The Tigers all-out blitzes do more than make life tough on quarterbacks. They make it tough to run the ball. LSU ranks third in the nation in rush defense (69.7 ypg) and Louisiana Tech and Arkansas are the only two teams to rush for more than 100 yards against the Tigers. LSU held six teams to 50 or fewer rushing yards in a game. The good news for the Bulldogs' backs, paced by true freshman Kregg Lumpkin, is if they can find a seam through the first wave, they will have lots of running room. Lumpkin could start his first game today as the most effective runner of the team's three backs. Regular starter Michael Cooper has been slowed by ankle and calf injuries all week. The elusive Tyson Browning also will get plenty of chances as the backfield's best screen receiver, scoring the only touchdown of the first meeting on a 93-yard screen pass. Edge: LSU
LSU rush offense vs. Georgia rush defense
True freshman Justin Vincent didn't carry the ball in the first meeting but probably will start today. He averaged 100 per game in the last three games. The next back in the rotation could either be Joseph Addai, Barrington Edwards or Shyrone Carey. All four backs probably will play. Addai and Carey teamed up to hurt the Bulldogs in the first meeting. Carey had 18 carries for 73 yards, and Addai had 15 carries for 65 yards. The Tigers were one of only five teams to gain more than 100 yards against the Bulldogs on the ground, but Georgia's rushing defense has improved since that game despite the 146 yards it gave up to Georgia Tech. Plus, the return of Kedric Golston will be a huge lift. Golston won't start but as long as he doesn't fatigue quickly, he should see plenty of action. Before the shoulder injury that kept him out for six games, he was Georgia's most dominant defensive tackle. LSU's running game is no better than Auburn's, and the Bulldogs shut down those Tigers. Georgia is eighth in the country against the rush (90.1 ypg). Edge: Georgia.
Georgia pass offense vs. LSU pass defense
If the Bulldogs have a chance against this Tigers' defense, it's through the air. There were opportunities in the first game for plays to be made on the perimeter but batted balls and dropped passes kept Georgia from taking advantage. The return of Fred Gibson can't be underestimated in this area. Tiger cornerback Corey Webster contained Reggie Brown in the first meeting but he will have to line up across from Gibson today. If Gibson remains healthy and interested in playing, no cornerback in the SEC can guard him one-on-one. Mark Richt will go into this game thinking he only has to hit two big offensive plays to have a very good chance, so he'll take plenty of shots to Gibson. Gibson's presence also means that Webster won't be available to cover Brown, Michael Johnson or Damien Gary. Gary, playing in his final season at Georgia, could have a big game because of his sure hands and his quick routes that work well against blitzing teams. None of those matchups, though, will matter if the Bulldogs can't protect Greene, which they didn't do last time. It won't be any easier with a true freshman at center staring at Chad Lavalais most of the day. Edge: LSU
LSU pass offense vs. Georgia pass defense
Tiger quarterback Matt Mauck is still underrated despite throwing as many touchdown passes (27) as Eli Manning and leading the SEC in pass efficiency. LSU coach Nick Saban said Mauck played well this year when he played "within himself." Georgia will try to rattle him with some pressure. The Bulldogs won't be as strong in the secondary as they were in the first game with cornerback Decory Bryant lost for the season to injury. His departure leaves Georgia thin on its back line and means senior Kenny Bailey will have to stop Skyler Green, a bad matchup for the Bulldogs. In addition, 5-foot-8 Tim Jennings will have to cover Devery Henderson and watch for the Tigers to try to get the 6-foot-4 Michael Clayton on Jennings in some formations. If that happens, the ball will go straight to Clayton. However, Georgia's safeties, Sean Jones and Thomas Davis, more than make up for the lack of depth at cornerback. Both have played at an All-SEC level this season and they can help their less experienced teammates. Plus, Davis promised that the Tiger wide receivers can expect to take some big licks when they do catch the ball. Edge: Georgia.
Today would be a good day for Georgia's special teams to return to their 2002 form. Last year, the Bulldogs made big play after big play in the kicking game, including a blocked punt by Decory Bryant in the first quarter that sparked Georgia's 30-3 whipping of Arkansas. This year, there have been fewer big plays and plenty of negative plays. The biggest problem for Georgia has been its kickoff coverage and there was no better example than the first meeting between these teams. After Georgia tied the game with less than five minutes remaining, it gave up a 48-yard kickoff return to Devery Henderson. The return set up the Tigers' game-winning drive. The Bulldogs complained quietly after the game that there was at least one illegal block on the play and the replay showed they had a case. A kickoff coverage team as bad as Georgia's isn't going to get the benefit of the doubt very often. Henderson still returns kicks for the Tigers, and LSU is fourth in the SEC in kickoff returns (23 ypr). The Tigers lead the league in punt return average, thanks to Skyler Green, who is the nation's leading punt returner (21.2 ypr). Edge: LSU
There's no reason to think Georgia will fare better this time than it did in the first meeting with LSU. Although the Bulldogs had their moments (six straight three-and-out possessions forced by the defense in the first half and 411 total yards of offense) the game always belonged to the Tigers. Georgia's offensive line, which struggled in the first game, gained game experience but lost one of its regular starters. The wide receivers haven't given anybody confidence they will make tough, or even average, catches routinely. Quarterback David Greene seems to be unflappable in almost every situation. The only exception is after he takes a big hit. Chances are he will take at least one of those today. Georgia's running game doesn't look mature enough to be a difference-maker against the nation's No. 1 rush defense. Meanwhile, the Tigers have gotten stronger since they edged the Bulldogs 11 weeks ago and they enter this game at an all-time high in the confidence department. LSU 23, Georgia 10
Key to the game
For Georgia, it's big plays on offense. In this game, that means big plays forward or backward. The Bulldogs will have to overcome negative yardage plays to keep drives alive and they will have to break big plays to move the ball with consistency. Georgia's defense will hold LSU to a reasonable point total, so the Bulldogs don't have to hit many big plays. Two would be enough to keep them in the game and three might be enough to win. For LSU, it's turnovers. The Tigers have to avoid a backbreaking fumble or interception. Georgia's offense can be a force if it gets a little momentum. It hasn't done a great job of starting its own momentum this year but has taken advantage of mistakes well. If the Bulldogs, who are fifth in the country and first in the SEC in turnover margin (plus-14), get a short touchdown drive early, the whole complexion of the game will change. The Tigers are plus-4 in turnover margin, having lost 12 fumbles and 12 interceptions.