SEC PREVIEW: LSU, Dogs: Teams of the Decade

With the Cats and Dawgs pouring into Atlanta this weekend there are many questions at the outset.

How long will Joseph Addai's ankle hold up against an opportunistic Georgia defense?

 

Can Bulldogs place kicker Brandon Coutu end Georgia's kicking woes against the Tigers?

 

Has either receiving corps been medically cleared from the ‘dropsies' that ailed them last week?

 

Will either coach open up the dusty playbook and establish a vertical passing game or are both content with the ‘run-first, play defense' philosophy?

 

And perhaps most importantly: Which is the SEC team of the decade?

 

With so many questions in the air, rest assured the answers to the first four will go a long way in solving the final inquiry. For the time being, though, let's turn the microscope on the past.

 

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Saturday's game in Atlanta boasts two proud programs that are primarily responsible for maintaining the SEC's elite national status in this Post-Spurrier Era (Spurrier Era I that is).

 

Georgia and LSU, the conference's new 21st century rivalry, have made a combined six appearances to the Georgia Dome in early December since Y2K. Not bad for two schools which, throughout most of the 90s, had to stand in line behind Florida and Alabama, respectively.

 

This will be the second championship game in three years in which the two face off, as well as their fourth meeting in just three short years. This East-West showdown may not carry with it the tradition of LSU-Alabama or the pageantry of Georgia-Florida, but it certainly has proven to be one of the conference's most vibrant match ups in recent years.

 

What began innocently as a two-year home and home has blossomed into a sustained power struggle atop the SEC between its two most consistent teams of the new century.

 

LSU started the fray with an inspired 17-10 victory over the Dawgs in an early season 2003 slugfest in Death Valley. That game saw a shaken Billy Bennett miss three field goals for Georgia which helped set up an amazing flurry of action in the game's final stanza. Tiger quarterback Matt Mauck connected with sophomore receiver Skyler Green on an impromptu touchdown which sprang from a broken route. This go-ahead score was needed to answer a 93-yard touchdown on a screen pass from Georgia's David Greene to lightning-fast tailback Tyson Browning. The game was put to rest for good when Tiger All American Corey Webster made an acrobatic interception in the waning moments.

 

The hatred continued to brew for Georgia after a sound 34-13 victory by LSU in the 2003 edition of the SEC championship. The purple and gold contingent made their presence felt in Atlanta despite the sea of red and black which painted most of the seats. Justin Vincent's performance on the ground along with a staunch defensive effort iced the game long before Greene managed a touchdown pass to tight end Ben Watson.

 

Hatred and determination bottled together proved to be a lethal combination for Georgia when LSU visited Athens during the 2004 campaign. After suffering two losses in less than three months to the Tigers in 2003, the Bulldogs parlayed home field advantage into a 45-16 thumping of the reeling Tigers, two weeks removed from a devastating loss at Auburn. Senior David Greene threw fade routes aplenty against a veteran LSU secondary that just couldn't seem to do right against Dawg wide-outs Reggie Brown and Fred Gibson.

 

With several core actors departed to the NFL and now missing (most notably David Greene, David Pollack, Marcus Spears and Corey Webster), the question remains how the next act of the play will unfold.

 

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At season's dawn, the LSU depth chart read Alley Broussard-Joseph Addai as 1-2 at running back. However, a preseason injury to Broussard and Addai's nagging ankle issues have forced nearly forgotten Justin Vincent back into action at the season's twilight. Such is par for the course in a rough and tumble SEC and the Tigers will have to make adjustments to get Vincent to the outside against Georgia's stingy interior defense.

 

Special teams will play a pivotal role as always and both teams possess dangerous weapons in both the kicking and return games. LSU's combination of Chris Jackson and Colt David will have to match the efforts of Brandon Coutu, arguably the conference's best and owner of 56 and 58 yard field goals this season. Skyler Green has been a fixture in recent Tigers' special teams and is no stranger to ravaging the Bulldogs. Georgia, however, has its own weapon in Thomas Flowers, owner of a punt return for touchdown at Tennessee and a 14-yard return average.

 

What in the world of Todd Pinkston is going on? Tiger receiver Dwayne Bowe and Georgia receiver Bryan McClendon both looked like the oft-maligned Philadelphia Eagles wide-out last weekend. The usually sure-handed Bowe inexplicably dropped three balls in Friday's squeaker against Arkansas, including drops on two plays in a row. McClendon did his best Fred Gibson routine for most of the Georgia Tech game. To his credit, he did answer back with the winning touchdown grab with a little over three minutes left in the ballgame. Both veteran receivers need to return to old form or a second straight game in the Georgia Dome for the Sugar Bowl will be an apparition.

 

The issue of play calling is one sensitive to most fans and is often the hardest to decipher or predict. In Georgia's case, Coach Mark Richt tends to go as senior quarterback D.J. Shockley goes. Richt likes to play it close to the vest early and seldom goes for the kill downfield in the first quarter. If Shockley throws well early, expect to see lots of intermediate throws to the two tight ends and many out routes to McClendon and freshman stud Mohammed Massaquoi (reference the UGA-Auburn game). As for LSU, the tell-tale sign will be the effectiveness of Justin Vincent in helping spell a hobbled Addai. If forced into the vertical passing game early, things will hinge solely on the performance of sophomore quarterback Jamarcus Russell.

 

Having addressed the four questions from the beginning, a host of intangibles exist which could also affect the outcome: Will LSU's cast of veterans play with a chip on their shoulders, remembering last year's debacle? Will players new to the fracas make their mark of the league's premier showdown? How will Les Miles fare in the biggest game to date of his coaching career?

 

As you can see, the litany of questions is endless and the only way to conjure up fair responses is to tune in Saturday night. There is one thing that is for sure, however. With a developing recent past (two of the last three SEC championship match ups) and promising futures (each has signed the nation's #1 quarterback in successive years- Ryan Perrilloux and Matthew Stafford), these two newlywed rivals are now at the front of the SEC line.

The last question is: Who's ready to take a step ahead of the other Saturday night?


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