ATHENS — A lot has gone right for the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs this season. They had more go right Saturday night.
Well after the Bulldogs’ 37-14 win over Georgia Tech was in the books, Texas A&M took some chunks out of LSU’s armor with a 38-23 upset of the No. 5 Tigers in College Station, Texas. While that does not prevent LSU from winning the SEC title against Georgia in the championship game next weekend in Atlanta, it effectively kills any possibility the Tigers (9-3) might have to snatch one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff when the final rankings are released Dec. 4. Getting handed a third “L” while giving up 21 unanswered second-half points to the Aggies (5-7) in the second half slammed the door on that.
“We didn’t do our job,” LSU’s first-year coach Brian Kelly said. “We weren’t very good. I mean, we were off today, and I’m disappointed in that.”
Meanwhile, with No. 6 USC (11-1) taking care of business against No. 15 Notre Dame in Los Angeles late Saturday, No. 4 TCU (12-0) winning big at home against Iowa State, Michigan (12-0) taking out No. 2 Ohio State (11-1) and No. 8 Clemson (10-2) also falling Saturday, that gives defending national champion Georgia (12-0) a 99% chance of returning to the playoff, according to ESPN.
If those four teams also handle their business in the conference championships, the final four likely would be set with Georgia, Michigan, TCU and USC, not necessarily in that order. Michigan gets Purdue (8-4) in the Big Ten title game, TCU faces Kansas State (9-3) for the Big 12 crown and USC faces Utah in the Pac 12.
Meanwhile, Alabama lurks. The Crimson Tide (10-2) are expected to move up to No. 5 in the next rankings, ahead of one-loss Ohio State after the Buckeyes lost by three touchdowns at home to Michigan on Saturday. Should TCU or USC fall in their conference championship game next weekend, Bama would be poised to become the first two-loss team to make the final four since the CFP was formed in 2014.
“That’s not for me to say,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said after the 49-27 win over Auburn on Saturday. “I love our team. I wish we had the opportunity.”
Here are five other things we learned Saturday:
1. Scouting LSU
The Aggies were able to do two things against LSU that Georgia absolutely needs to duplicate next Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium: They protected their quarterback and got after Tigers star quarterback Jayden Daniels.
LSU’s fabulous freshman linebacker Harold Perkins Jr. did not record a sack and had two tackles against A&M. Perkins had four sacks against Arkansas the previous week.
Conversely, the Aggies sacked Daniels once, but he was under duress all night and often threw the ball before he wanted. He ended up with 84 yards rushing on 12 carries but had only 189 yards on 21-of-35 passing and no touchdowns.
Arkansas coach Sam Pittman was asked last week to assess the Georgia-LSU matchup.
“I’m sure Kirby (Smart) will have it all figured out; he always does,” Pittman said. “But, you know, they’re very talented. They’ve got to stop the quarterback, as everybody knows. And Perkins is a beast. He’s fast. He spies. He got a couple of sacks on us spying the quarterback. And our quarterback’s fast, too, but he ran him down.
“They’re very physical on defense; very physical on offense. But the quarterback’s the key to their offense, and you’ve got to find a way to block Perkins. They’re a really good football team on the D-line as well. They’re what you’d think LSU would be.”
It will be the fifth time Georgia and LSU have met in the SEC title game. The Tigers have won three of the previous four matchups.
2. Running report
Junior running back Kendall Milton got his first start of the season and just the second of his career Saturday. But while Milton had a good day, it was senior Kenny McIntosh who truly delivered again.
McIntosh totaled 182 all-purpose yards (12 carries for 86 yards and two catches for 96 yards). “Kenny Mac” got 83 of those yards on one pass from Stetson Bennett when McIntosh was able to slip behind the secondary on a wheel route. The play was the fourth on a five-play, 99-yard scoring drive that ended with McIntosh getting in the end zone on a 2-yard run.
“Kenny’s been good all year,” Smart said. “When he flips the switch and really starts going, he’s got great vision and great hands. He’s a weapon.”
Milton also got free on a 44-yard run and finished with 56 yards on four carries. Including Daijun Edwards’ 57 yards on eight carries, the Bulldogs had 264 yards on the ground. That was the second consecutive game of more than 200 yards and sixth of the season. The season high remains 292 yards in the win over Auburn.
3. Turnover tally
Georgia had a chance to win turnover margin for the first time in a while Saturday. But then backup quarterback Carson Beck, in the game late in the fourth quarter with the Bulldogs leading 37-7, lost the ball on a hit by Ayinde Eley and the fumble was recovered by Clayton Powell-Lee at the Jackets’ 35-yard line.
Seven plays later, on fourth-and-1, Tech running back Dontae Smith threw a pass to Malachi Carter for a 24-yard touchdown.
While meaningless to the outcome, the exchange kept the Bulldogs at minus-2 in turnover margin for the season. The ensuing seven points that came from it meant Tech outscored Georgia 7-3 in points off turnovers for the day. Georgia linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson forced a Tech fumble earlier in the game, which resulted in a field goal.
For the season, the Bulldogs have scored 47 points off 13 turnovers. Their opponents have scored 43 on 15. That’s something Georgia hopes to clean up heading into the postseason.
4. Getting defensive
The Bulldogs were stunned when Tech received the opening kickoff and immediately went 75 yards in 11 plays to score on a 7-yard run by quarterback Taisun Phommachanh. It was the first touchdown Georgia has given up in the first quarter this season.
But Georgia’s defense rallied in the second half. The Jackets managed 68 yards on 26 plays after halftime and finished with 255 yards overall. Holding them scoreless in the second and third quarters, the Bulldogs now have blanked opponents in 26 quarters. Georgia leads the nation in scoring defense at 11.3 ppg, up 1.1 a game from last year when it led the country at 10.2.
Linebacker Smael Mondon paced the Bulldogs with six tackles, and three others had five, including cornerback Kelee Ringo, who also had three pass breakups. Georgia added four sacks to a total that reached 24 for the season.
5. Senior Day blues
Bennett participated in Senior Day for the second year in a row, and it was just as emotional as the last one, if not more so. In fact, Georgia’s quarterback is glad he won’t have to go through it again.
He believes it might have contributed to his lackluster start.
“I’m not a really big fan of Senior Day, honestly,” Bennett told reporters. “It’s hard to play. I had to freaking do it twice now, trying to not let it be a deal and almost making it a deal. It kind of takes the focus off that we’re playing Georgia Tech in a rivalry game at home and they’re trying to mess up our season and get to a bowl game, and I’m jogging out there with a white ball.”
Bennett was slow to get going, completing 4 of 8 passes in the first quarter. He got loose for one 16-yard run, but the Bulldogs managed only 53 yards in the opening quarter.
Georgia finally got rolling and finished with 407 yards on 61 plays. With two more touchdown passes, Bennett’s final passing line was 10 of 18 for 140 yards. He also had 21 yards rushing and was denied an eighth TD run on a third-and-goal play.
With the win, the Bulldogs’ senior class improves to 46-5 in their careers, a school record.
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