Baton Rouge is the epicenter of college football’s Week 7 slate, as Georgia travels to Death Valley to take on LSU in huge SEC showdown. The Bulldogs are off to a 6-0 start and harbor aspirations of another trip to the CFB Playoff. However, coach Kirby Smart’s team has a difficult second-half schedule, beginning with Saturday’s game. On the other sideline, LSU coach Ed Orgeron is hoping his team rebounds after last week’s loss at Florida. If the Tigers have any intention of challenging Alabama for the SEC West title, LSU can’t afford another loss in SEC play.
Georgia’s 6-0 start has included road wins over Missouri and South Carolina, but Saturday’s game at LSU is the toughest matchup this team has faced in 2018. Smart has elevated this program into annual national title contender territory, and the freshman and sophomore ranks are loaded with promising talent. However, the Bulldogs are still trying to fill in a few gaps on defense due to roster turnover from last season. Saturday’s matchup, along with the upcoming schedule, should give Smart a good idea of just how far along his defense has reloaded from the start of the 2018 season.
Low expectations surrounded LSU in the preseason, but the Tigers are arguably one of the biggest surprises in college football prior to Week 7. Coach Ed Orgeron’s program entered 2018 looking to answer a host of question marks on offense, including quarterback, offensive coordinator and the skill positions. Some of those concerns have been answered, as the Tigers opened the year with a win against Miami in Arlington, followed by a victory at Auburn in Week 3. However, LSU’s offense struggled in last week’s loss to Florida and will be under the spotlight once again in Week 7.
LSU owns a 16-13-1 series edge over Georgia. The Tigers won the last meeting between these two teams in 2013 (44-41) but have lost two out of the last three to the Bulldogs. LSU and Georgia have played in just one regular season matchup since 2012. Additionally, the Bulldogs have not win in Baton Rouge since 2003.
Georgia at LSU
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 13 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Georgia -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Battle in the Trenches
It seems simple to say, but the battle in the trenches is likely to decide which team wins on Saturday. And as always, there’s an x-factor at play. Both LSU and Georgia have been hit by injuries along the offensive line, which could play a factor in the run blocking or pass protection.
Anchored by left tackle Andrew Thomas and center Lamont Gaillard, Georgia’s line ranks among the best in college football. Through six contests, the Bulldogs have allowed only eight sacks and are clearing the way for rushers to average 6.03 yards per carry. Despite losing Sony Michel and Nick Chubb to the NFL, Georgia’s ground attack hasn’t missed a beat. Breakout candidate D’Andre Swift is off to a good start (290 yards and four touchdowns), but Elijah Holyfield (432 yards) has emerged as the top option for coordinator Jim Chaney. Additionally, Brian Herrien (175) and James Cook (165) allow Georgia to go four-deep at this position and provide the ground game with fresh legs into the fourth quarter. However, the Bulldogs will be challenged up front on Saturday. LSU is giving up only 121.7 yards on the ground and just 3.4 yards a carry. Additionally, guard Ben Cleveland is out indefinitely due to a leg injury suffered against Missouri, and fellow guard Solomon Kindley is recovering from a knee injury suffered in last week’s win over Vanderbilt. Kindley is expected to play, but will the senior be at full strength?
On the other sideline, LSU has featured six different line combinations through the first six games. Just like Georgia, the Tigers are dealing with injuries up front. Guard Garrett Brumfield has missed the last two games after suffering a knee injury against Louisiana Tech and is out once again this week. Adrian Magee opened the year at right tackle but is expected to start for the second straight week at Brumfield’s left guard spot. The rotating group of starters has had an impact on LSU’s offense. The Tigers have allowed 13 sacks so far, with eight coming over three SEC contests. Additionally, rushers are only averaging 4.4 yards per carry. With steady blocking, Nick Brossette and Clyde Edwards-Helaire are capable of making big plays. The Bulldogs are only giving up 3.87 yards per carry in SEC games, but this unit has been vulnerable at times. Additionally, defensive linemen David Marshall, DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle and Devonte Wyatt are dealing with injuries, potentially impacting a unit that wasn’t deep to begin the 2018 season.
In last week’s loss to Florida, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow was sacked five times. That’s nearly as many sacks as Georgia has generated through the first six contests. The Bulldogs have just six sacks in 2018, with four coming from senior linebacker D’Andre Walker. Is this the week Georgia’s pass rush gets on track? Or will the Tigers win the battle up front, giving Burrow time to throw downfield?
As evidenced by last week’s game, LSU has to play better up front in order to beat Georgia. Can the Tigers provide better protection for Burrow and generate pressure on Bulldogs’ quarterbacks Jake Fromm and Justin Fields? Additionally, whichever team wins the battle at the point of attack and in rushing yardage production is likely to win on Saturday.
2. The Quarterbacks
It’s no secret both teams want to establish the run and deliver big plays downfield on play-action opportunities. However, with both defenses likely to land their share of victories in run stuffs, which offense (and quarterback) can execute better in the passing game?
Georgia’s offense ranks third among SEC teams by averaging 9.9 yards per attempt, with Fromm and Fields combining for 14 touchdown passes to just two picks. Fromm has continued to develop after a strong freshman season and is among the top quarterbacks in the SEC through the first six weeks. Fields ranked as one of the top recruits in the 2018 signing class and has played in all six contests. How big of a role will the freshman play on Saturday?
When Fromm or Fields drop back to pass, they will have a tough matchup against a LSU secondary that has been stingy in 2018. This unit is headlined by All-America cornerback Greedy Williams, giving up just two touchdown passes through three SEC games. Georgia will counter with a deep group of receivers, including big-play threat Mecole Hardman, Riley Ridley and Terry Godwin.
LSU’s Joe Burrow has been the perfect addition and the right answer under center for Orgeron’s offense. The Ohio State graduate transfer has passed for 1,215 yards and six touchdowns and rushed for 176 yards and two scores so far in 2018. Burrow’s completion percentage is just 53.9 percent, but he’s also connected on four throws of 40 yards or more and three of 50-plus yards. The Tigers aren’t as deep as Georgia at receiver, but Justin Jefferson (16.4 ypc) and Stephen Sullivan are capable targets. The Bulldogs can counter Burrow and his receiving corps with a standout secondary, including safety J.R. Reed and cornerbacks Deandre Baker and Tyson Campbell.
As mentioned in the first section, the line of scrimmage is going to be critical to the outcome of this game. However, both offenses need their quarterback to deliver through the air. Both defenses have standout talent in the secondary, so big passing plays could be limited. On paper, Fromm’s efficiency and depth at receiver could be a huge advantage.
3. Turnover Margin/Field Goals
With a close game expected, one or two plays on special teams or a turnover could decide which team wins.
LSU is plus-five in turnover margin but was minus-two in last week’s loss to Florida. Georgia has been slightly better in this department, checking in with a plus-six margin in 2018. The Bulldogs have not lost the turnover battle in a game this year.
This matchup also features two of college football’s top kickers. LSU’s Cole Tracy has been a huge addition from the graduate transfer ranks, connecting on 12 of 14 attempts so far this year. Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship has nailed 9 of 11 field goals, including a 53-yarder.
Baton Rouge isn’t an easy place to play, so the home crowd and atmosphere should help LSU’s chances of an upset. Additionally, this is the biggest test of Georgia’s 2018 season, and the college football world will learn a lot about this team over the next couple of weeks. The Tigers have not allowed more than 27 points in a game this season, but Georgia’s offense is the best unit this defense has faced. The Bulldogs are a little vulnerable against the run, but the guess here is Smart’s defense doesn’t allow too much and get stops in the second half to seal the victory. Georgia’s passing game and edge on the offensive line also come up big in the fourth quarter.