Earlier this week a Bulldog friend of mine who lives in Baton Rouge reported that Tiger fandom was sounding a bit cocky about Saturday’s game with Georgia. But wanting to introduce some genuine Cajun flavor into the proceedings, I went to my favorite LSU fan, Louis Mayeux, for his view of the SEC Championship.
“While I’m confident that my LSU Tigers will beat Georgia in the SEC Championship game Saturday,” he said, “one memorable bit of history reminds me that nothing is certain in college football. In the 2001 SEC Championship, an 8-3 LSU team found itself in the same underdog’s role as Georgia this year, with No. 2 Tennessee in LSU’s present overwhelming favorite’s spot. The Volunteers were expected to win handily and head to the BCS championship game. But rising young coach Nick Saban’s Tigers upset Philip Fulmer’s Vols. The memory of that great win, which marked the beginning of LSU’s recent rise to college football prominence, should keep Tiger fans from overconfidence.”
Of course, Louis said, “LSU defensive coach John Chavis, who had that same role with Tennessee in 2001, is probably telling his great defense about that game as a cautionary tale.”
Noting that Chavis has been telling folks all year that his Tigers — led by Mo Claiborne, Tyrann Matheiu, Sam Montgomery and sleek sack master Barkevious Mingo — are the most talented group he’s ever had, Louis declared: “I’ve been watching LSU football since about 1957, and this is the best team I’ve ever seen.”
Having already beaten nationally ranked Oregon, West Virginia, Alabama and Arkansas, wins over the Dogs in Atlanta and in the BCS game would see this Tiger team finish 14-0 and lay claim to being among the all-time best college teams ever.
But, Louis allowed, “although LSU has tremendous depth, size and speed, Georgia is a ‘quality opponent,’ as LSU coach Les Miles would say. The Dawgs have a shot if they can get something close to the running attack that Alabama produced against the Tigers in a 9-6 loss. Trent Richardson broke loose for some strong gains for the Crimson Tide in that game, and if Georgia freshman running back Isaiah Crowell has a strong performance, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray will feel less pressure passing. Murray appears more dependable than the Tide’s A.J. McCarron. Georgia looks to have more offensive balance than Alabama and Arkansas. But to have a chance at winning, Georgia must do an adequate job protecting Murray and avoid turnovers.”
No argument there. And I really can’t dispute Louis’ assessment that “LSU looks to have a big edge, with its ball-hawking, big-play defense” and that the Tigers’ depth at running back and offensive line “will be a big challenge for the fine Georgia defensive line.”
As for Jordan Jefferson, now solidly established as the No. 1 LSU quarterback, Louis noted he “has greatly improved as a passer, but could get flustered into making mistakes if Georgia can get a strong pass rush. Jefferson’s running ability is an added challenge for the Dogs.”
And, he noted, LSU also boasts special-team strength, an area that tends to either be a strength or a disaster for Georgia.
Louis doesn’t think predictions that LSU will get a place in the BCS title game no matter what happens Saturday will impact his team’s play against Georgia. “I expect the Tigers to bring their best effort,” he said. “This team is too competitive and deep not to.”
Louis’ take on the game is pretty reasonable. Of course, these are college kids we’re talking about so anything can happen. But let’s be honest: If Georgia wins this game, it will be the biggest upset of the year.
That said, I think Mark Richt’s Dogs are fully capable of winning this game if they play up to their full potential. But in order for that to happen the defense must control the No. 1-ranked Tigers’ run game and force Jefferson to go to the air under pressure. Georgia can’t afford any turnovers (that’s frequently how LSU starts one of its quick scoring spurts) and the Dogs must win the takeaway battle. Offensively, Mike Bobo has to call probably the best game of his career (he’s shown recently against Auburn and Georgia Tech that he has it in him), the line must somehow keep Murray on his feet, and Georgia’s QB has to be on target against LSU’s sticky-fingered secondary. He won’t get away with any ill-advised throws against this group.
In other words, it’s going to take a nearly perfect day for UGA and probably even then a bit of luck or some sort of meltdown on LSU’s part. But that sort of turn of events isn’t a rarity in college football.
If it somehow happens at the Georgia Dome Saturday, there’s no doubt we’ll be calling this a game for the ages.
With that, let’s let some more Dawg fans in on the discussion via the Junkyard Mail. …
Rontavius Smith writes: Hey Bill, I personally believe that my Dawgs have more than a fighting chance. It just seems to me that since the media says UGA has no chance, everyone just follows that direction. What’s your take on it? Do you think that all the disrespect to the UGA team will be used by the players to propel them past LSU and throw the world into shock?
I’ve been extremely impressed with what I’ve seen of LSU this season so I don’t think you can write the consensus expectation of a Tiger win off to media hype. Like I said above, though, the Dogs certainly are capable of pulling it off. Would that be enough to win them the respect they crave? Probably not. I’m not even sure a win over LSU would get Georgia into the Top 10 of the polls at this point.
Andrew Smith writes: Hey Bill, a wise man once told me a football game hinges on two things. Can you run the ball? Can you stop the run? I think the LSU game will be no different. If we can control the line of scrimmage then we will be more balanced and most likely not turn it over. I’m not that concerned with LSU’s offense but more with how they have forced turnovers and made teams one-dimensional on offense. How about you? Do you think our O-line will show up for the entire game or be hit or miss like other games during this season?
I think your wise man is on the mark. The question is, even if our O-line plays its best, will it be enough against LSU’s terrific pass rush?
dchesh45 writes: I think it’s going to come down to the Dawgs’ offense. I think their D will make plays and keep the Dawgs in the game. However, if the O can’t capitalize, the Tigers will wear them down. Special teams will also be clutch. [Blair] Walsh and [Drew] Butler have to be relaxed and need to just forget about the regular season. If the D shows up, Murray plays like he’s been, and Crowell/Thomas/Harton/Malcome provide some sort of run game to keep us from being one-dimensional, the Dawgs have a legit chance of the unthinkable. Let’s get out there and GATA Dawgs!!! Sic em!
Jeff Myers writes: A UGA win will include our best special teams game of the season. Not just punting and field goal kicking, but coverage teams as well. Our defense must continue its formula for success. We may not shut down the run, but we must stop it enough to force long passing downs. Look for LSU to pound the ball, like they have all year, to tire UGA out. Our offense must be patient, and creative. Bobo had some great play calls against Tech, and a similar plan will be needed. Also, LSU will stuff our run game at times, and we can not get frustrated, we have to run and run creatively. And [Georgia must] win the turnover battle. This will be the best team we have played this year, they will make plays, and we may face adversity. The team must stay positive, and play with the heart of an SEC champion.
That’s actually the one thing that makes me most optimistic, Jeff. This has been Richt’s most resilient team and they’ve shown a lot of heart this season.
Keith Miller writes: Bill, I love the blog. I have a question that I’d love for all SEC fans to think about. First I’d like to say I love my Dawgs. Next I think LSU and Bama have been the best we have this year. But Bama lost, just like South Carolina. Why do we have a SEC championship game? To have a clear “best of the SEC.” We all say, coaches and fans alike, “we want to win the SEC, that’s our biggest goal.” Have we let the BCS nullify our champion? … How can we send any team that didn’t win its division and conference to represent us in a title game? I hated that our Dawgs didn’t go in ’07, but if they had played better early on … well we all know. My point is this: Champions are made of hard work and luck, and most of all a will to win in the games that matter most. What game is bigger than the SEC championship game? GO DAWGS, beat LSU!!
It’s a quirky system that doesn’t always see the best two teams in the BCS championship game, but think of it this way: If Georgia somehow wins, the SEC will probably get three teams into the BCS bowls — the Dawgs in the Sugar and LSU and Bama in the title game. From a conference standpoint, that would be pretty awesome.
Finally, Paula Bechtler writes: Hi Bill! I assume the Dawg Walk will take place Saturday inside the SEC Fan Fest at the Georgia World Congress Center — is that right? Do you know what time? Go Dawgs!
I put the question to UGA sports info guru Claude Felton, who reports: “No Dawg Walk this week, I’m afraid. Due to team entry locations, security and logistical issues, SEC guidelines do not provide for any special walks for either participating team.” However, pep rallies for fans of both schools are planned between 1:30 and 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the SEC FanFare in the Georgia World Congress Center. Admission to the FanFare (which runs 1-6 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday) costs $10 for adults. Kids under age 12 can get in free on Friday and for $5 Saturday. By the way, gates to the Georgia Dome open at 2 p.m. Saturday. Also Saturday, Scott Woerner continues his string of public appearances promoting the “1980 Dawgs” DVD set. He’ll be greeting fans and signing autographs across from Centennial Olympic Park at the corner of Marietta Street and Centennial Olympic Park Drive from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg