ANALYSIS: LSU vs. Georgia

A closer look at Saturday's battle at the Georgia Dome for the 2011 SEC Championship between the top-ranked Tigers and 12th-ranked Bulldogs.

No. 12 Georgia (10-2) vs. No. 1 LSU (12-0)

3 p.m. at the Georgia Dome/Atlanta

WDGL-FM 98.1; XM 199; Sirius 220/CBS

 

Series record: The Tigers lead the series 15-12-1 and the teams have split two meetings in the SEC Championship Game, LSU claiming a 34-13 decision in 2003 and the Bulldogs prevailing 34-14 in 2005. The Tigers won the last regular-season battle, 20-13 in Athens to snap a three-game losing streak that started with a 45-16 loss in 2004, which was the Bulldogs’ biggest margin of victory ever against LSU and the worst loss in Nick Saban’s five-year tenure.

 

LSU

 

In the spotlight: CB Mo Claiborne (6-0, 185, Jr.)

Mo Claiborne

 

Season stats: 43 tackles (26 solo), 1 tackle for loss, 5 interceptions (128 yards), 5 pass breakups, 1 QB hurry

 

Whether playing cornerback or nickel back as he did last week against Arkansas, Claiborne is the kind of shutdown cornerback that Georgia’s offense hasn’t gotten a dose of yet this season. Bulldogs’ quarterback Aaron Murray isn’t shy about making NFL-like throws – delivering before a receiver makes a break or taking chances at squeezing the ball into a tight window to allow his receiver to make a play. That might be necessary and preferable against most of the defenses Georgia has tangled with, but it’s risky against the aggressive and athletic Tigers’ secondary, particularly Claiborne, who has made a series of acrobatic plays to come up with picks this season. A big day for Claiborne could spell a long day for Murray and the Bulldogs.

 

Injuries/suspensions: LG Josh Dworaczyk (knee) out for season, S Eric Reid (quad) questionable, RB Alfred Blue (hamstring) questionable, DE Kendrick Adams (knee) probable, S Craig Loston (wrist) probable

 

Schedule (12-0, 8-0)

Sept. 3 LSU 40, #3 Oregon 27

Sept. 10 LSU 49, Northwestern State 3

Sept. 15 LSU 19, #25 Mississippi State 6

Sept. 24 LSU 47, at #16 West Virginia 21

Oct. 1 LSU 35, Kentucky 7

Oct. 8 LSU 41, #17 Florida 11

Oct. 15 LSU 38, Tennessee 7

Oct. 22 LSU 45, #19 Auburn 10

Nov. 5 LSU 9, #2Alabama 6 (OT)

Nov. 12 LSU 42, Western Kentucky 9

Nov. 19 LSU 52, Ole Miss 3

Nov. 25 LSU 41, Arkansas 17

Dec. 3 SEC Championship Game, 3 p.m. (CBS)

 

Georgia

 

In the spotlight: QB Aaron Murray (6-1, 211, So.)

 

Season stats: 202-of-331 passing, 10 INT, 32 TDs (single-season school record); 129 yards rushing, 2 TDs

Aaron Murray

 

Georgia has relied heavily on Murray to give its offense versatility and balance all season long and that’s needed more than ever against the best defense the Bulldogs have faced this season. Bottom line, Murray has to have an above average game – flirt with 300 yards through the air with a few touchdowns – and guide the UGa offense on productive, time-consuming drives. If he clicks and the Bulldogs can sustain series and finish them with points, that would put the onus on LSU to adjust. Likewise, if Murray and Co. can avoid excessive pressure and turnovers, that could force the Tigers to take chances they wouldn’t normally take with secondary blitzes, and Murray is capable of spotting the best one-on-one matchups and taking advantage of them.

 

Injuries/suspensions: DL DeAngelo Tyson (ankle) doubtful, RB Isaiah Crowell (ankle) questionable, RB Richard Samuel (foot) questionable

 

Schedule (10-2, 7-1)

Sept. 3 # Boise State 35, Georgia 21

Sept. 10 #12 South Carolina 45, Georgia 42

Sept. 17 Georgia 59, Coastal Carolina 0

Sept. 24 Georgia 27, Ole Miss 13

Oct. 1 Georgia 24, Mississippi State 10

Oct. 8 Georgia 20, Tennessee 12

Oct. 15 Georgia 33, Vanderbilt 28

Oct. 29 Georgia 24, Florida 20

Nov. 5 Georgia 63, New Mexico State 16

Nov. 12 Georgia 45, #24 Auburn 7

Nov. 19 Georgia 19, Kentucky 10

Nov. 26 Georgia 31, #25 Georgia Tech 17

Dec. 3 SEC Championship Game, 3 p.m. (CBS)

 

Three keys to the game

 

1. No time to relax yet: The Tigers players have heard about it in some form or another all week, but it can’t be overstated. LSU simply can’t afford to look past Georgia and to a likely spot in the BCS National Championship Game regardless of Saturday’s outcome because the Bulldogs are a threat to spring the upset. When focused, LSU has been the best team in the country this season and now is not the time to lose that focus.

 

2. Keep No. 9 upright and busy: Jordan Jefferson’s re-emergence as the starting quarterback took a quantum leap forward last week and it couldn’t come at a better time. Because the Tigers need his dual-threat skills against a very good Georgia defense that is capable and equipped to force the Tigers into uncomfortable situations. The Bulldogs do so with pressure on the quarterback (32 sacks) and turnovers (29), so it’s key that LSU’s offensive line give Jefferson time to make decisions and it’s equally as important that he distribute the ball quickly and safely to prevent Georgia from getting short fields and advantageous scoring chances. That also means Jefferson is going to have to throw the ball effectively to keep the Bulldogs from loading up the box and making it tough to run.

 

3. Good things come to those who wait: Much like the Alabama game, this one shapes up as a struggle where points are going to be at a premium and field position will be what the teams jockey for, at least for the first half. LSU has to stay patient and plug away against a Georgia defense that will make life tough. The Tigers fell into a 14-0 hole against Arkansas – the biggest deficit they’d faced since 2008 – and roared back. But the Razorbacks’ defense is nowhere close to the Bulldogs, so counting on a quick fix if LSU falls behind isn’t realistic. What is realistic is that the outcome will remain in doubt until the final quarter, so the Tigers have to bide their time, wear the Bulldogs down up front and look for scoring chances down the stretch.

 

Prediction

Championships ought to be hard-earned and it sure looks like that will be the case in this one. The Tigers are the better, deeper and more talented team, but not by as wide a margin as some might think. With a chance to go to the Sugar Bowl at hand, the Bulldogs have plenty of motivation to play well and add another chapter to this impressive turnaround season when Georgia has established a foundation to return to the SEC’s elite. Add in what should be a pro-Bulldog crowd and there won’t be much breathing room for either team until the final period when LSU finally wears the Bulldogs down with a margin-stretching touchdown, followed by a late score that gives the Tigers plenty of cushion on their way to the BCS National Championship Game. … LSU 28, Georgia 10


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