Relentless LSU defense creates long day for Georgia's Greene
Posted: Tuesday September 23, 2003 11:58AM; Updated: Tuesday September 23, 2003 11:58AM
By Stewart Mandel, SI.com
BATON ROUGE, La. -- For much of the game Saturday, LSU was a bumbling mess on offense. They dropped passes.
They threw an interception. They botched a snap, resulting in an 18-yard loss.
Six straight times in the first half their offense went three-and-out. And yet they took a 7-3 lead into halftime and held a 10-3 margin for most of the second half.
Why? Because relentless pressure from the Tigers' defense caused normally unflappable Georgia quarterback David Greene to have one of the longest days of his career.
Officially, the Tigers were credited with four sacks, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Using multiple looks and various blitz packages, they hurried and hit Greene often, including one that briefly sidelined him in the third quarter, and, most notably, batted at least six passes at the line.
"We thought we could bat a lot of balls on him, and have some players who are athletes," said LSU coach Nick Saban. "When you're pressuring, getting as close to the quarterback as you are, that's got to be an advantage for you. You can't just cover on the back end."
The Bulldogs' young offensive line -- they start four sophomores and a freshman -- had held up remarkably well through their first three games, but they barely stood a chance against the Tigers' defensive line of Marcus Spears, Marquise Hill, Bryce Wyatt and Chad Lavalais. The Tigers came in allowing just 9.0 points and 210 yards per game, and though those numbers will now go up, that doesn't mean they didn't live up to their billing.
So did defensive backs Jack Hunt and Corey Webster, who frazzled Georgia's receivers, which were absent injured star Fred Gibson.
Greene, who came in completing 68 percent of his passes and who matched a school record by throwing 176 consecutive passes without an interception, finished 20-of-44 with two picks. He did reach 314 yards, but 93 came on the game-tying screen pass to Tyson Browning.
"The entire defensive team made plays," said Saban. "We pressured just about every down, except for that screen pass. We knew we'd have to play them man to man. Their passing game is very well constructed and it's hard to execute zone against it. We thought that we would try to confuse their offensive line."
Early on, it looked like the Tigers' strategy might burn them. Greene stood tall under pressure and completed four of his first six attempts for 61 yards.
But LSU didn't deviate from its plan. Soon, some of those throws started getting tipped at the line or simply thrown away, while others were dropped by his receivers. Greene completed just one of his next 11 as Georgia repeatedly failed to take advantage of excellent field position. Three straight possessions the 'Dogs started in LSU territory, none of which resulted in points. One ended with Greene fumbling at the Tigers' 4 on a scramble, the other two in missed field goals by normally automatic Billy Bennett, who missed another one later in the game.
After a blitz caused another Greene incompletion on 3rd and 10, forcing the Bulldogs to punt, LSU took over at its own 15 with just over five minutes left in the first half and proceeded to move 85 yards on just six plays to go up 7-3.
It appeared as if Georgia would rebound in its own fashion. The Bulldogs took the ensuing kickoff and quickly moved from its own 21 to the LSU 22. Then a familiar scene played out. On first and 10, Greene's pass to Reggie Brown was tipped at the line. Two plays later, on 3rd and 7, Greene had tight end Martrez Milner open over the middle near the end zone, but overthrew him in the face of pressure from blitzing linebacker Eric Alexander.
"As great as quarterbacks are, as soon as things aren't working for them, they get frustrated," said Spears. "We just kept coming at him, we hit him a lot. I think we did get to him."
The Tigers' defense got even stronger in the third quarter, allowing just 35 total yards. After Greene was forced from the game for two series, backup D.J. Shockley came in and was promptly greeted by a swarm of defenders who sacked him twice deep in his own territory.
Greene came back in and appeared to finally be hitting his stride late in the third quarter. But the first play of the fourth, with Georgia driving, Greene's pass was deflected at the line and ended up in the hands of linebacker Lionel Turner to thwart yet another drive.
And on the Dogs' final drive, trying to stage a last-minute rally from 17-10, ended with a Corey Webster interception.
"[Greene] played a great game," said Turner. "We ended up doing something a little extra on defense to make some plays."