J.R. Reed and Georgia's defense will be the stingiest unit Joe Burrow and LSU's explosive offense have faced this season
For the first time since 2011, there will not be a team from the Heart of Dixie playing in the SEC Championship Game as Georgia and LSU won the East and West divisions respectively, putting a stiff-arm on Alabama and Auburn’s SEC title dreams this season.
This will be the third straight time that the Silver Britches will be playing in the SEC title game, having beat Auburn 28-7 in quarterback Jake Fromm’s freshman year and then leading Alabama for three quarters last year before falling 35-28 in a big scare for the Crimson Tide and their College Football Playoff hopes.
For the second year in a row, Fromm and Co. will go into Mercedes-Benz Stadium as a decided underdog as Bama was favored by two touchdowns a year ago and LSU is favored by seven points this year. Georgia played three impressive quarters last year vs. the Tide, taking a 28-21 lead into the fourth frame before the Tide rallied for two scores to pull out a white-knuckle win.
Both squads go into this game coming off dominant wins as the Dawgs routed Georgia Tech 52-7 and the Tigers mauled Texas A&M 50-7, a team the Bulldogs barely beat the week before 19-13.
Here are the five reasons Georgia will exact some revenge on LSU and throw the playoff picture into disarray.
5 Reasons Why Georgia Will Win the SEC Championship Game
1. The Georgia run defense
Unlike most of the defenses the Tigers' prolific offense has faced this season, the Bulldogs have the teeth in their front seven to put the stops on the Bayou Bengals' ground game. The Junkyard Dogs have the top-rated rush defense in the SEC, holding their opponents to a miserly 71 yards per game on the ground. The Tigers have been held under 100 rushing yards just once this year, gaining 86 yards vs. Mississippi State. Those Maroon Bulldogs are 10th in the SEC in rushing defense. The Georgia Bulldogs are going to sell out to make the Tigers one-dimensional on offense.
2. The Georgia pass defense
... And yes I know that making the Tigers one-dimensional can be a dangerous thing, especially with expected Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow back there flinging it at a ridiculous 78 percent completion rate. But remember this; this also will be the best pass defense that Burrow will face this season. Hands down. The Bulldog blitz isn't crazy dangerous, sitting eighth in the SEC in sacks with 26. But the defensive backfield has been strong, led by safeties J.R. Reed and Richard LeCounte, and the back seven, in general, is going to be the toughest Burrow will face. Also, the Junkyard Dogs will get the services of defensive end Devonte Wyatt back this week, who has 19 QB hurries on the season. Expect him to be a difference-maker for the Bulldogs, who have given up just 8.5 points per game since that double-overtime loss to South Carolina.
3. The LSU defense
On the other side of this equation is what can best be described as the occasionally porous defense of the Tigers. LSU is giving up 345 yards per game, which is ninth in the SEC, and the Bulldogs are giving up just 257, which is the best in the conference. On five occasions, the Purple Gang has surrendered four touchdowns or more in a game, including somehow giving up 38 points to a punchless Vanderbilt offense and 614 yards to a four-win Ole Miss team. Granted, give the devil his due, as the Tigers are coming off their best defensive performance of the season in holding Texas A&M to seven points and just 169 total yards. But Jake Fromm and his friends will be a much different animal, being used to the SEC Championship Game hoopla and hype and the Bulldogs have played really well in this venue the last two years.
4. Jake Fromm and D'Andre Swift are the best QB/RB duo the Tigers have faced
Staying on the Fromm train, this also will be the best quarterback the Tigers have had to deal with, hands down. Tua Tagovailoa was gimpy-at-best in their showdown with Alabama, which crippled the Tide QB's effectiveness. And Swift left the Georgia Tech game with a shoulder injury but head coach Kirby Smart even acknowledged that "he could've returned if we needed him." Though there has been some attrition at wide receiver (Lawrence Cager was lost for the season and freshman George Pickens is suspended for the first half of this game), Fromm completed passes to 10 different receivers vs. Tech, so spreading the wealth will be a strength here. And one more thing we haven't mentioned, the Georgia offensive line is one of the tops in the nation, which is why the Dawgs are third nationally in sacks allowed and also why Swift and fellow running backs Brian Herrien, Zamir White, and the mercurial James Cook have been given great running lanes all season. Most impressively, of the 12 games UGA has played, 11 of them have seen their field general be interception-free.
5. The revenge factor
This is the game that the Bulldogs have been waiting over 13 months for. The last time we saw Georgia play LSU, the Bulldogs were ranked second in the country and traveled to play a day game against the No. 13 Tigers in Death Valley. The Dawgs were favored and looking to maintain their College Football Playoff hopes. As it turns out maybe they were looking at their playoff hopes more than their opponent because the Bulldogs played their worst game of the 2018 season, losing to the Bayou Bengals by a ghastly 36-16 count. Fromm was just 16 of 34 for 209 yards with two interceptions and was sacked four times in that game. Smart and his staff know their charges can play better than that and will be chomping at the bit to make amends for that faceplant last year.
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.