The Bulldogs average more yards per game on the ground than the Tigers, but they will be going up against a better rush defense today. Thomas Brown, Georgia's starter in the first 11 games, has yet to be the breakaway back that the Bulldogs hoped he would be. Kregg Lumpkin, however, has added some punch to Georgia's running game in the last two weeks. He may start this week, but even if he doesn't, he'll play extensively. LSU only surrenders 3 yards per rush, while Georgia gains 4.5 yards per rush. The Tigers' running game is built around Joseph Addai, who averages 4.8 yards per carry. Backup Justin Vincent gained 201 yards the last time these two teams met in the title game, and he'll play plenty today. Georgia allows 3.7 yards per carry, while the Tigers gain an average of 3.9 yards per run.
This game will match two of the most impressive quarterbacks in the league. D.J. Shockley is first in the SEC in passing efficiency, and JaMarcus Russell is second. It's hard to give anybody the edge over Shockley after the season he has had, averaging 244 yards of offense per game, while throwing for 19 touchdowns and five interceptions. Russell averaged 219.2 yards per game of total offense and has thrown 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions. The biggest difference in the passing game will come down to the receivers. Georgia has a clear advantage at tight end with Leonard Pope and Martrez Milner. LSU starts only one linebacker taller than 6-1. That'll be a touch matchup against the 6-8 Pope or 6-4 Milner. Both groups of wide receivers have talent but have struggled catching the ball. Whoever hangs onto the ball today will make the difference for their quarterback.
"They're fourth in the country against the score," Georgia coach Mark Richt said of LSU's defense. "That's probably all you need to say." Usually, Georgia's defense has a clear edge over its opponents, but not this time. The Tigers allow just 278.7 yards per game, fifth-best in the nation, and 13.5 points per game. Only Virginia Tech, Alabama, Miami and Penn State allow fewer yards per play than the 4.18 LSU surrenders. Defensive tackle Claude Wroten will be the top NFL draft pick from the Tigers' defense, Richt predicted this week, but he's not their only playmaker. Linebackers Cameron Vaughn and Ali Highsmith have combined for 143 tackles and 16 tackles for loss. Georgia is ranked 13th in the country in yards allowed (303.91 per game) and fifth in scoring (14.6) It gives up 4.7 yards per game. The Bulldogs will be bolstered by the return of middle linebacker Tony Taylor, who gives their thin linebacker corps another body and brings some size to counter the Tigers' power running game.
Given how good both teams' defenses are, punts might be the most exciting part of the game. Georgia punt returner Thomas Flowers is 14th in the country in return yardage (14 per kick), and LSU's Skyler Green is 15th (13.6). However, both teams counteract that with excellent punters and punt coverage teams. The Tigers are second in the nation in punting, having allowed just 60 punt return yards all year. Georgia is eighth in the nation. It has given up 140 punt return yards this season. Green also returns kickoffs for the Tigers, but he hasn't had as much success in that area. LSU is 107th in the country in kickoff returns (18.3 per return). That's worse even than Georgia (79th, 19.8 ypr). The Bulldogs seem to have a clear edge in field goal kicking. Brandon Coutu is fourth in the NCAA in field goals (1.91 per game), and he's hitting 78 percent of his attempts. LSU rotates kickers. Colt David takes the short ones and is 3-for-4 this year. Chris Jackson kicks from outside 40 yards and it 7-for-15.
One to Watch
Safety Greg Blue wants to set the tempo today. He knows he and his defensive backfield mates can't match the speed of LSU's receiving corps. Bennie Brazell finished eighth in the 400-meter hurdles finals in the Olympics in Athens, Greece, and Xavier Carter finished ninth in the 200 meters at the USA Championships. Blue's plan is to counteract that speed with physical play. However, that's not the only thing Blue needs to be thinking about. He has to be aware of his coverage responsibilities, something that has been a problem in the past. LSU will test him and the rest of Georgia's secondary deep. That's the good news and the bad news. Tiger quarterback JaMarcus Russell has been picked off eight times, and the Bulldogs certainly could help their cause by adding to the 14 they already have this season. The Bulldogs' 14 is the second best total in the SEC.
This is the first of Georgia's three trips to the SEC Championship Game that figures to be a really good game. Georgia was expected to whip Arkansas just like it did in 2002, and LSU was expected to do just what it did to Georgia in 2003, a 45-16 Tiger victory. This year, the teams are very evenly matched. Every strength of the Bulldogs -- punt teams, defense and dangerous quarterback – is matched and maybe exceeded by the Tigers. In this case, the only thing to fall back on is the clichés. Offensively, Georgia can't afford to turn the ball over and it has to make the plays that present themselves. Defensively, the Bulldogs can't give up big plays.