given up uncharacteristic big plays against TCU, UAB and certainly Auburn a week ago. This gave Mark Richt and the Bulldog staff some insight into exposing this weakness. LSU is big, fast and athletic in the secondary, but short on experience and, at times, communication. The LSU secondary looked confused and simply missed several coverage calls, including the game winning touchdown pass Murray lobbed to an obscenely wide open receiver with the game on the line.
Takeaways from the game are that both teams are Top 10 teams and probably Top five or higher, without question. Both Georgia and LSU have NFL caliber wuarterbacks in Murray and Mettenberger. These classic in the pocket passers should continue to riddle defenses through the rest of the year, with Murray having a much easier task. Georgia’s run game with a healthy Todd Gurley is superior to Jeremy Hill and the Tigers’ ground attack at this point. The Bulldogs took away the Tigers’ run game and focused on making Mettenberger throw to beat them. Despite giving up 41 points, Richt’s strategy was successful in the end, but just barely.
Georgia’s remaining schedule features numerous road games, but opponents include SEC bottom dwellers Kentucky and Tennessee, and an improved Auburn team, which the Dogs should dispatch. The only remaining regular season game that Georgia could conceivably lose is the Nov. 2 game in Jacksonville against a hobbled and underachieving Florida team. The Dogs are in the driver’s seat for the Eastern Division crown, and a date in the SEC title game in Atlanta in December against Alabama or LSU most likely.
LSU must now let this game go and focus on the remaining games at ranked Ole Miss and No. 1 Alabama, sandwiched in between hosting a dangerous Florida team. The Tigers finish at home with Texas A&M and Arkansas. The Western Division of the SEC is still very much in play, but the Tigers have to correct the defensive secondary mistakes. The highly ranked opponents on their schedule the rest of the way will not be as forgiving as most teams in the country, and both teams could end up in SEC Title game. LSU has a much longer and more treacherous journey than Georgia to get back to Atlanta. A rematch, anyone ?