College football is a game of emotion. And that emotion is tied to moments, both for better and for worse.
Championships are great and fun and all of that, but you don’t live for those year to year, month to month and week to week the way you live for those handful of perfect moments of satisfaction that can come around every so often. If you’re lucky, you get a few of them during a given season.
Billy Cannon on Halloween, Hodson-to-Fuller, Donaldson picks off Florida, the Bluegrass Miracle; these moments didn’t precede championships, but they are etched in the history of LSU lore, right there with Mauck-to-Green or Tyrann Mathieu’s 2011.
And regardless of the ultimate fate of the 2018 Tigers, they gave us one of those moments that will live forever on Saturday, taking down the No. 2 Georgia Bulldogs, 36-16. LSU, picked anywhere from fourth or lower in the SEC West this summer, now sits at 6-1 with five games left to go, three wins over teams that were ranked in the top 10 at kickoff. We have a month and a half left of this roller coaster ride, but so far, it’s been one helluva good time.
So let’s get into how it all happened:
- Coming into this, I suspected that LSU would need to try and shorten the game and lower their own margins to lower Georgia’s. Grind things down, lengthen possessions and use the clock against the Bulldogs. And while that happened after a fashion, Ed Orgeron took it in the other direction, with a calculated aggression based on pace. The Tigers were able to catch the Bulldogs out of position with no-huddle plays a handful of times to produce some big plays, and came into the game with the decision already made that Joe Burrow was to sprint to the line on any fourth down of two or less and look to the sideline for a handful of quick calls.
- The result? Eighty-one plays — not the most Georgia has seen (Mizzou ran 85) — but with no turnovers, very few penalties and a perfect eight-for-eight on red zone trips.
- Meanwhile, LSU’s defense was able to keep Jake Fromm constantly flustered with zone coverage. The pass-rush wasn’t as dynamic as would be ideal, but Fromm was consistently forced into holding the ball. And Dave Aranda did a fantastic job of picking his spots to apply extra pressure.
- What’s funny is this game started out nearly as poorly as it could have for LSU on offense: a three-and-out, including a third down sack, when pass-rush had been a weakness for Georgia all season. Adrian Magee got the start at left guard, but allowed D’Andre Walker to get underneath him to push through to get to Burrow. He held the ball a bit long on the play, but the pocket collapsed quickly. Magee also was beaten on the opening run.
- And then Georgia nearly doubled down on that ideal start, isolating Mecole Hardman on Grant Delpit one on one, and getting him wide open down the field only for Fromm to miss him. It would have been a sure-fire touchdown, so as out-of-hand as this game would get, it’s important to keep those margins in mind.
- Former (?) cornerback Jontre Kirklin got some pub last week as a player Orgeron hoped to get involved in the offensive gameplan, and he made it on the field on LSU’s second possession and picked up a few yards on a bubble screen.
- But a more noticeable addition to the lineup on the Tigers’ second drive was freshman Chasen Hines at left guard, in place of Magee. He hit a nice block early on, completely mauling a blitzing linebacker on Nick Brossette’s 12-yard gain.
- Burrow throws a dime of a pass to Terrace Marshall Jr. for a 37-yard game, holding the safety with a play-action fake and then dropping the ball right over the tight coverage. And Marshall did a great job of working to stay under the ball.
- The drive ended in a field goal, but between the big pass and a couple of nice runs, LSU was at least able to establish that they could move the ball on a strong Bulldog defense.
- Georgia asserts themselves on the next drive with a couple of strong runs, including an extremely well-timed draw play to D’Andre Swift that picked up 18. Guard Cade Mays and center Lamont Gaillard were doing a great job of getting to the second level to block Devin White and Jacob Phillips. All-in-all, Georgia ran for 71 of their 113 yards on this drive.
- LSU’s defensive line stood up on the Bulldogs’ last run, with Breiden Fehoko eating up two blockers while Glen Logan stacked up the tackle and held the edge to hold Swift to a one-yard gain. Fromm missed the next two passes, and then Kirby Smart was...not so much.
- Here’s the thing — having a fake field goal in the gameplan isn’t a bad idea when you know points may be at a premium. Especially when you see LSU put its star safety and cornerback on the edge, presumably going all-out for the block. But on fourth and nine you’re basically asking a very skinny kicker to pick up 16 yards (with the snap distance included). So the fake has to not only work, it has to REALLY work.
- And it doesn’t, because Delpit makes an All-American caliber play: he rushes and engages a block but reads the fake almost instantly and bails into the flat. He takes a half a beat to look if the releasing tight end is covered, and then smartly breaks down and squares up Rodrigo Blankenship. He maintains leverage for his pursuit, and even manages to reach back and get a hand on the ball.
- LSU makes Georgia pay for the mistake quickly with Clyde Edwards-Helaire ripping off 47 yards:
- The Bulldogs bring a safety from the boundary, but slant away from the direction of LSU’s run call. Edwards-Helaire hits the hole hard and has the third-down conversion pretty easily, but the safety hesitates just a hair. An uncovered Damien Lewis gets a strong second level block, Edwards-Helaire shakes through the tackle and there was nothing but green grass. A timely ankle tackle from J.R. Reed is all that saves the touchdown.
- Ensminger used jet-sweep motion a few times to try and get Georgia’s linebackers out of their gaps a few times, and it very nearly gets Brossette into the endzone on a zone play. He may have very well been in — his head and shoulders certainly crossed the line — but there was no way to credibly overturn the call.
- Luckily, Ensminger makes the smartest call in almost any short-yardage situation: the quarterback sneak. Lewis fires out low on the defensive tackle, the linebackers go high but Burrow just follows his guard right in. This should be one of the more automatic calls in the playbook.
- There’s something to be said for how a team responds to adversity, and for Georgia’s first real piece of it, the Bulldogs immediately went three and out on each of their next three possessions following the failed fake field goal.
- And then on LSU’s next possession, a coverage bust of some sort results in a 50-yard gain to Justin Jefferson:
- It looks like Tyson Campbell either believed he was supposed to blitz on the play, or he jumped on the play-fake like whoa. The safety Reed realizes that the play is in trouble immediately, as he’s in no position to get to the streaking Jefferson. Burrow starts out to his left before spotting Jefferson — had he seen him sooner, this might’ve been a touchdown.
- UGA’s defensive line blew up a third-down screen to Brossette that might’ve scored on both of the Tigers’ field goal drives in the second quarter. The rest of the defense was fooled, but a lineman or linebacker in both instances found a way to jam Brossette and keep him from getting out behind his blocking. Not sure if that’s a sign that he’s tipping his move a little quick or what, but something for the staff to look at.
- The Tigers’ tempo busts UGA on fourth-and-one for another nice run by Edwards-Helaire when the defense gets misaligned and creates a huge bubble:
- Saahdiq Charles turns his guy out and Hines has a free release up to the linebacker. Edwards-Helaire spins out of a tackle at about five yards and gets LSU back in the redzone. Per this unofficial accounting from Cody Worsham, LSU racked up 207 yards on 20 tempo plays: 11 runs for 119 yards, plus 6-of-9 completions for 88 yards from Burrow.
- Still, when this game as 16-0 at half, with LSU more than doubling up the Bulldogs on yardage, it was hard not to think “this game should be at least 24-0 and we could be in trouble quickly.” As a general rule, you don’t win games with field goals. You DO, however, often win them if you make eight trips inside the other teams 20 and at least get some points on all eight of those possessions.
- I’d also like to note that as a rule, I also despise using the shotgun in short-yardage situations, but LSU made it work in this game because Georgia was all too happy to spread the field with them and acquiesce inside. Lloyd Cushenberry continues to have an All-SEC caliber season as well for the Tigers, which helps.
- Georgia’s Jim Chaney is a very streaky play-caller, but he had a nice script to open the second half for UGA, with a couple of quick-hitters and a well-timed, max-protect play-action pass to Riley Ridley. But a couple of huge rushes from Michael Divinity help stall the drive out for a field goal: right after crossing midfield, he explodes off the edge to bring the right tackle wide and keeps him from from escaping when Logan beats the guard inside; then on third down from the LSU 23, Divinity explodes from the field, gets the left tackle off balance, then spins him off and closes on Fromm.
- LSU’s next drive doesn’t yield points, but it manages to eat up more than three minutes, cross midfield and then pin the Bulldogs inside the five with a fantastic Josh Growden punt. On first down, Delpit nearly makes an amazing interception with an athletic leap backwards into a passing lane. Two plays later, Kristian Fulton seals the deal with a diving pick of his own. Fromm’s throw is low and a little too far inside, and Fulton gets down and cradles the ball. If this ball hits the ground in any way, it’s pretty hard to tell and Fulton definitely has his hands under it and scoops it into his stomach.
- Tigers can’t quite convert it into the touchdown though. DeAndre Baker breaks up an attempted fade to Sullivan, and then on third and four Derrick Dillon gets knocked down off what would have likely been an open corner route.
- And it looks like Georgia is about to make things interesting. Isaac Nauta gets behind White on a wheel route, and Ridley draws a terrible DPI call on Greedy (especially in light of what happened on LSU’s last possession). Fromm converts a big third down on a nice scramble pass to Swift, and then the Georgia line lives up to its reputation and just blows LSU’s front off of the ball to get Holyfield a big hole. And he drags Fulton and Todd Harris into the endzone with ease.
- Delpit and White step up on the two-point conversion though, with 9 slicing into the backfield on the reverse action to force Swift to keep the ball (on what appears to be a reverse option pass back to Fromm), and 40 tracking him down wide.
- LSU would go three-and-out with Burrow throwing a pair of near interceptions. Mecole Hardman breaks off a 27-yard return and it looks like all of the game’s momentum is swinging to the visitors’ side. And the Tiger defense forces a three-and-out, punctuated by a Jacoby Stevens sack:
- Tigers rush four against a six-man protection but bring Stevens late, meaning the Bulldogs had four receivers against seven in coverage. The defensive line occupies all five UGA linemen, Jacob Phillips and White undercut two crossing routes, and forcing Fromm to hesitate and then scramble away from his dominant side, giving Stevens enough time to track him down.
- And then the offense replays that stand with a six-play, 86-yard scoring drive, featuring some great sequencing by Ensminger. The drive starts with a 19-yard gain by Edwards-Helaire off a jet fake, with huge blocks from Tory Carter, Foster Moreau and Charles to set the edge. Right back with a wide-open play-action pass to Carter in the flat, and then a beauty of a 36-yard bomb to Jefferson. When the ball left Burrow’s hand, it looked like a sure-fire pick from my seat, but he dropped it right in front of the safety and Jefferson did an amazing job tracking the ball in.
- Charles, Moreau and Carter again create a huge lane for Edwards-Helaire on a toss play. that sets up another Burrow sneak.
- Moreau pins the end down, Charles pulls around and Carter kicks out a linebacker beautifully. Some great downfield blocking by Marshall as well.
- Georgia makes its final big gaffe: Hardman gets greedy on a shorter kickoff and takes it out of the endzone. Patrick Queen makes great contact inside the 15. Hardman bounces off but Ed Paris gets a hand on the ball and pops it lose. And how about kicker Avery Atkins getting down by the pile and reaching in to grab the loose ball?
- This was probably the first point I really started to feel comfortable with the lead. Even with the offense just kicking another field goal, 29-9 with less than seven and a half minutes to go? All LSU had to do was let the clock do his job, and keep Georgia from scoring quickly. So naturally, the Bulldogs are able to go 75 yards in five plays, with Ridley catching a nice back-shoulder throw on Greedy, and then completely shaking Battle on a post route for a touchdown.
- But then Burrow ices the game:
- LSU calls the zone-read often enough to really lull teams to sleep with it, so Burrow’s keeps have had a lot of impact to date. Here the entire Georgia front collapses on Brossette, Burrow makes the right read and then melts poor Richard LeCounte into a small pool of regret as he takes off for 59 yards — doing a great job of holding on to the ball as defenders caught up to him.
This was as complete of a victory as anybody could expect. The offense and defense took turns making big plays at big moments to set each other up AND bail each other out, while special teams did its job and added a plus-five field position advantage. And now the Tigers will have to prepare to do it again with another set of Bulldogs coming to town. Still, it would be hard to script a more satisfying victory.