In a heavyweight prizefight, you have to knock out your opposition the first chance you get. All the greats lived off the motto, and it certainly translates to the gridiron on Saturdays in the Southeastern Conference.
Yet, between the hedges on Saturday, No. 4 LSU (5-0, 3-0 SEC) lost sight of the task – coming up with just six points on four possessions that combined for over 200 yards in the first half.
Out of the gate, quarterback Jordan Jefferson – thanks in large part to a 34-yard strike to Brandon LaFell that put the ball inside the UGA 15-yard line – worked the Tigers into scoring position on a seven play, 54-yard drive. Yet, three plays later on a throw into double coverage, Brandon Boykin intercepted Jefferson in the end zone to end the threat.
After another three-and-out from the Bulldog offense, LSU worked their way back inside the UGA 10-yard line – this time primarily on the shoulders of Charles Scott, who carried the ball five times for 25 yards on the drive. Yet, when the offense sputtered on two attempts from five yards out, the Tigers were forced to settle for a chip shot field goal.
UGA quarterback Joe Cox recorded the home side’s opening first down on the next drive, yet went three-and-out immediately thereafter.
Through one quarter, it was all LSU and yet just three points separated the sides.
The trend kept up in the second as LSU offensive coordinator Gary Crowton continued to get Russell Shepard into the fold, and he recorded three straight carries for 26 yards to open the Tigers’ third drive on offense.
Jefferson then moved LSU into UGA territory with a 16-yard strike to LaFell, and for the first time this season the offense showed a healthy blend of both rushing and passing.
“It was just a matter of our offense getting going,” Scott said. “Tonight we had more confidence and a little more consistency.”
Still, the rhythm would not spell six points for the Tigers as they found themselves in fourth-and-short from 24-yards out. Once more, Miles settled for the field goal, which moved the score to 6-0.
When the Bulldogs got it back, it became the same old tune again. The UGA offense was lost against John Chavis’ LSU unit, and for the third time in four possessions, the Tigers forced the three-and-out.
Unfortunately for those in purple and gold, the same old tune followed the Tiger offense as well.
LSU rushed and passed their way inside the red-zone on an 11-play, 65-yard drive that ate up 5:05 off the game clock. Stopped short of the first down after a 10-yard rush by Jefferson, the gambling Miles made the call for the quarterback keeper on fourth-and-one. Jefferson came up short, and yet again, the Bulldogs had dodged a bullet deep in their own territory.
The numbers were lopsided to say the least. On four, first half possessions, LSU managed 202 yards on 38 plays and came away with just a pair of field goals.
By the time the whistle to begin the third quarter sounded, the UGA offense had awoken from their slumber. After a forced three-and-out from the defense, Cox moved the ball into the red-zone for the first time. When a false start backed up the drive, UGA settled for a field goal, which Blair Walsh missed.
The Tigers were held to three-and-out again on their next possession, which UGA countered with an 18-play, 60-yard touchdown drive that took 7:52 off the clock and rolled the game into the fourth quarter. Just like that, the home team had flipped the switch on a Tiger side that had dominated through the opening half of play.
“Our opponent played awfully hard today,” Miles said. “But our football team will beat you up and steal the game if you turn your back on them.”
After the teams traded possessions a pair of times, LSU made the move that Miles was looking for by way of a 13-play, 88-yard drive that was capped off with a Scott touchdown run from two yards out.
Equally important was the pair of catches from freshman Rueben Randle that kept the drive moving, one a timely 16-yard grab on third-and-10.
After a failed conversion attempt, the Tigers held a 12-7 lead with 2:53 to play in the contest.
Still, Cox would need just less than two minutes to work the Bulldogs 63 yards on five plays before he found A.J. Green in the end zone for the 16-yard go-ahead touchdown catch.
Yet, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called on Green for the celebration tacked 15-yards off the kickoff mark for UGA, which proved costly in the end.
After a 40-yard return from Trindon Holliday, the Bulldogs were penalized five additional yards for illegal formation as they handed the Tigers their starting field position on UGA’s 38-yard line. Two plays later, Scott rumbled into the end zone on a 33-yard scamper to give LSU the 20-13 victory.
“I didn’t want to pass it,” Jefferson said. “I would rather give it to Charles and let him pound it in there. Charles is a big power back, and that situation required a running play. I saw the hole, and once he hit it, I knew it was a TD.”
Though the knockout punch came in the 12th round and not the first, Miles was more than pleased with the road effort.
“The most important characteristic of a football team is to find a way to win,” he said. “I am so proud of our team, and it is fun being undefeated at this time.”
For a team that had their fair share of doubters through four weeks of play, linebacker Kelvin Sheppard said that the win in Athens should silence the critics.
“Everybody was talking down on us, saying we are overrated,” he said. “I think we showed up, and I hope we get a lot more respect than we were getting before.”