SEC Championship: Who has the better defense, Georgia or LSU?
So which defense is better: Georgia’s or LSU’s?
The natural answer would be, unequivocally, Georgia. Right? Well, maybe not. Sure, it’s been led by an elite running defense and is toward the top of the stats in basically every major category, something it will be able to hang its hat on in Saturday’s SEC Championship.
Meanwhile, LSU is known mostly for its offensive exploits. Joe Burrow enters with 9 more touchdowns than his closest competitor and is racking up numbers at a record pace. It’s not uncommon to see numbers in the 40s, 50s and even 60s on the scoreboard when the Tigers take the field. But beyond that may lie a few strong links on their defense that might slip under the radar just a bit.
Let’s see how the 2 teams stack up defensively:
The Dawgs are a lot of things, but ball hawks? Not quite.
Here’s a stat for you: Tigers cornerback Derek Stingley has 4 interceptions. Georgia as a team? Only 6. I should mention, too, that Stingley — a true freshman, I might add — has 14 defended passes. Only 4 players in the country have more.
Georgia’s passing game already was going to be challenged without injured Lawrence Cager and George Pickens suspended for the 1st half. Good luck throwing it Stingley’s way, whoever he lines up against.
Stingley is merely one part of a loaded secondary. Do everything safety Grant Delpit is an All-American and potential 1st-round pick. Senior Kristian Fulton is a known quantity, with 11 pass breakups from the Tigers’ other corner spot. Free safety JaCoby Stevens has 5.0 sacks, 8.5 tackles for a loss and is 2nd on the team with 74 tackles.
There is no weak link here — evidenced by the fact LSU has 14 interceptions this season — so the Bulldogs’ offensive staff will need to be aware of LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda calling for safety blitz packages to keep Jake Fromm and the Georgia offensive line on their toes.
Georgia hasn’t been able to generate takeaways from its secondary in the same fashion as LSU, and that’s a big checkmark in the Tigers’ favor. Yes, they let Sam Ehlinger and Tua Tagovailoa go to town against them, but nothing I’ve seen from Fromm this year suggests he’ll come close to those numbers. By the way, they’ve allowed 311 yards or less in every other game, so those games against LSU and Alabama aren’t the norm at all.
Running defense: Georgia
It’s a stretch to call what the Dawgs are doing against the run unprecedented, but it’s close. If you want to beat Georgia, you better be able to throw it. Nobody has beaten them on the ground. Period. Georgia held Texas A&M to negative-1 yard, after all.
LSU could try to run Clyde Edwards-Helaire at the Georgia defensive front to try to replicate what South Carolina and Vanderbilt did, to an extent. Outside of Kentucky’s 4.8 yards per carry, inflated because Lynn Bowden kept it on the ground more than he threw it, only the Gamecocks and Commodores (3.9) have averaged more than 3.3 yards per attempt. That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Joe Burrow go well above 40 pass attempts as a result, to be honest. (He’s only done that twice.) If he’s able to lop off chunks of yards on just a few passes, he might not need to, though.
In any event, the path to victory for the Tigers won’t be through a heavy dose of Edwards-Helaire. The Dawgs are just too good.
When looking at the complete picture, you’d have to give the Dawgs the edge defensively. Along with those points above, their best attribute is the most important one: They don’t give up many points.
Georgia has allowed just 14 TDs all season. Nobody has scored 3 TDs against this Dawgs this season.
Georgia and LSU played 4 common opponents (Auburn, Florida, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt). LSU allowed 12 TDs to those teams. Georgia allowed just 5.
If the most points you’ve given up is 20, you’re doing something right. And it’s that very reason LSU, Vegas’s pick as expected, is favored by just a touchdown.
Meanwhile, LSU, as adept as it is at putting points on the board, has, at times, struggled to prevent opponents from doing the same.
The Tigers insist they have the playmakers and point to last week’s shutdown of Texas A&M as proof this defense can get it done, too. Maybe it will.
But the edge speaks more to what Georgia’s defense has done, I think. I still have reservations about the Dawgs winning on Saturday, especially if Burrow can turn this into an Air-Raid shootout. But even if this is the most dominant offense it’s faced this season, considering its body of work, would it really surprise anyone if Georgia is the first team to solve it?
Keep in mind, it held a record-setting Alabama offense that routinely scored 50 to 35 last year in the SEC Championship Game.
Can it do the same to Burrow and Co?
Difficult? Yes. Impossible? No.