Georgia and LSU haven't played since 2013

Bulldogs aware of need to score earlier in SEC games

The Georgia Bulldogs have convincingly won each of their six games, outscoring their four conference opponents 163-71, but that’s likely to change in the second half of the season.

Coach Kirby Smart said Monday that Georgia’s real test in the regular season lies in front of them as they play the first of four ranked conference opponents Saturday at No. 13 LSU (3:30 p.m., CBS; News 95.5 and AM-750 WSB).

“We've got some tough games. ... I think that our tests are upcoming,” Smart said. “I think we play some good football teams starting this week with what's an extremely physical, well-coached football team, in a tough place to play.”

While the reigning SEC champions have handily won each conference game, they’ve begun every one of those four games looking stumped on offense, struggling to create explosive plays and punch the ball in the end zone.

Georgia has scored only two offensive touchdowns in the first quarter of its conference games this season, both scored outside the red zone. The first was a fumble recovery returned 31 yards for a touchdown by tight end Isaac Nauta against Tennessee and the other, a 75-yard touchdown reception by Terry Godwin on Saturday against Vanderbilt.

In the first half of conference games, the Bulldogs’ offense has scored six touchdowns, three of which came from Saturday’s 41-13 win over Vanderbilt. Georgia has also attempted six field goals in the first half of SEC games.

Around halftime of each conference game, both Georgia players and coaches seem to adjust to the opposing defense. The result coming out of the locker room is a mix of explosive plays and steady marches to the end zone that allow the Bulldogs to create leads large enough to give some second-team players a few snaps in the games’ final minutes.

Led by sophomore Jake Fromm and occasionally by freshman Justin Fields in the Wildcat formation, Georgia’s offense has scored eight touchdowns in the third quarter of conference games this season, 11 in the second half. The Bulldogs have also only attempted four second half field goals.

Nauta, a junior who received for 40 yards against Vanderbilt, said the Bulldogs’ inability to come out strong on offense has been because of the effective plans of opposing defensive coordinators.

The Georgia Bulldogs are 6-0 (4-0 in the SEC) heading into Saturday's conference game at LSU.

“There’s such good coaching and such good players in this conference that they scheme up stuff to try and throw us off and I think a lot of the teams have done a good job up to this point,” Nauta said. “Once we’ve executed and done well, made our adjustments, we really started rolling but we definitely need to get out to faster starts and take other teams out of it early.” 

Nauta totals 129 receiving yards and two total touchdowns this season.

Scoring earlier and more often in games would not only force the remainder of Georgia’s opponents to play from behind, winning the mental battle early, but it would also put the Bulldogs’ offense on a more competitive playing field with Alabama as well as other offensively powerful teams should the Bulldogs land in the College Football Playoff again.

Halfway through the regular season, Alabama — who many project to face Georgia in the SEC Championship game Dec. 1 — has scored 333 points in its six wins, outscoring opponents by 237 points and conference opponents by 111. In each of its three conference games, the unbeaten Crimson Tide also scored touchdowns in the first 90 seconds and crossed the goal line a minimum of four times in the first half.

In their wins over Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Arkansas, Alabama averaged 21 points in the first quarter. Georgia averaged 9.5 points in the first quarter of its four conference games with an outlier 17 points scored in the first 15 minutes against Vanderbilt.

Godwin, who recorded a season-high 95 yards and one of the Bulldogs’ five touchdowns against Vanderbilt, agreed with Nauta that the Bulldogs are starting games too slowly for the opponents they will face in the second half of the season. After LSU’s loss to Florida on Saturday in Gainesville, Fla., Godwin said he knows LSU will have “a chip on their shoulder” when they host the Bulldogs at Death Valley.

LSU has outscored opponents 188-102 over six games, SEC teams 86-64, and has allowed its three SEC opponents to score an average of 28.7 points.

Georgia enters Saturday’s game averaging 42.8 points.

“Looking back at the previous game, we have to come back out and fix what we messed up,” Godwin said. “We’re starting off slow every game. We got to come out faster and be who we are, not let them dictate our plays or dictate as a receiver, a (defensive back) dictate our route and things like that.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.