The closer this gets, the more I like Georgia’s chances – and I’ve never disliked Georgia chances. A leaky defense is like a rising tide: It can lift all boats, presumably even Jake Fromm’s.
Here’s another cliché/bromide, borrowed from a different sport: Good pitching stops good hitting. Georgia’s defense won’t shut down LSU’s offense in the SEC Championship game, but it won’t allow the Tigers to score 35 points, either. At issue is whether the Bulldogs’ offense, which hasn’t scored more than 27 points in an SEC game since Oct. 5, can break 30 itself.
LSU’s SEC opponents averaged 25.5 points. Georgia didn’t allow more than 17 in regulation in any conference game. (South Carolina hit 20 in overtime.) The road to ruin is paved with comparative scores, but sometimes they’re irresistible. Vanderbilt had 38 points against the Tigers; the Commodores got 10 against the Bulldogs. Florida had 28 against LSU, 17 against Georgia. Auburn had 20 and 14, respectively. Of the common foes, only Texas A&M scored bigger against Georgia (13) than the Tigers (seven).
When a great offense is matched against a great defense, neither is apt to dominate the other. Such a game is usually decided by the lesser units. That was essentially the story of Georgia’s overtime victory over Oklahoma on New Year’s Day 2018: The Sooners’ defense, which finished 67th nationally in yards against, turned the Bulldogs’ offense into a match for Lincoln Riley’s. Final score in double OT: Georgia 54, Oklahoma 48.
Such a shootout won’t happen Saturday. This Georgia offense can’t score like that against anybody. (Well, anybody except Georgia Tech.) That said, this offense isn’t as bad as advertised. It finished fifth among SEC teams in yards, fourth in passing efficiency, third in third-down conversions. LSU’s defense was ninth among SEC teams in yards against, 35th nationally. This isn’t to be confused with a Big 12 defense, but it’s not an immovable object, either. Four teams have scored 35 or more against it.
The Tigers got great mileage from their schedule, but look now. LSU’s two best victories, per the College Football Playoff rankings, were over No. 9 Florida and No. 11 Auburn. Both games were played in Baton Rouge. Georgia beat the same two teams, neither game being staged in Sanford Stadium. LSU’s big non-conference game was Texas. The Longhorns lost 45-38. Georgia’s out-of-league test was Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish lost 23-17. Notre Dame finished 10-2; Texas went 7-5.
Yes, the Tigers beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa with Tua Tagovailoa, and yes, Georgia lost at home to a bad South Carolina team down to its No. 3 quarterback by game’s end. If you’re wondering why LSU deserves to be favored (and you’re probably not), there it is. It hasn’t lost, while Georgia lugs the worst loss of any ranked team. But the Bulldogs responded to that egregious reversal the way you figured, more or less. They’re playing for the SEC title and a spot in the CFP’s field of four yet again.
The best thing about Georgia under Kirby Smart – this might sound like faint praise, but it isn’t – is that it doesn’t often mess up. It jammed a season’s worth of howlers into four quarters plus two OTs against South Carolina. Fromm hasn’t thrown an interception since. The Bulldogs make you beat them. In four playoff-level games – the 2017 and 2018 SEC Championship games, the 2017 CFP semi and final – only Alabama has done that, and both times it had to override a double-digit deficit behind a No. 2 quarterback.
What happens if LSU falls behind? It hasn’t trailed at halftime this season. It hasn’t trailed in the second half since falling behind Auburn by a field goal on Oct. 26. Its biggest second-half deficit was seven points for 3:42 of the third quarter against Florida on Oct. 12. It led Bama by 20 after 30 minutes, Texas A&M by 21 after 13-1/2. If the Tigers catch a flying start Saturday, the game’s over.
But let’s say Georgia doesn’t allow the Tigers to achieve separation. Let’s say the Bulldogs score first. Let’s say halftime arrives with Georgia up 16-14. Let’s say the game becomes the sort of grinder LSU hasn’t lately seen, the kind that Georgia has played a half-dozen times already. Let’s say Smart’s team runs the ball and, via Fromm, moves the sticks and, via Rodrigo Blankenship, finishes every promising possession with points.
Let’s say LSU scores with two minutes left to nose ahead 24-23. (Don’t say nobody can hold these Tigers to 24 points. Auburn held them to 23.) Could Fromm, game manager, put Georgia in position to win against LSU’s defense? Yes indeed. The bigger question would be if Smart could manage the clock, but let’s say this time he does.
That would leave it to Rodrigo, folk hero, to win it. Which he will. Georgia 26, LSU 24.
Yeah, I’m crazy. But Mad MB has a feeling about this one.
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