LSU, Georgia meet in key rematch of SEC Championship Game
Posted: Friday October 1, 2004 11:58AM; Updated: Friday October 1, 2004 4:09PM
Before the season, college football fans circled this SEC showdown as one of the Games of the Year, and although LSU comes in with a loss, this contest should live up to the billing. Both offenses have struggled at times this season, but the defenses have been dominant. LSU is fifth in the nation in total defense (236.7 yards per game) and scoring D (8.5 points per game). The Tigers also lead the SEC with 11 sacks and have not allowed a rushing touchdown. Georgia is giving up just 260.3 yards and 15.7 points per game and has one of the nation's top playmakers in All-American defensive end David Pollack. LSU won both meetings last year -- a 17-10 nailbiter in Baton Rouge and a 34-13 rout in the SEC championship game. The last time LSU came to Athens in 1999, the Tigers lost a 23-22 thriller. Georgia has won 16 straight at home.
Sizing up Georgia:
After a season-opening 48-22 win over Division I-AA Georgia Southern, the Bulldogs offense has averaged just 16.5 points per game. Georgia was down 16-0 at South Carolina before senior quarterback David Greene led the Dawgs to 20 unanswered points and a 20-16 victory. Greene, who has thrown for 583 yards and three touchdowns this season, is 35-8 as a starter. He's also a gamer, who has engineered four fourth-quarter comebacks in his career.
Greene has a pair of outstanding receivers who have big-play potential in seniors Fred Gibson (14 catches, 192 yards), who is finally injury free, and Reggie Brown (12 catches, 198 yards, 2 TD's). Expect Greene to challenge LSU's stellar secondary early. A big question entering the season was the running game after projected starting tailback Kregg Lumpkin tore his ACL in camp and was lost for the year. The Bulldogs have been successful with a running-back-by-committee between freshmen Danny Ware (who is expected to return after missing the Marshall game with a bruised lung),Thomas Brown, junior Tyson Browning and sophomore Michael Cooper. But Georgia will need someone to step up against LSU and expect the Tigers to put nine in the box and make the Bulldogs beat them on the ground. That will be a lot easier said than done.
The junkyard Dawgs' defense has been one of the nation's best over the last four years under the direction of coordinator Brian VanGorder, who won the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant coach last year. Pollack is a one-man wrecking crew up front and has 25.5 career sacks, three short of the school record. He draws a lot of attention, which opens things up for his teammates. Hard-hitting senior safety Thomas Davis is an excellent press defender and a vicious hitter with a nose for the ball. He already has 35 tackles this year, and in the two games with LSU last season he had 24 tackles. The Dawgs will also get a boost with the return of their best linebacker, junior Odell Thurman, who was suspended for the first three games for violating team rules.
Sizing up LSU:
Where have you gone Justin Vincent? The MVP of the SEC championship game and the Sugar Bowl as a freshman last season has been remarkably quiet with just one 100-yard game and two rushing touchdowns this year. But fortunately for the Tigers, they are loaded in the backfield. Sophomore Alley Broussard, who is averaging 5.7 yards per carry, has played extremely well in LSU's last two games and scored three touchdowns in a 51-0 rout of Mississippi State. Junior Joseph Addai is a good change-of-pace-runner and sprite 5-foot-6 senior Shyrone Carey is back after serving a three-game suspension for attempting to sell his Sugar Bowl tickets.
The Tigers have been successful by using both senior Marcus Randall and freshman JaMarcus Russell at quarterback. Randall has started each game, but Russell has been the better player in the clutch. The duo has combined to throw for 829 yards and seven touchdowns. With junior Skyler Green hobbled with a high ankle sprain, sophomore Dwayne Bowe has stepped up and become the Tigers' top receiver with 16 catches for 284 yards and four touchdowns. Green, who didn't play wideout the last three games (he caught punts in the last two), is expected to be close to full strength Saturday. LSU has a lot of talent on offense -- 10 different Tigers have scored -- but the unit has lacked cohesiveness at times. They will have to be their best against Georgia, who will frequently blitz and constantly switch coverages.
As with most of Saban's teams, the Tigers' strength is their defense. The 11 sacks have come from eight different players and a lot of that can be attributed to all the attention that senior defensive end Marcus Spears draws. Doubling him is necessary, but dangerous because the Tigers have so many playmakers. Senior linebacker Lionel Turner leads the team with 36 tackles and four tackles for loss, while sophomore free safety LaRon Landry has 30 tackles and three sacks. Lockdown corner Corey Webster has 15 career interceptions (five shy of the school record) and also sees time at wide receiver in addition to returning kicks.
Special teams breakdown:
Sophomore Chris Jackson handles all the kicking duties for LSU, but he's been mediocre thus far. He's averaging 38.6 yards per punt, has made just 2 of 4 field goals and has already missed three extra points. When healthy, Green is a return threat, but his ankle injury has slowed him down. Georgia freshman kicker Andy Bailey has seamlessly taken over for Billy Bennett, hitting 6 of 8 field goals and all nine of his PAT's. Sophomore Gordon Ely-Kelso is averaging 45.2 yards per punt and was the SEC's Special Teams Player of the Week after launching two kicks 50-plus yards and dropping a pair inside the 20 against South Carolina. The Bulldogs love to come after kicks and Pollack blocked a punt in the opener against Georgia Southern.
Georgia DE David Pollack
When he steps between the lines, Pollack plays like a man possessed. He's always around the ball and has very good bull-rush moves to get past the best offensive line. LSU must slow him down and keep him away from the quarterback.
LSU T Andrew Whitworth
The anchor of an outstanding offensive line, Whitworth has started every game over the last two years. He has the size, strength and agility to fend off Pollack. But Whitworth will need to play the game of his life to neutralize him.
This one should be a defensive battle and points will be at a premium. Expect both defenses to force turnovers and possibly score points. It will come down to which offense executes better in the second half and the edge goes to Georgia. Greene may look ugly at times and he doesn't always put up gaudy stats, but the guy is a winner. He's the type of leader you want under center and he will be the difference in a tight game that could come down to which team has the ball last.
The pick: Georgia 17, LSU 14
B.J. Schecter is an associate editor for Sports Illustrated. Marquee Matchup appears every Friday on SI.com during the season.