Battle of SEC unbeatens should live up to hype
Posted: Friday September 19, 2003 11:57AM; Updated: Friday September 19, 2003 12:03PM
On paper, this looks like it will be the best matchup of the season so far. Neither team has been tested yet and both offenses and defenses have been dominant. Georgia's offense is scoring 30 points a game and has averaged 418.7 yards, while its defense has given up 17 points in three games. LSU is fourth in the nation in scoring (47.7 ppg) and is giving up just nine points a game. Georgia has won its last nine road games and LSU has won nine straight at home. Something's got to give. With Georgia star receiver Fred Gibson expected to miss the game with a pulled hamstring (starting tight end Ben Watson is also out with a sprained ankle) that puts more pressure on quarterback David Greene and should give an early edge to LSU. The Tigers have a pair of offensive stars in Matt Mauck and Michael Clayton, who may not be household names yet but are one of the best quarterback-receiver tandems in the nation. Georgia has already survived one trip to Death Valley, routing Clemson in its opener. But winning on LSU's raucous home turf, also called Death Valley, will be much tougher.
An assistant coach sizes up Georgia:
"This is a very well-coached team. They're very well-prepared and are not going to beat themselves or make careless mistakes. They know exactly what they want to do and they execute their game plan extremely well. They're going to try and scheme you and they're smart enough and talented enough to catch you off guard.
"David Greene is a heck of a quarterback and deserves to be mentioned among the best in the country; he's probably the best quarterback I've ever coached against. He's a big-time player, makes good reads and executes very well. He makes some things that you're like, 'Dang, how are you supposed to defend that?' He's a cool cat back there and he also runs better than most people think.
"Like a lot of teams with very good offensive lines, they'll run a lot of power. Their running game is sound, but I wouldn't say it's spectacular. Their backs don't jump out at you and they don't have that home run threat, but they have a few guys who can get chunks of yards when they need them. They'll run a lot of sprint draws and lead draws because their offensive line is very talented and athletic.
"Their defense is not going to overwhelm you, but they are very fundamentally sound and have good athletes at every position. They play a multiple, four-man front and like to get after you. [End] David Pollack is the best player on that defense and you have to be aware of where he is at all times. This unit is going to be tough to break because I don't see any weaknesses.
"The fact that this team hasn't been tested yet could hurt them. Who knows how they're going to respond in a close game in a tough environment? I guess we'll see. Their special teams units seem like they're sound, but they've been in so many blowouts you can't really tell."
An assistant coach sizes up LSU:
"They have a strong 1-2 punch. They have a very good quarterback and receivers so they run the spread offense a lot. But they also have one of the best offensive lines I've seen in a long time and have two solid backs so they can go with a lot of pro formations. What they do is not that complicated, but they have so much talent it's very difficult to stop.
"They're going to challenge you with lead plays and the power game, but they've also got a quarterback who can really beat you. Matt Mauck has extremely good field presence and puts them in good situations. He's very underrated and has two big weapons in [receivers] Michael Clayton and [Devery] Henderson. Clayton is the better of the two, but you have to be careful when you double him because Henderson will beat you, too. Henderson is a former tailback and they do a lot of things to get the ball into his hands, putting him in motion and running fly sweeps, speed option and stuff like that.
"[Offensive coordinator] Jimbo Fisher is very crafty. He was at Florida State when Charlie Ward was there, and he runs a lot of counter leads and misdirection plays Ward ran so effectively when he won the Heisman. Mauck is not known as a runner, but he's athletic enough that it allows Jimbo to do a lot of different things.
"They're extremely athletic and fast on defense. They are very good and kind of remind me of Washington's dominating defense in 1991, the year they won the national championship. They start in an eagle front and in the secondary they use a under front out of a Cover 2 look. That allows them to bring the safeties up into the box. It all starts with the front four. The defensive linemen can close quickly and they have the ability to make the line of scrimmage move backwards.
"Home field advantage is going to play a huge factor in this game. LSU is always very tough to beat at home and those fans are going to make a difference. It's going to get so loud down there that Georgia is going to have a hard time hearing the plays, let along check off."
Georgia QB David Greene
Greene is 24-5 as a starter and has attempted 139 consecutive passes without throwing an interception. He'll face a ferocious pass rush and be without his best receiver. But Greene has showed poise and the ability to overcome adversity. If he plays well, Georgia will have a good chance at winning.
LSU CB Corey Webster
A converted receiver, Webster has emerged as one of the best coverage men in the SEC. He's quick, anticipates well and has a knack for big plays. With Gibson most likely out, Webster has the ability to severely alter Georgia's passing game.
Many big games fail to live up to the hype, but this shouldn't be one of them. Georgia is good enough to beat LSU, but without Gibson the Bulldogs' offense is suddenly not as potent. Georgia coach Mark Richt will surely come up with an elaborate game plan, but it's highly unlikely he'll be able to surprise LSU coach Nick Saban, one of the most well-prepared in the business. The Bulldogs might have a slight edge in talent, but if this one comes down to a battle in the trenches the edge goes to the Tigers. Recent history suggests that this game will be close, since the last two meetings have been decided by one point with Georgia winning both times. Tiger Stadium will be rocking, so strap in; this is going to be a good one.
The Pick: LSU 28, Georgia 27