There was a clear recipe for Georgia to beat LSU in the SEC Championship game Saturday. Its celebrated defense makes LSU’s record-setting offense work for points. Georgia’s offense, paced by star tailback D’Andre Swift, comes to life against LSU’s shaky defense. Trusty Bulldogs kicker Rodrigo Blankenship cleans up stalled drives with points.
The Bulldogs went 0-for-everything.
Quarterback Jake Fromm had his worst day since Georgia lost to South Carolina on Oct. 12. Blankenship missed two field-goal attempts for the first time since the same game. Swift wasn’t a factor. And the Bulldogs couldn’t stop LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, who made his final case for the Heisman Trophy by carving up the best defense he’s faced.
LSU steamrolled Georgia for a 37-10 victory at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Bulldogs scored one field goal when it mattered. Georgia’s defense had allowed as many as 20 points all season. LSU matched that on four consecutive drives after halftime.
Burrow was 27-of-37 passing for 347 yards and four touchdowns. That’s an impressive line that doesn’t capture how much he befuddled the Bulldogs. LSU led 20-3 in the third quarter when Burrow’s signature play put the Bulldogs away.
Burrow tried stepping to his right, but Georgia defender Travon Walker forced him back inside. When Burrow looked to run up the middle, nose tackle Jordan Davis made him go back to his right. Walker grabbed Burrow, but the quarterback slipped away with Davis in pursuit to the sideline.
Burrow was still on the run when he let go of the ball. It traveled 40 yards in the air and fell to wide receiver Justin Jackson at Georgia’s 45-yard line. He slipped a tackle attempt at the 30-yard line and ran 21 more yards before safety Richard LeCounte dragged him down.
“I thought that was the perfect call by our defensive coordinator, and they made a better play than we did a call, and sometimes players do that,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “You learn in coaching that good players make big-time plays, and that was an incredible play by Joe Burrow.”
Three plays later Burrow tossed a touchdown pass to Terrace Marshall for a 27-3 lead. That was it for the Bulldogs. They hadn’t scored a TD in seven full possessions. Catching up was out of the question even before Fromm threw another interception on Georgia’s next possession, which set up another LSU touchdown.
Georgia’s offense had been lackluster most of the season, but it also had faced a lot of opponents that play good defense. The hope for the Bulldogs was that they would have more success against LSU. During the regular season, the Tigers allowed 385.8 yards and 25.5 points per game against SEC opponents.
Instead, LSU’s defense shut down Georgia until garbage time. The Bulldogs gained 286 yards, with 105 after they were down 27-3. Georgia trailed 34-3 when it finally scored a touchdown.
“That’s upsetting,” Georgia offensive tackle Andrew Thomas said. “We had a good game plan coming in. We just didn’t execute it the way we needed to.”
Burrow was so good after halftime that it might not have mattered much if Georgia’s offense was better. But the Bulldogs were bad with the ball in the first half, when LSU’s offense sputtered by its standards and scored 17 points.
Fromm’s accuracy had been off for a month. That trend continued when he began the game 2-for-7 passing while missing on some potential big plays. Fromm added a new wrinkle by throwing an interception when Georgia had a chance to cut into LSU’s 17-3 lead.
Obviously, this loss wasn’t just on Fromm. He wasn’t the only Bulldog who misfired when Georgia still had a chance.
There was bad pass coverage by Georgia’s defense. In the first half, Burrow completed passes for 41, 24, and 23 yards. Georgia defenders were in position to make plays on all three passes but didn’t. They were nowhere near Marshall when he emerged from a tight formation and, after a Burrow play fake, caught a 7-yard TD pass to put the Tigers ahead 14-0.
There was bad strategy by Georgia’s coaches. A three-man pass rush allowed Burrow to stand in the pocket for as long as he wanted before delivering his first TD pass. During LSU’s field-goal drive before halftime, the Bulldogs tried to substitute against LSU’s high-tempo offense and had 10 defenders on the field when Burrow passed for 19 yards to convert a third down. Throughout the half, Georgia appeared confused as LSU defenders ran unblocked into the backfield.
There was some bad luck for the Bulldogs, too, especially with injuries. Their thin wide receiver corps grew thinner when injuries knocked two players from the game, Dominick Blaylock (knee) and Kearis Jackson (ankle). They came into the game without No. 1 receiver Lawrence Cager (ankle) and with George Pickens serving a first-half suspension.
The Bulldogs eventually got better in the first half. Fromm’s passes started finding their mark more often, the interception notwithstanding. Georgia’s pass coverage tightened. Georgia caught a break when Marshall dropped a would-be TD pass. Fromm’s pick didn’t turn into points because LSU’s Cade York missed a 48-yard field-goal attempt just before halftime.
None of that ended up mattering. LSU was too good in the second half. The Bulldogs couldn’t keep up. By then, their winning recipe didn’t have a chance to come out right.