Nation's Top 2 Defenses Showcased

ATHENS -- The Southeastern Conference Championship game has proven quite a show since its inception in 1992. The average combined score in the game is 46 and the 33 totaled last year by Georgia and Arkansas is the lowest in the game's 11-game history.

The offensive fireworks probably will come to end Saturday. No. 3 LSU and No. 5 Georgia, who play Saturday at 8 p.m. in the Georgia Dome, boast the nation's top two scoring defenses and have given up a combined 22.4 points per game this year.

Of the four major statistical defensive categories, they rank in the nation's top 10 seven of eight possible times.

"The first game we played was a real defensive battle," said Tigers quarterback Matt Mauck, who led LSU to a 17-10 win in the teams' first meeting. "There wasn't a whole lot of offense from either team."

The Tigers (11-1) are led by defense that ranks No. 1 in the nation in scoring and No. 2 in the nation in yardage. They are tied with Georgia for fewest touchdowns allowed (16).

"It's by far the best defense" Georgia has faced, Bulldog coach Mark Richt said.

LSU bases its defense on pressure. The Tigers lead the SEC in sacks (33) and utilize more all-out blitzes than any team in the league. In the first meeting, they sacked Georgia quarterback David Greene four times and hurried him countless others.

"They're going to bring enough people to make you throw (quickly)," Georgia quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo said. "Basically you have to stand in there and make throws. Somebody is going to come free to hit the quarterback."

"(Greene) has to be able to handle the fact that he's going to get hit from time to time," Richt said.

LSU coach Nick Saban indicated this week that he will be more careful in blitzing this time because the Bulldogs running game has improved so much, but Georgia's coaches don't buy that.

"They're going to get you, they're going to knock you down," Richt said. "They're going to wreak havoc. Hopefully, you can make enough big plays to get in the end zone once or twice. That's what we didn't do the first time. We didn't do anything much to deter it."

The Tigers play man-to-man defense behind most of their blitzes, which allows them to bring more men than an offense can block. In turn, they are vulnerable on the perimeter if a quarterback can find time to throw and a receiver can make a play against cornerbacks Corey Webster and Travis Daniels.

Webster shut down Reggie Brown in the first meeting, but Fred Gibson, the Bulldogs' best playmaker, didn't play that game. Richt expects Webster to match up one-on-one against Gibson this time.

"I love it when defensive backs press me," said Gibson, who is averaging a team-high 17.7 yards per catch. "That's the time when wide receivers make plays. You always want a defensive back to press you because once you get by him you should get the ball. I don't know what their plans are, but if they do, they do."

Georgia's receivers had chances to make plays in the first game but dropped five passes. Still, the Bulldogs managed 411 yards, the most this season against the Tigers.

"It could be a big day for the receivers," Greene said. "It's going to have to be. There will be a lot of chances for them."

The Tigers have given up 12 pass plays of more than 20 yards (and nine rushing plays of more than 15 yards) in their last four games.

"Our offense really has to answer the call," Richt said. "If we don't, it could get really nasty."

The Bulldogs use less pressure and take fewer chances than the Tigers but come up with results that are almost as good. They are second in the nation in scoring and fourth in yards allowed. In the first meeting, Georgia's defense forced LSU into six consecutive three-and-out possessions in the first half.

The only statistical advantage Georgia has over LSU is in pass defense. The Bulldogs are eighth in the nation against the pass, and LSU is 24th. The Tigers top two receivers -- Michael Clayton and Devery Henderson -- had their worst games of the season in the first meeting, combining for four catches and 39 yards.

Mauck completed just 14 passes against the Bulldogs and until his last throw of the game was having his least productive day of the season. Of course, all Georgia's defenders remember is his last throw, a 34-yard touchdown pass to Skyler Green with 1:22 left in the game.

"I think the defense let the offense down," Georgia defensive end David Pollack said. "We had a chance at the end of the game to give our offense a chance to win it and we didn't. We blew it in the end."

Georgia's passing defense has taken a hit since the first meeting. Senior Decory Bryant, who defended Henderson most of the day, was lost for the season due to a broken neck.

"Decory Bryant being gone is the biggest difference, and that could make a big difference," Richt said.

Tim Jennings, who was beaten on Mauck's final play, moved into the starting lineup to replace Bryant and inexperienced senior Kenny Bailey took over Jennings' role as Georgia's nickel back. That could pose a problem today against a wide receiving corps safety Thomas Davis called the best Georgia has faced.

The Bulldogs' rush defense isn't quite what LSU's is, but it's not bad. Georgia just finished its first regular season since 1992 without allowing a 100-yard rusher. If they can continue that string through the next two games, it will be the first time since 1971 that no player has rushed for triple digits against the Bulldogs.

"They've proven that they're a great defense," Mauck said. "They've played well all year long."

Saturday, they get a chance to measure themselves against the best.

The Defenses
(National rank in parentheses)
Georgia LSU
Scoring 11.8 ppg (2nd) 10.6 ppg (1st)
Yards 261.9 ypg (4th) 260.4 ypg (2nd)
Rushing 90.1 ypg (8th) 69.7 ypg (3rd)
Passing 171.8 ypg (8th) 190.8 ypg (24th)
Touchdowns allowed 16 (1st) 16 (1st)

Best opponent performances
vs. LSU
Total -- Georgia, 411
Passing -- Georgia, 314
Rushing -- Arkansas, 201
Rushing -- Arkansas' Cedric Cobbs, 169
Receiving -- Georgia's Tyson Browning, 104
Passing -- Georgia's David Greene, 314

vs. Georgia
Total -- Georgia Tech, 401
Rushing -- Georgia Tech, 146
Passing -- Georgia Tech, 255
Rushing -- Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler, 88 yards
Receiving -- Tennessee's Mark Jones, 117 yards
Passing -- Florida's Chris Leak, 235 yards

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