Georgia football: In SEC Championship, Dawgs' offensive woes magnified in loss to high-flying LSU
With Saturday’s SEC championship game headed into halftime, the scoreboard read LSU 17, Georgia 3. If you’d have told Kirby Smart before the game that would be the case, he’d have signed up for it in a heartbeat.
Joe Burrow and LSU, though, were just too good. And the Bulldogs’ chances at a College Football Playoff appearance, hinging on finding a way to stop this prolific Tigers offense, disappeared.
That Burrow pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage but fell back to the Tigers quarterback and ended up as a 16-yard play? The Dawgs probably should have taken that as a sign of things to come and that wasn’t even Burrow’s most viral-worthy play of the night.
Somehow Georgia’s deficit was only 20-3 at the midway point of the 3rd quarter, a testament of both Georgia’s defense and an inability for LSU to put the game away early.
But after Rodrigo Blankenship missed a 37-yard field goal that would have made it a 2-score game, Burrow turned from quarterback into Harry Houdini. The Tigers’ star quarterback escaped from 2 sure sacks to somehow find Justin Jefferson for a 71-yard bomb, putting LSU in the red zone. Three plays later, Burrow’s pass to Terrace Marshall on a slant wound up in the end zone.
LSU 27, Georgia 3. Ballgame.
Jake Fromm’s interception to open Georgia’s ensuing drive — his 2nd, both to true freshman cornerback Derek Stingley — led to another TD which saw the Tigers up the margin to 34-3 just moments later.
We knew going into the game that Georgia’s offense would have to turn the corner for the Bulldogs to have any chance of winning. Much of what Fromm and the team talked about in the days leading up to the game was raising the level of their play offensively, opening up the playbook, how much he and his teammates had been “giving it to” the defense on the practice field.
But practice is far different from the real thing. If LSU’s offense was at its best, there was going to be no chance for the Bulldogs to keep up. It was, and they didn’t.
Fromm, in fairness, was playing without receivers Lawrence Cager and Kearis Jackson the entire game and George Pickens for half of it. Dom Blaylock exited with an apparent knee injury in the 1st quarter. Oh, and running back D’Andre Swift was banged up and rendered a non-factor. Fromm himself picked up a knock of his own and played a big part of the game with a heavily taped ankle.
When you’re sacked 3 times and throw 2 interceptions, though, that’s a recipe for a loss.
It’s hardly all on Fromm. The Bulldogs defense didn’t make things difficult for Burrow, the Heisman Trophy frontrunner. Burrow enjoyed a clean pocket throughout the game and, when he did face pressure, he used his quick release to fire off short passes or ran the football to move the Tigers downfield.
All told, Georgia allowed 37 points and 481 yards of total offense, the most it has yielded all season. The defense gave up a season-worst 132 rushing yards on 36 carries — 41 yards by Burrow, who also threw for 349 yards and 4 touchdowns on 28-of-38 passing. Clyde Edwards-Helaire accounted for 118 yards of total offense while Jefferson and Marshall combined for 204 yards and 3 touchdowns receiving. If there’s any good news for Georgia, the score could have been worse if not for a dropped touchdown by the Tigers in the 1st quarter.
So that meant Fromm needed to be perfect, especially as he was forced to throw the ball more with Swift hurt. But he wasn’t. He hit Pickens for a touchdown but it came with the game already out of reach but finished 20-of-42 for just 225 yards. Those 42 pass attempts the most since a career-high of 51 during the South Carolina loss this season and his 2 picks were the first he’d thrown this season since that game.
Fromm tried 3 deep plays on the opening drive to put immediate pressure on LSU, but it’s clear that when called upon to attack through the air heavily, he’s just not the same quarterback. He never has won a game when throwing more than 30 times.
And it all means that instead of a 2nd playoff appearance in 3 years, the Dawgs will likely be headed for a New Year’s 6 bowl. That’s a disappointment for a group that expected to contend for a national championship; instead, a nearly 40-year drought will continue.
But several questions related to the offense need answers, both in the aftermath of Saturday’s game, heading into the bowl game and through to the offseason.
Can Pickens continue his growth, not only athletically but emotionally? How will Blaylock’s health factor into his 2020 season? Will Swift return for his final season? Why has Fromm regressed — is it a matter of coaching, high expectations after a remarkable sophomore campaign, or something deeper?
We watched a dynamic, well-coached, high-performing offense at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, it wasn’t their own.