The stakes are always high in the SEC Championship, and that’s exactly the case once again as Georgia and LSU meet to decide the conference title on Saturday afternoon in Atlanta. The Bulldogs ranked No. 4 in the latest CFB Playoff rankings and need a win to secure a spot in the top four. Barring a major surprise, the Tigers are locked into the CFB Playoff but still have a shot at the No. 1 overall seed with an impressive performance against Georgia. Additionally, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow would likely clinch the Heisman Trophy with a standout performance in this game.
For the third consecutive year, Georgia has won at least 11 games and entered the final weekend of the regular season with a chance to book a trip to the CFB Playoff. Coach Kirby Smart has elevated this program into the national championship discussion during that span, and a win on Saturday would book the Bulldogs into the playoff for the second time in three years. The path to Atlanta hasn’t necessarily been a smooth one for Georgia. The Bulldogs have been sluggish at times on offense, lost to South Carolina 20-17 and held off late rallies by Notre Dame, Auburn and Texas A&M to pick up marquee victories.
Thanks to the development of a high-powered offense, along with the emergence of quarterback Joe Burrow, LSU has ended the state of Alabama’s run atop the SEC West. Alabama or Auburn represented the division every year from 2012-18. However, the Tigers took control of the division with a road win in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 9, which helped to cap a perfect 12-0 regular season. Coach Ed Orgeron has pushed all of the right buttons since taking over as the program on a full-time basis in 2017. LSU is now 60 minutes from its first SEC Championship since 2011.
LSU holds a 17-13-1 series edge over Georgia. The Tigers have won three out of the last four meetings against the Bulldogs. Saturday’s matchup is the fourth time Georgia and LSU have met in the SEC Championship. The Tigers hold a 2-1 edge in those games.
SEC Championship: Georgia vs. LSU
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 7 at 4 p.m. ET
Spread: LSU -7
When Georgia Has the Ball
Considering the firepower and ability of LSU’s offense to put up points in a hurry, Georgia’s offense will have to help its defense out on Saturday afternoon. The Bulldogs have arguably the nation’s top offensive line, and with a deep stable of running backs in place, controlling the clock and flow of the game could be crucial to pulling off the upset. Time of possession isn’t an important statistic for determining the quality of a team, but it’s notable Georgia ranks second in the SEC at 32:45 a contest. Simply, the Bulldogs have to limit the possessions by LSU’s offense and keep this game a lower-scoring contest to have a shot at victory.
Running back D’Andre Swift was injured in last week’s win over Georgia Tech, but the junior appears to be on track to play on Saturday. Having a healthy Swift is crucial for Georgia’s hopes of an upset. The junior is a threat to score every time he touches the ball, averaging 6.23 yards per rush and collecting seven scores and 1,203 yards on 193 attempts this season. Brian Herrien (466 yards), Zamir White (311) and James Cook (153) could also be deployed on the ground on Saturday. LSU’s rush defense ranks fourth in the SEC, holding teams to just 124.5 yards a game. Additionally, the Tigers are giving up just 3.7 yards per carry. A deeper look at the numbers shows LSU is even better than the numbers would suggest. If you take out the 402 yards allowed against Ole Miss, the Tigers are holding teams to 99.3 yards a game on the ground.
Georgia’s passing attack has experienced an uneven 2019 season and will be shorthanded on Saturday. Top target Lawrence Cager is out for the year due to an ankle injury suffered in practice prior to last week’s game, and talented freshman George Pickens is suspended for the first half. Fellow freshman Dominick Blaylock and Demetris Robertson, Tyler Simmons and tight end Eli Wolf are tasked with picking up the slack on the outside for quarterback Jake Fromm. The junior’s numbers are down compared to last season but still has 2,385 passing yards and 21 touchdowns to just three picks. With a shorthanded receiving corps, Fromm’s task of moving the ball against LSU’s secondary – ranked No. 2 in the SEC in pass efficiency defense – isn’t going to be easy.
When LSU Has the Ball
LSU’s rise to one of the favorites to win it all in 2019 started with the addition of Joe Burrow at quarterback prior to last season. The Ohio State transfer had a solid debut in 2018 and seemed to get better with every snap, including big-time performances at the end of the year against Texas A&M and UCF. However, Burrow’s play really took off with the addition of assistant Joe Brady from the Saints. Brady has teamed with play-caller Steve Ensminger to build one of the nation’s top offenses. LSU leads the SEC in scoring (48.7 ppg), averages 7.9 yards per snap and ranks first in the conference with 13 plays of 50 yards or more in 2019.
No defense has been able to figure out a way to slow down LSU’s offense this season. Burrow has passed for 4,366 yards and 44 touchdowns and completed a staggering 78.3 percent of his throws. Even when he only threw for 293 yards against Florida, LSU still won 42-28. Additionally, when Auburn utilized a three-man front and extra defensive backs in the 23-20 matchup in Baton Rouge, Burrow still threw for 321 yards. The senior is the perfect fit for this attack and boasts one of the nation’s best receiving corps. Ja’Marr Chase is likely to earn first-team All-America honors after ending the regular season with 70 catches for 1,457 yards and 17 scores. Justin Jefferson (1,092 yards on 81 catches), Terrace Marshall (32) and tight end Thaddeus Moss (36) will also factor prominently into the mix on Saturday afternoon.
LSU’s offense isn’t just an aerial display. Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire might be one of the nation’s most underrated players. The junior excels at being a safety valve (43 catches) out of the backfield and paces the offense with 1,233 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns.
Georgia’s defense is likely to be one of the toughest groups LSU has faced in 2019. The Bulldogs lead the SEC in scoring defense (10.4 ppg) and are giving up only 4.1 yards per snap. Smart’s defense has allowed only one rushing score in 12 games and is limiting teams to just 2.5 yards per rush. Georgia also leads the SEC in pass efficiency defense and has allowed the fewest plays of 30 yards or more (eight) in the SEC. It’s a simple concept, but tackling is going to be an important x-factor to watch. The Bulldogs can’t allow short passes over the middle of the field to become 60-yard touchdowns. Generating a negative play on first or second down, eliminating missed tackles and finding a takeaway or two will be crucial for Georgia’s defense.
The SEC Championship should be the most intriguing matchup of the Power 5 conference title games. With an impressive victory, LSU could help its case to pass Ohio State for the No. 1 seed in the playoff. For Georgia, it has to win this game to make the CFB Playoff. Recent trends suggest this game won’t be close, as five out of the last six SEC Championship contests have been decided by 14 points or more. The formula for Georgia to end that trend is simple: Run the ball, control the clock, generate a few negative plays on defense and don’t allow big plays to LSU’s high-powered offense. If the Tigers control the pace of the game and jump out to an early lead, Orgeron’s team will cruise to a victory. The guess here is Georgia’s defense wins a few battles, but it’s not enough in the end. LSU completes the 13-0 season and wins its first SEC Championship since 2011.