To listen to the national pundits, Georgia doesn’t have many advantages over LSU in Saturday’s SEC Championship game matchup. One clear edge for the Bulldogs, however, is experience.
Having qualified for this event now three years in a row, Georgia undeniably will be much more familiar with the atmosphere and environment awaiting the teams at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday (4 p.m., CBS).
Whether that translates into a victory is another story.
“I think experience is valuable,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “I think the experiences in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the routine, the walk-through … is a different deal.”
LSU is making its first appearance in the SEC Championship game since 2011, when the game was still played in the Georgia Dome. Coincidentally, that last meeting was against Georgia, and sparked by a defensive back and kick returner known as the “Honey Badger,” the Tigers won 42-10.
For the Bulldogs, Mercedes-Benz Stadium has become almost like a home away from home. Not only have they played there in the SEC title game the past two seasons, but they also played Alabama there in the 2017 season’s College Football Playoff Championship game.
LSU fans no doubt will point out that Georgia is 1-2 in those games, having won only against Auburn in the 2017 SEC Championship game. But it also should be pointed out that the Bulldogs played well in all three games. And there is something to be said with familiarity and comfort.
To put numbers to it, LSU has zero players on its roster who have played in this game or in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Bulldogs have 51 players who have played in the SEC Championship game, not including players who traveled there but didn’t compete.
“You don’t get the same amount of chills,” senior wide receiver Tyler Simmons said. “That means you’re more relaxed and more trusting and dependent on your training in the game. Just more calm and collected.”
Said senior safety J.R. Reed: “I think it helps just being experienced and being in that environment. It definitely will help me out. I can let our guys know what to expect.”
Quarterback Jake Fromm enters the game as Georgia’s most scrutinized player. Certainly influenced by some wide receiver issues, his passing game has been off of late. He has not completed even 50 percent of his throws over the Bulldogs’ past four games.
But it should provide comfort to Fromm and UGA fans to know that he has generally performed well every time he has played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. That was especially true last year, when he completed 25 of 39 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Combined, Fromm has completed 61.3 percent of his passes (57-of-93) for 716 yards and six touchdowns with two interceptions. That’s good for a solid quarterback efficiency rating of 145.0.
“It’s nice for a quarterback,” Fromm said of playing in that venue. “You know it’s going to be dry, and you know it’s going to be roughly 75 degrees in there. It’s fun. For me, it’s more about the speed of the game. On turf, it’s a little bit faster and that really helps me play faster.”
Of course, it will play faster for the Tigers as well, and they’ve proved to be one of the more explosive teams in college football this season. Georgia will counter with the No. 2 overall defense in the nation. Both squads are exceptional on special teams.
As ever, the outcome will be decided by blocking and tackling and turnovers. That’s what LSU coach Ed Orgeron, who is making his first trip to the SEC Championship game, has been saying on his side.
“This is my first one, and a lot of people have been telling me about it,” he said. “I’m sure it’s going to be a great game. But this is not too big for our football team. Our team can handle this. Our coaching staff can handle this. It’s going to be about beating Georgia.”
Smart seconded that notion.
“Those guys have played in big games,” he said. “In the SEC, it’s that way every week. We play a conference schedule that you’re going to play teams in the Top 25 three or four times. So, we’ve all been faced with that.”
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