The SEC Championship Game is upon us and this year’s matchup features a familiar opponent representing the Eastern Division vs. a relative newcomer from the West. The No. 4 Georgia Bulldogs will meet the No. 2 LSU Tigers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Saturday at 4 p.m. It’s a College Football Playoff elimination game for Georgia, while on the flip side, an LSU loss leaves a much tougher decision for the committee. Today, we give you two reasons why the red & black and two reasons why the white & gold (and purple) will be celebrating in style Saturday night in Atlanta.
Reason 1: Defense
Georgia’s defense has been consistently ranked as one of the best in the nation. Anchored by seniors J.R. Reed and Tae Crowder, along with freshman standouts Nakobe Dean and Azeez Ojulari, the Bulldogs will present major tests for Joe Burrow, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and the rest of the LSU offense (more on them later). The Dawgs check in as the No. 4 total defense, surrendering an average of 257 yards per game. The unit is third nationally in yards allowed per play (4.12). Perhaps Georgia’s most noteworthy defensive strength is the rushing defense, which ranks second in average rush yards allowed (71.0) and boasts just one rushing touchdown scored against the entire season. Opponents are converting just 28% on third down and, within the red zone, teams have scored eight touchdowns in 20 attempts.
Reason 2: Run game
When junior running back D’Andre Swift went down with an injury in the second half of UGA’s game versus rival Georgia Tech, all of Dawg Nation held its collective breath. At his postgame press conference, head coach Kirby Smart said Swift suffered a shoulder contusion and added “We think he’ll be fine.” Having Swift be able to suit up for the Bulldogs is imperative, as the team is already down its top receiver, graduate student Lawrence Cager, due to injury and freshman wide receiver George Pickens for the first half of action. Georgia will need all hands on deck for LSU, including Swift, senior Brian Herrian, redshirt freshman Zamir White and sophomore James Cook. In particular, if guys like Swift and Herrian can get to the edge, it will be difficult to prevent them from gaining chunk plays and chain movements, simultaneously wearing down LSU’s defensive front. The Bulldogs average 200 yards per game on the ground and have 20 rushing scores.
Reason 1: Joe Burrow
Burrow doesn’t need much of an introduction. Burrow has taken the country (and possibly the Heisman race) by storm. The senior quarterback, now in his second season in Baton Rouge, is first in completion percentage at 78.3%. If that percentage stands through LSU’s two (or possibly three) remaining games, it would set a new NCAA record. Burrow is second in the nation in passing touchdowns (44) and passing yards (4,366).
Team-wise, the Tigers are second in the nation in total offense average (560.5 yards), passing offense (390) and points per game (48.7). The offense is also converting 50% on third down.
Reason 2: LSU Defense vs. UGA run game
If LSU’s defense can contain the run game, making the Bulldogs one dimensional, the Tigers should win this game. LSU’s run defense slides in at No. 28 nationally, allowing an average of 124.5 yards per contest with a dozen ground TDs against. If both teams shut down the run, LSU will, statistically speaking, have the upper hand. In his previous five starts, Joe Burrow is 141-for-183 (77%) for 1,882 yards with 15 touchdowns and three interceptions while Georgia junior quarterback Jake Fromm is 71-for-139 (51%) for 979 yards, 12 touchdowns and zero INTs. In a throwing match between Burrow and Fromm, who would you rather have? This year, the answer clearly points in one direction.
The Tigers and Bulldogs are No. 2 and 3 ranked, respectively, in red zone offense efficiently. LSU is scoring 96.7% of the time inside the 20-yard line while Georgia is at 96%.