Who has the edge?
In his second year as a starter, Aaron Murray has climbed into a spot among the elite quarterbacks in the country after passing for 2,698 yards and a school-record 32 touchdown passes this season. With Murray providing balance, the Bulldogs rank third in the SEC in total offense (423.7 yards a game) and lead the league in time of possession. Jordan Jefferson is coming on and gives the Tigers the kind of dual-threat element they need against a defense like Georgia, but he’s not in the same class as Murray.
Running back: LSU
The sum is better than the parts is the theory in play here. When healthy and not in the doghouse, Georgia freshman Isaiah Crowell is the best back on either sideline with a world of potential. But that potential has been too up-and-down this season to give the Bulldogs an advantage, and there are even rumblings that Crowell may not be available for the game. For LSU, on the other hand, all hands are on deck and that depth makes the Tigers much more versatile and dangerous in the backfield than Georgia. Michael Ford took over the team lead in rushing last week and his impact on the edges and in the option game will be a major key against a stout Bulldogs’ offense. Spencer Ware and Kenny Hilliard will take care of softening up the UGa underbelly and Alfred Blue should be ready to go as well.
Receivers/tight ends: Georgia
The Bulldogs’ receivers’ production is tied into Murray, of course, but it’s a two-way street. Four different Georgia receivers have snared 31 receptions or more, paced by tight end Orson Charles (40-530 yards, 5 TDs). Tavarres King is the Bulldogs’ leading split end with 38 grabs for 441 yards and seven scores, while freshman Malcolm Mitchell has been the most productive deep threat with 34 receptions for 582 yards – 17.1 yards per grab – despite missing three games with a hamstring injury. This is a rare instance where LSU’s Rueben Randle isn’t head-and-shoulders the best receiver on either team, but he is still among the SEC’s best and enters the game with 48 catches for 889 yards and eight scores. The Tigers will need Randle to come up big, but also need the supporting cast of Odell Beckham Jr., Russell Shepard and Deangelo Peterson to be reliable targets for Jefferson.
Offensive line: LSU
After a tough night against Alabama, the Tigers’ front wall has been in a groove and the net results are impressive: 310 rushing yards a game, 6.8 yards a carry and only four sacks allowed in three games since then. Much of the credit for those numbers goes to the eight-man rotation up front, especially the left side of tackle Chris Faulk and guard Will Blackwell, who have been nearly impossible to penetrate the last three games. Georgia’s offensive line has had its moments as well, but if Crowell isn’t in the backfield, the offense changes. The Georgia quarterbacks have been sacked 25 times – six times by Boise State in the season opener and three times each by SEC opponents, Ole Miss, Florida and Auburn.
Defensive line: LSU
This is another unit coming on strong for the Tigers with three or more sacks in four of the last five games to complement a rush defense that is nearly in lock-step with Alabama as the best in the country, allowing only 2.6 yards a carry, 86.1 yards a game and six touchdowns all season. As well as LSU’s front four has played, though, the edge is only a slight one against a Bulldogs’ d-line that has quietly helped resurrect the season. Georgia ranks third in the SEC behind the Tigers and Crimson Tide in rush defense (3 ypc, 94.8 ypg) and second behind LSU in sacks with 32 for a league-high 237 yards lost. Abry Jones leads the Dawgs up front with 4 sacks among his 43 tackles and nose guard John Jenkins is focal to the 3-4 front with 6 tackles for loss, but Georgia just doesn’t have the star power to match up with LSU on the defensive line.
Jarvis Jones is among the best linebackers in the country and made a major splash in his SEC debut with a team-high 66 tackles. 13½ sacks and 19½ tackles for loss as a play-erupting ball hawk. Michael Gilliard is right behind Jones on the tackle chart with 63 stops and 7 sacks to anchor a productive middle layer. Ryan Baker and Kevin Minter have helped solidify LSU’s linebacker corps, but for most of the season this has been a weak spot for the Tigers and this week that could be costly against a balanced Georgia offense that features the dangerous Charles coming across the middle.
An edge here for the Tigers, but again a very slight one. LSU’s collection of six playmakers in the secondary is as good as anybody in the country and that was clearer than ever last week when Tyrann Mathieu dropped back to safety in place of injured Eric Reid and Morris Claiborne shifted to the nickel back spot. Facing the SEC”s most prolific passing offense, the Tigers limited Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson to 207 passing yards, his second lowest total of the season, in a 41-17 triumph. Claiborne picked off a pass and Mathieu forced a fumble, continuing trends the secondary established early in the season. The Bulldogs have been nearly as stingy in pass defense, allowing 176.3 yards a game with 17 interceptions, one fewer than league leader South Carolina and one more than LSU. Free safety Bacarri Rambo has been the biggest pain to opposing quarterbacks with seven thefts, while Shawn Williams and Brandon Boykin have swiped three apiece and Sanders Commings has broken up 12 passes. Not much separates the two secondaries, making you wonder if there will be much passing success when these two teams collide.
Special teams: LSU
Should this game boil down to the kicking games, the Tigers will be in good shape with better return units and more productive – albeit less heralded kickers. Georgia is one of only three SEC teams without a return touchdown this season (Tennessee and Kentucky are the others) and the Bulldogs average a middle-of-the-pack 23 yards per kickoff return and 8 yards on punts. Blair Walsh and Drew Butler entered the season regarded as one of the best kicker-punter tandems in the country, but Walsh is 18-of-29 on field goals, while Butler is even with LSU’s Brad Wing with a 43-yard punt average. Meanwhile, Wing has become a weapon for the Tigers with 21 punts inside the 20-yard-line, 12 of 50 or more and only 6 return yards allowed all season. Meanwhile, Drew Alleman has been almost automatic in the kicking game with 16 makes in 18 attempts.
ANALYSIS: LSU vs. Georgia View from the other sideline: LSU vs. Georgia
View from the other sideline: LSU vs. Georgia