The SEC Championship game was anticlimactic for Georgia, strange as that sounds. The Bulldogs were undefeated and favored by three touchdowns against LSU. They didn’t need to win to make the College Football Playoff and get a shot to defend their championship. Losing seemed out of the question.

That doesn’t mean this game didn’t matter. SEC championships are second only to national titles in college football (and often harder to win). The top-ranked Bulldogs also wanted to show they are sharp for the playoff.

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The Bulldogs accomplished their main mission Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. They beat LSU for their first SEC championship since 2017 and second with coach Kirby Smart.

“It’s the same thing as a national championship, just a little but smaller sale,” Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett said. “So, yeah, it was important to us.”

The Bulldogs sent mixed signals about their readiness to roll to another national title. Georgia won 50-30 behind a strong offensive performance, but had some familiar defensive lapses.

“Our team kind of played this game like they played the whole season: unbelievably well in spurts and unbelievably poor in spurts, and answered the bell when they had to,” Smart said.

Georgia’s defense was responsible for most of the bad stretches.

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LSU gained 549 yards in 72 plays (7.6 average). The Tigers passed for 502 yards and two touchdowns. The Bulldogs limited the damage by producing three takeaways and stopping LSU on fourth down near the goal line, but the Tigers had them scrambling for much of the night.

Said Smart: “Our guys understand as the year goes on, teams tackle poorly, teams cover poorly. Defense usually deteriorates. That’s not the culture here. It won’t be accepted or tolerated, so we got to fix it.”

The Bulldogs ran to a four-touchdown lead with the help of some lucky bounces and a brain freeze by LSU after the Bulldogs blocked a field-goal try. Then Georgia got sloppy after halftime.

LSU quarterback Garrett Nussmeier, subbing for injured starter Jayden Daniels, exploited Georgia’s struggles defending deep passes. Daniels did the same thing in the first half. Georgia’s opponents have done it all season.

The Bulldogs eventually buried LSU. It’s hard to nitpick a win this big, yet it wasn’t just about Georgia vs. LSU. It also was about gathering clues on what the Bulldogs might do against their CFP opponents. LSU ringing up big plays on Georgia wasn’t a good sign for what the likes of Ohio State, Alabama and TCU might do should they see the Bulldogs in the CFP.

We’ll find out Sunday which of those teams the CFP committee picks to face Georgia in a Dec. 31 semifinal. All of them are good at producing big pass plays. Georgia is not good at preventing them. LSU is the latest opponent to take advantage.

The Tigers had pass plays of 59, 53, 34 and 32 yards. The 53-yarder was a touchdown pass from Daniels to Kayshon Boutte that tied the score 7-7. After Georgia lost a fumble on the first possession after halftime, Nussmeier’s 34-yard TD pass to Malik Nabers cut Georgia’s advantage to 35-17. Georgia followed with a three-and-out before Nussmeier passed to Nabers for 59 yards to move LSU into scoring range.

Georgia ended that drive by stopping LSU on fourth-and-1 at the 5-yard line. The Bulldogs then drove 95 yards for a touchdown. LSU quickly scored another TD that was set up by a 47-yard run by Josh Williams. Georgia’s mighty defense surrendered big plays at a high rate. That’s the one major weakness for an otherwise great group.

Said UGA safety Christopher Smith: “We got a lot of work to do. Definitely don’t flush it. But we were able to come out on top with a great team win. We got to get back to the drawing board.”

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Georgia’s defensive slip-ups ended up mattering little against LSU because the Bulldogs had their best offensive performance of the season. Georgia scored more points at Vanderbilt. LSU’s defense is a lot better.

Only Tennessee had scored as many as 40 points against the Tigers. They gave up 43 points to Georgia, not counting Smith’s 96-yard return of a blocked field-goal attempt after LSU’s players gave up on the play. Bennett was 23-of-29 passing for 274 yards and four touchdowns. The Bulldogs rushed for 255 yards and two touchdowns.

Georgia sored touchdowns on four of six possessions in the first half. Back-to-back long TD drives put the Tigers away when they threatened to rally after halftime. The Bulldogs needed a big offensive night with the way their defense was scuffling.

There isn’t another CFP contender that gives up so many big pass plays. That could be a problem for Georgia.

Georgia has allowed 20 pass plays of 30 yards or more in 13 games. TCU has completed 27 pass plays of 30-plus yards in 13 games. Ohio State has 30 in 12 games, and Alabama has 22 in 12 games. LSU had only 12 pass plays of 30 yards or longer in its first 12 games. Then the Tigers played Georgia and suddenly they looked like the Kansas City Chiefs.

Georgia 50, LSU 30

The Bulldogs’ tendency to allow passes over the top is one reason I’ve long believed Ohio State is the one team that can beat them. OSU’s 45-23 home loss to Michigan didn’t make me change my mind about that. It was a bad day for the Buckeyes, but it’s the only one they’ve had all season.

Bulldogs backers know that Alabama also is capable of lighting up Georgia’s defense. The Crimson Tide’s offense gained 536 yards and scored 34 points while beating Georgia in last year’s SEC title game. The Bulldogs avenged that loss with a 33-18 victory over Bama in the national championship game. Now Georgia has an SEC championship, too.

Smart said he hadn’t paid any attention to the CFP scenarios because it’s out of Georgia’s control, and there will be plenty of time to prepare for the semifinal.

“My focus has been on this because I told (the team), ‘I don’t want one kid to walk out of our program without an SEC championship ring for their career. ... They said enough was enough tonight. They got ‘em one.”