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The epicenter of college football’s Week 5 schedule is once again in the SEC, as Georgia hosts LSU in a battle of two top-10 teams. With a loss to Clemson in Week 1, the Bulldogs have to win this game to stay alive in the national title conversation. The Tigers could still play for the BCS Championship with one loss, but Les Miles’ team has a tough remaining schedule, including games at Ole Miss and Alabama.
The Bulldogs already scored a huge victory in SEC play, defeating South Carolina 41-30 in Week 2. With a win over LSU, Georgia can take a commanding lead in the East Division, especially with a favorable schedule the rest of the way.
LSU won its only SEC contest this year, defeating Auburn 35-21 last Saturday. The Tigers also scored a solid non-conference victory by beating TCU in Arlington, Texas in Week 1.
This is the first regular season meeting between these two teams since 2009, but the Bulldogs and Tigers have met in the SEC title game three times since 2003.
LSU has owned a slight advantage over Georgia recently, winning the last two matchups, including a 20-13 thriller in 2009. Although the 2009 matchup was decided by a touchdown, it’s the only game between these two teams decided by seven points or less in the last six meetings.
LSU vs. Georgia
Kickoff: 3:30 ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Georgia -3
Three Things to Watch
Georgia’s rush defense vs. Jeremy Hill
With only three returning starters from last year, Georgia’s defense is a work in progress. The Bulldogs are allowing 143.3 rushing yards per game and 4.0 yards per attempt, and Clemson (197 yards) and South Carolina (226 yards) had plenty of success against this defense. LSU is averaging 5.4 yards per carry, and running back Jeremy Hill is coming off a career-best performance, rushing for 184 yards and three scores against Auburn. With the emergence of quarterback Zach Mettenberger, the Tigers offense has more balance than it had in recent years. However, there’s no doubt LSU wants to establish its ground attack. Georgia has struggled to stop the run against BCS opponents this year and will have its hands full against Hill, along with a Tigers’ offensive line that averages 314.8 pounds among its starting five.
Can Georgia protect quarterback Aaron Murray?
Even with five returning starters, Georgia’s offensive line entered 2013 under heavy scrutiny. This unit was average last year, allowing 27 sacks in 14 games. The Bulldogs have solid depth in the trenches and plan to rotate eight or nine players into the game to keep the starters fresh for the fourth quarter. LSU’s defensive line lost a handful of key players from last season’s unit, including ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery, along with tackles Bennie Logan and Josh Downs. Although four new starters stepped into the lineup, this group might be more athletic and explosive than last year’s front four. Ends Jermauria Rasco and Jordan Allen have combined for 3.5 sacks in 2013, while tackles Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson are a big reason why opponents are managing just 4.7 yards per play. After Georgia’s offensive line struggled in its first two games of the year, LSU’s defensive line will be another tough matchup for quarterback Aaron Murray.
Will Zach Mettenberger continue his hot start to the season?
The arrival of Cam Cameron as LSU’s offensive coordinator has transformed Mettenberger into one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC this year. In four games, Mettenberger has thrown for 1,026 yards and 10 scores and just one interception. In 13 contests last year, Mettenberger threw just 12 touchdowns and completed 58.8 percent of his throws. Georgia’s defense is talented, but the Bulldogs also have a handful of young players contributing significant snaps. In the opener against Clemson, Georgia’s secondary allowed quarterback Tajh Boyd to throw for 270 yards and three touchdowns. Boyd was sacked only one time, which Georgia has to reverse in order to beat LSU. Mettenberger is completing 64.8 percent of his throws, but the Bulldogs need to pressure him and not allow the senior to get comfortable in the pocket. If Georgia’s front seven can generate pressure, it will help the cornerbacks match up against receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, who have combined to catch 44 of the Tigers’ 60 completions in 2013.
Key Player: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
Gurley has delivered in both of Georgia’s big games this season. The sophomore rushed for 154 yards and two touchdowns against Clemson and gashed South Carolina for 132 yards and one score. LSU’s rush defense ranks seventh in the SEC but is allowing just 3.6 yards per carry. The Tigers have yet to be tested by a running back of Gurley’s caliber, so this will be a good barometer test for both teams. Gurley is among the top-10 Heisman contenders after four weeks and a good showing against LSU will only increase his stock.
On paper, it seems LSU has the advantage. The Tigers have the edge in the trenches, and quarterback Zach Mettenberger has added some much-needed balance to the offense.
However, Georgia is already battle-tested with wins over Clemson and South Carolina, and has won 14 in a row at home.
The Bulldogs’ defense is a huge concern, but with two top-10 contests under their belt, this unit should be ready to turn a corner.
Despite eight new starters, LSU’s defense is already one of the best in the SEC. But the Tigers will be tested by Georgia’s balance, especially if the pass rush is unable to get to Aaron Murray. LSU has not played an offense of the Bulldogs' caliber, with Auburn and TCU combining for 48 points against the Tigers this season.
Expect this game to be one of the most entertaining games of the weekend. LSU and Georgia will trade the lead a couple of times in the fourth quarter, but the homefield advantage pays off for the Bulldogs.
Prediction: Georgia 34, LSU 30