LSU vs. Georgia: Early thoughts on the 2019 SEC Championship Game
The game of the century is here.
Dial it back a bit? OK, sure.
A really awesome matchup that we didn’t expect to see a few months ago is here.
That’s how I’d describe Georgia and LSU, both of whom have been in the “held down by Alabama” category for most of the 2010s decade. So perhaps it’s fitting that these 2 teams will face off with a Playoff berth at stake for Georgia (more on that later).
What we do know about this game is that it’s a contrast of styles of epic proportions. Flip back and forth between these teams’ games on a given Saturday and it’d be like watching “The Notebook” and “Star Wars.” Both are appealing in their own way, but they’ll never be confused for one another. That’s OK.
Let’s call these “early thoughts,” but really, they’re mostly thoughts that I’ve had in the back of my mind throughout November once we knew this was the likely matchup.
1. Let’s discuss the stakes
LSU is in the Playoff.
I don’t care if the Tigers get lost on their way to the stadium and have to forfeit (can you imagine the hashtag content?). They’re in. And don’t give me this garbage about “well, you should have to win your conference to make it in because you have to win your divisions in pro sports.” That argument is trash for this Playoff field because the scheduling is so vastly different across the sport. LSU is in, and if you think they’re playing for their Playoff lives, I can’t help you.
Here’s what I will say about LSU. This game matters for a variety of reasons. In this never-ending back and forth debate about Ohio State’s résumé compared to LSU’s, both teams want to show that they’re worthy of the No. 1 seed. Whether they admit it or not, nobody wants to face Clemson in that semifinal. It’d be much more favorable to face, let’s say, Utah. There’s still plenty of motivation for LSU. At least there should be.
Georgia, on the other hand, is in a Playoff quarterfinal game. Again. This is the 3rd year in a row in which that’s been true in Atlanta. That’s not the worst spot to be in. Kirby Smart is plenty familiar with this.
2. There’s actually good and bad news with Georgia’s skill player injuries
The Georgia Tech game was weird for Georgia. Yes, it was a blowout win and those shouldn’t be taken for granted at the Power 5 level. I get that. But a team that was already missing top receiver Lawrence Cager watched D’Andre Swift suffer a shoulder injury (Smart expects him to be fine for Saturday) and George Pickens get ejected for fighting, which means he’ll be out for at least the first half of the SEC Championship.
Had Jake Fromm crumbled in the second half against Georgia Tech, it’d be worrisome. But instead, he started relying more on his other weapons. Guys like Tyler Simmons and Dominick Blaylock were involved. The tight ends were a part of the passing game. Backs like James Cook and Zamir White got a little more run than usual.
That’s not the worst thing for a Georgia offense that’s been mostly 1-dimensional this year. If Georgia’s offense is sputtering against an LSU defense that just played its best game of the season against Texas A&M, Fromm has to trust that he can turn to other players to make plays.
Not everybody is going to be able to catch that back-shoulder throw from Fromm. And in all likelihood, there are going to be moments when Dave Aranda’s defense brings pressure and Fromm has to trust a receiver to be on the same page in single coverage. You know, like he was with Simmons against Georgia Tech:
— Hiro Katsuki (@KatsukiFB) November 30, 2019
How he handles that could determine how this Georgia offense keeps pace with LSU.
3. Will James Coley and Joe Brady/Steve Ensminger be calling the same game?
Again, “The Notebook” vs. “Star Wars.” I’m gonna say LSU is “The Notebook.” Joe Burrow is totally Ryan Gosling. He advances the storyline and connects with Rachel McAdams, who is played by Ja’Marr Chase. You can’t keep them apart. Their connection is undeniable.
I’m not really much of a Star Wars guy so my comps for that are non-existent. Maybe “Roadhouse” is the better comp. Cade Mays and that Georgia offensive line would love nothing more than to spend 60 minutes delivering roundhouse kicks to the face of the LSU defense.
It’ll be fascinating to watch how both of these guys call games. Is Coley suddenly going to have Georgia stretch the field? Granted, the Dawgs did a much better job of that against Georgia Tech. That, however, wasn’t LSU. Coley might not want his young wideouts going up for 50-50 balls against guys like Grant Delpit, Kristian Fulton and Derek Stingley.
And on the flip side, what about Brady and Ensminger? This Georgia secondary has been extremely good, but it has yet to face an offense that’s anything nearly as powerful as LSU’s. Can Georgia take a page out of Auburn’s playbook? That front 7 is good, but it doesn’t pressure the quarterback without sending extra guys quite like Auburn can do with Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson.
LSU isn’t going to change who it is as it relates to the passing game. With Chase, Justin Jefferson, Terrace Marshall and Thad Moss, the Tigers are so dangerous because of how many different guys who can shred a defense. Richard LeCounte and J.R. Reed are plenty capable of making key plays on the back end of that Georgia defense. But if those LSU wideouts are getting schemed open all over the field, well, there’s only so much they can do.
I don’t know what happens in both of those matchups. What I do know is that Georgia and LSU are going to look like they’re playing offense in different decades than one another.
4. Clyde Edwards-Helaire vs. the Georgia defense battle is the “something’s gotta give” matchup
Edwards-Helaire has been the best back in the SEC this year. There. I said it.
Georgia, for my money, has the best run defense in America this year. There. I said that, too.
So yes, I’m dialing up the old “something’s gotta give” cliché for this awesome matchup. Amazing it is that Georgia allowed 1 rushing touchdown in 12 football games. That’s 720 minutes of football. Goodness.
There’s a reason for that. It’s because the discipline that guys like Monty Rice and Tyler Clark play with. Those guys are everywhere. Always. And that’s the fun thing about this defense. They gang tackle like a throwback team. They pursue ballcarriers and stop them in their tracks in ways that most teams don’t in 2019.
Nobody has been tougher to tackle in the SEC than Edwards-Helaire. He has an incredible ability to always fall forward and make it seem like he’s never truly racked up. Even guys like former LSU All-American Devin White talked about how big of a pain it was to slow Edwards-Helaire down because of the way he’s built — compact without many exposed areas for tacklers — and the motor he has.
In games against the likes of Alabama, Auburn, Florida and Texas, look at the numbers Edwards-Helaire put up:
- 74 carries for 460 yards
- 7 rushing TDs
- 20 catches for 143 yards
- 1 receiving TD
- Average of 150.8 scrimmage yards, 2 TDs
Again, that’s against elite competition. Average those numbers out over a 13-game season and Edwards-Helaire is flirting with 2,000 scrimmage yards with 26 touchdowns. The guy has been tremendous.
Georgia hasn’t seen a tailback as good as Edwards-Helaire, and Edwards-Helaire hasn’t seen a defense that pursues like Georgia.
5. This whole year has been Ed Orgeron’s revenge tour … but don’t forget about the Kirby Smart revenge factor
It’s ironic how the offseason storyline that dominated headlines was about Alabama’s revenge tour. I was guilty of that, as well.
What actually happened was Orgeron put together a revenge tour of his own. Go figure that it came after a season in which he surpassed expectations. The preseason outlook for LSU was simply to maintain that New Year’s 6 Bowl level. Instead, Orgeron just smacked everyone who wronged him and/or LSU.
Think about it. In Week 2, he beat Tom Herman, who scoffed at the LSU opening and went to Texas. In Week 7, he beat the Florida team that handed him his first loss last year. In Week 11, he finally got LSU over the Alabama hump and took down Nick Saban (with some incredible postgame confidence to boot). In Week 14, Orgeron pounded the Texas A&M team that left him angry and sticky from a premature Gatorade bath that lasted for 7 painful overtimes.
Orgeron’s revenge tour is legit. But there’s not really anything that Georgia took from him. It’s actually the other way around.
Georgia was the team who got destroyed by LSU last year. It was a humbling, “are we really that good” game that forced the Dawgs to find their offensive identity in a hurry. In a way, that game actually kept Georgia out of the Playoff, too.
Is Smart going to need to remind his team, which watched LSU storm the field after last year’s Baton Rouge beatdown, of what the Tigers took from them? I doubt it.
But before you pencil the Tigers in for a rout, don’t forget what went down 13 months ago.