ATHENS, Ga. — On most nights, 41 points would be enough to win in the SEC — but not Saturday in Sanford Stadium.
The No. 6 LSU Tigers (4-1, 1-1) suffered their first defeat of the 2013 season in a 44-41, offensive slugfest against No. 9 Georgia (3-1, 2-0). Zach Mettenberger threw a career-high 372 yards and three touchdowns, but LSU couldn't match Georgia's 494 yards of total offense.
Despite the defensive struggles, LSU did come within one drive of possibly escaping with a win. The Tigers took over with 1:47 left in the game after a Bulldog touchdown put them ahead by a field goal.
After a sack to open the drive, Mettenberger connected with Odell Beckham for an 18-yard completion, but his next four offerings all hit the dirt. Georgia then took two knees to end the game.
"We were a mistake or two away from winning that game," said LSU coach Les Miles. It was a tremendously competitive game. There are a lot of things we can correct to get better."
That fourth-quarter turnover on downs was a rarity on a night when the LSU passing attack clicked on all cylinders. The Tigers converted 10-of-15 third downs, including one on a 25-yard completion by Mettenberger on a 3rd and 22.
That conversion prolonged a drive that eventually resulted in Mettenberger's third touchdown pas of the game, which put LSU ahead 41-37 late in the fourth quarter — the first and only time the Tigers led Saturday.
That kind of offensive success has become the norm at LSU. Beckham (118) and Jarvis Landry (158) eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the second time this season.
But that wasn't enough to overcome their defensive struggles.
"I can't imagine that our defense won't come back," Miles said. "I can't imagine that our defense won't play like Tigers. There's some work in front of us.
Following the LSU touchdown, Georgia took the ensuing possession and marched 75 yards on six plays, capped off by a 25-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Murray to Justin Scott-Wesley.
That late drive pretty much summed up the night for the LSU defense. Excluding the final possession of the game, Georgia scored on eight of its 11 possessions. The defense did not register a quarterback hurry, and the secondary surrendered its highest yardage total since the West Virginia in 2011, a game LSU still won.
"Defensively, we got to play better," Miles said. "The secondary is capable of making those plays. We all know that. We got to rush the passer. There are some things we need to work on."
While the loss is surely leaves a sour taste, it doesn't derail LSU's season. The game had no effect on the Tiger's standing in the SEC West, which means an appearance in the SEC Championship Game — possibly against these Georgia Bulldogs — is still in the cards.
"We're going to play them again," Landry said.
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