ATHENS –- Win this one, and the complexion of a season changes. Win this one, and a season of uncertain potential takes on new promise.
Georgia's football team, which hasn't been particularly persuasive in winning its past three games, has a chance to make a statement against LSU –- the nation's No. 4 team, according to the polls -– this afternoon in Sanford Stadium and on CBS.
Win this game, and "we're back in the national consciousness," Georgia coach Mark Richt said on his radio call-in show this week.
LSU is the highest-ranked opponent to visit Sanford Stadium since 1995 and the highest-ranked to face the Bulldogs anywhere since 2005. And although there is much skepticism about whether the Tigers (4-0) are as good as their ranking, a win surely would send Georgia surging in the polls from this week's No. 18 (AP) and No. 14 (coaches).
As UGA safety Bryan Evans put it: "This can be a very big momentum booster."
For now, Georgia's 3-1 record is tempered by concerns about turnovers (12 in four games), penalties (78.5 yards per game) and generally inconsistent, albeit resilient, play. Similarly, LSU's lofty ranking is tempered by qualms about last week's narrow victory at Mississippi State (30-26) and an offense that ranks last in the SEC (310 yards per game).
Notwithstanding all of that, the Georgia-LSU winner will have a signature victory and be 3-0 in the SEC.
"This game gives us some insight as to who is going to be in the hunt at the end of the year," CBS analyst Gary Danielson said in comments provided by the network. "The loser is not eliminated, but the winner sure is looking and feeling good [about] where it's headed."
Call it, as Georgia assistant coach Rodney Garner did, a "credibility game."
Georgia is hoping for a complete game after four Saturdays in which its offense, defense and special teams took turns playing well and playing poorly, but never in tandem.
The question, Richt said, is whether the full team is ready to play consistently enough and solidly enough to beat an opponent of this magnitude.
"Playing a team that is ranked No. 4 in the country at our house," Richt said, "we have a chance to see what we are all about."
LSU coach Les Miles sees the game as a gauge, too. "I think we've got a lot to prove, to be honest with you," he said.
On paper, the biggest issue separating Georgia and LSU is turnovers. Georgia has committed 12 to its opponents' 3, while LSU has committed 3 to its opponents' 10. That makes Georgia No. 115 in the country in turnover margin -– and LSU No. 5.
When Georgia beat LSU 52-38 in Baton Rouge last year, the Bulldogs won the turnover battle 3-0. UGA linebacker Darryl Gamble returned two interceptions for touchdowns, including one on the game's first play from scrimmage.
"People have been asking me about it [this week] -– like, ‘D.G., what are you going to do [this time]?'" Gamble said. "I'm, like, ‘I don't know. We'll just have to see.'"
The polls suggest LSU is the superior team –- the Tigers are 14 spots ahead of Georgia in the AP ranking -- but oddsmakers have made Georgia a 3-1/2-point favorite at home.
"From both teams, I don't think the world has seen each of ours full potential," Gamble said. "So I guess this is going to be a show on Saturday about whoever comes out and plays hardest gets a ‘W'."
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