GAME DAY: Important next step

Focused only one the task at hand, the top-ranked Tigers square off with the No. 12 Bulldogs for the 2011 SEC crown.

ATLANTA – For anybody who has ever been a parent, you know there's a difference between wanting to do something and needing to do something.

Sometimes those two notions collide and form a beautiful confluence. And sometimes they mingle and wanting takes a much higher precedence.

The SEC version of that collision is set Saturday as No. 1-ranked LSU and 12th-ranked Georgia lock up in the 2011 SEC Championship Game at 3 p.m. at the Georgia Dome.

From all indications, the Tigers don't necessarily need to beat the Bulldogs to get a shot at what they've wanted all season long. They sure as heck as want to, though, because of what a SEC Championship means.

Georgia has lower-targeted goals, but the one on top – just like for LSU – is huge. The Bulldogs haven't won the SEC since 2005 and by toppling the Tigers, Georgia would punch a ticket to the Sugar Bowl for the fourth time in 10 years.

Want? Need? Throw 'em out the window in this one. These are two college football heavyweights playing for the ring every player in the SEC dreams about.

"That's what you come to LSU to do," said Tigers safety Eric Reid, who is expected to be back in action after missing a 41-17 victory against Arkansas last Friday. "That's what you play in the SEC for. To win a championship in this division means a lot."

Eric Reid

Added cornerback Mo Claiborne, "This is what we work for. We want to win it all. We don't want to lose a game."

So far, so good on that front for LSU.

The Tigers just navigated the first 12-0 regular season in program history. With a win Saturday, they can become only the fifth team in SEC history to jump to 13-0.

That ‘0' on the right side of LSU's ledger will be put to a test by a Georgia team that has rattled off 10 straight wins – the Bulldogs' longest streak since going unbeaten in the 1982 regular season – since stumbling to back-to-back losses to begin the season.

Georgia will test the Tigers' rock-solid defense with a balanced offense, anchored by Aaron Murray (2,698 passing yards, school-record 32 TD passes) and freshman tailback Isaiah Crowell, if he plays and is fully healthy.

Georgia coach Mark Richt declined Friday to say whether the talented former five-star back would be on the field against LSU.

With or without Crowell, it figures to be tough for the Bulldogs to generate much damage on the ground.

LSU comes in allowing only 2.6 yards a carry and 86.1 yards a game on the ground. Trent Richardson is the only SEC back who has flirted with a 100-yard game against the Tigers this season.

That puts Murray squarely in the spotlight and in the Tigers' crosshairs.

"He's a great quarterback," cornerback Ron Brooks said. "We know he's the guy we have to be focused on because he makes their offense go."

That's the same focus the Bulldogs' stingy defense has to take with LSU, especially the way Jordan Jefferson's emergence the last three weeks.

Since struggling to mount much offense against Alabama on Nov. 5, the Tigers have found a rhythm, averaging 475 total yards a game, 310 of that on the ground.

Jefferson has added a wrinkle of a dual threat to the LSU offense on a more permanent basis and that could be very handy against a Georgia defense that stacks up well in the SEC.

LSU coach Les Miles said Friday Jefferson might be counted on more as a game manager against the Bulldogs, but that could change depending on how the game unfolds and when the Tigers need the tough runs Jefferson has gotten better at in his final season.

"Well, he obviously can run it, and we're another piece to the puzzle is that occasionally we'll dial his number up," Miles said.

"I think there are some carries that you have to run physically, and some carries that you have to show your speed and elusiveness. I think that he probably embraces the rugged carry maybe a little bit more in the fact that he's getting to the back of his career and games mean more."

Jordan Jefferson has ignited a late-season surge from the LSU offense

With Jefferson back in charge, the speed option has also re-emerged as a staple of the LSU offense – another key against a Bulldogs 3-4 defense headlines by outside linebacker Jarvis Jones.

Sophomore Michael Ford is most often the other half of that option scheme and he has taken over the team lead with 721 rushing yards after matching a season-high with 96 against Arkansas.

Spencer Ware (168-687, 8 TDs), Alfred Blue (70-445, 6 TDs) and Kenny Hilliard (49-248, 6 TDs) will also get some work. But Jefferson and his 6-foot-5 frame have become an integral a part of the running game as anybody else.

"He's become a true dual threat," Richt said. "He's a tremendous passer, very good runner, a very physical runner. … He's a big man and he's hard to take down. When you add … some option football to a power running game and a guy that can just drop back and wing it and has the weapons he has, it's very, very difficult to defend."

Just how difficult figures to play a leading role Saturday.

If LSU can get its offense clicking and seize command early, the Tigers' defense could make life miserable for Murray and the Dawgs. In the same token, should Georgia find a groove and is able to sustain long drives, that could frustrate the LSU defenders who have grown very comfortable with big plays ant three-and-outs.

So many storylines and so many major characters. But one underlying theme – the one that's there every game, but looms a bit larger this week for the Tigers and the Bulldogs.

"It's all about staying focused on the goal, and for us right now, that's winning the SEC Championship and nothing else," Mathieu said. "We'll worry about whatever comes after that later."

Mo Claiborne and his LSU teammates look for the final step of SEC glory before they start thinking ahead.


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