ATLANTA — The celebration for the purple and gold began long before the clock hit 0:00.
In dominant form, Joe Burrow and the LSU Tigers (13-0) blew out the Georgia Bulldogs (11-2) 37-10 to win the SEC Championship. LSU has assured themselves a spot in the College Football Playoff while Georgia falls in the conference title game for the second consecutive year.
“Unfortunately, we just couldn't make enough plays tonight,” Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart said. “(LSU) is a really good football team, and we knew that coming in. We were going to have to play well. We were going to have to make explosive plays. We were unable to do that. I am very proud of the way our players compete, and I am very proud of the leaders on this team who have continued to compete.”
LSU offense cruises
LSU’s offense started early, crafting an 8-play, 75-yard drive capped off by a Joe Burrow 23-yard touchdown pass to Ja’Marr Chase. The Tigers never looked back.
LSU led 20-3 at half and 34-3 after three quarters. Burrow’s final stat line appeared as: 28-of-38 for 349 yards and four touchdowns. It is the second most passing yards allowed by a Kirby Smart-coached Georgia team.
“He's a great athlete, man,” Georgia senior J.R. Reed said on Burrow. “We had a lot of plays out there we were supposed to make, and he'd just squeeze out of it, gets out of it. He did a good job. He extends a lot of plays.”
On one such play in the third quarter with the Tigers up 20-3, Burrow eluded a sack, rolled right and fired downfield to wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who in turn ran across the gridiron to the Georgia 9-yard line for a 71-yard gain.
“That one was frustrating because we thought we had a really good call on it,” Smart said. “We had pressure, and we had a guy come scot-free. He missed him, and I think we missed him again maybe on that same play. I thought that was the perfect call by our defensive coordinator, and they made a better play than we did a call, and sometimes players do that. You learn in coaching that good players make big-time plays.”
The Tigers totaled 481 yards, only punting twice. Georgia punted four times, with two drives each ending on interceptions and missed field goals.
Injury bug hits Georgia
With D’Andre Swift nursing a shoulder injury, the Bulldogs needed a healthy-as-possible crew to upset the Tigers. However, that would not be the case.
Toward the end of the first quarter, Fromm completed a first-down pass to freshman wide receiver Dominic Blaylock. The Georgia crowd cheered, but quickly quieted as Blaylock stayed down after planting his foot awkwardly in the ground. It was described as a knee injury and Blaylock was shortly thereafter ruled out for the remainder of the game.
Redshirt freshman Kearis Jackson also suffered an injury during the contest and did not return.
“It's kind of tough on us, but for us, it's a ‘next man up’ mentality,” Georgia junior quarterback Jake Fromm said. “I think the guys were ready. They understood the plan. It's just an opportunity for them to go out and make a couple of plays.”
Halfway through the second quarter, LSU safety Grant Delpit sacked Fromm, coming in full force from the blind side untouched. Fromm was briefly examined by the medical staff, but returned on Georgia’s next drive.
Delpit’s delivery, though, underscored the evening for the Dawgs. Georgia managed just 286 yards of total offense, 61 of those in the rushing department.
After the game, sophomore nose tackle Jordan Davis said losing is universal.
“I wanted to climb back and fight and do everything I could to bring this team back,” Davis said. “Everybody on the defense wanted to make sure that we did everything we could to get the offense the ball back, but at the end of the day, props off to LSU.”
For Georgia, there’s a lot of reflection and contemplation of the future, especially for some of Georgia’s top players, including junior offensive lineman Andrew Thomas. Thomas, regarded by many as a top NFL Draft prospect, said he does not have a timetable for a decision, but added he will talk with his parents.
Thomas said he’ll remember the relationships he cultivated with his fellow teammates.
“These are lifelong bonds; all the grinding that we do,” Thomas said. “A lot of people don’t see the hard work we put in, but we put in a lot of hours in together.”
The Bulldogs will be playing one more game with the chance to go 12-2, and possibly could appear in a New Year’s bowl game.
“We want to finish off strong with a win for the seniors,” Georgia junior wide receiver Demetris Robertson said. “Those guys played really hard the whole season.”
“We’ve just got to come and play for your brother and just finish the season off the right way,” redshirt freshman Azeez Olujari said. “Just know we still have an opportunity in front of us. Got to take advantage and finish the season off the right way.”