Everybody thinks we’re gonna win. Vegas thinks it, the national columnists think it, we think it, hell, even Georgia fans think it.
And that is reason enough to be nervous.
Really, how often have things worked out the way they are supposed to for LSU football? Or anything, really? Football, and life, has a way of throwing you a curveball right at the worst possible moment. The moment you think you can’t lose is the moment you do.
I maintain our policy of confidence and we ain’t afraid of nobody. I think we’re getting a screw job from the Playoff Committee but you now what? Who cares? If we’re fortunate enough to make the playoffs, you’re playing a good team no matter what. And the best team will win out regardless.
Besides, that’s a next week problem. Right now, we have a this week problem, and that’s beating Georgia, the #4 team in the country. I don’t care how many people pick LSU to win this thing, Georgia is good, and I’m not counting this as a win until the clock strikes zero with LSU ahead on the scoreboard. Treating this as some layup is the surest way to get dunked on.
This is the best offense in the SEC against the best defense, and up until about three years ago, everyone believed defense wins championships. That alone should give you pause. But there’s also a pretty big gap in how good LSU’s offense is versus Georgia’s defense.
LSU averages 8.08 yards/play in SEC play. Georgia averages 5.54. In LSU’s worst offensive game, it averaged 5.77 yards/play (against Auburn, and we’ll get back to that). Passing the ball, LSU averages 10.5 yards/attempt in SEC play, and has been held under 9 yards/attempt once. Auburn again, at 7.6.
Georgia averages 6.6 yards/pass and cleared LSU’s worst passing game just twice in SEC play, though one of those was 9.3 against Florida. In short, Georgia’s offense, on average, is worse than LSU on literally its worst day. On its best day, Georgia is a little better than LSU on its worst.
The same is not exactly true on defense. Georgia allows 4.23 yards/play in SEC play, far and away the best mark in the SEC. LSU allows 5.50, over a full yard worse. It’s not quite the same as on offense, but there’s a gap.
And the UGA defense has never had a bad day. It’s worst game all year was allowing 5.53 yards/play to Tennessee, just slightly north of LSU’s average. Like offense but in reverse, Georgia’s worst day is LSU’s average.
The difference is, LSU’s defense has simply been all over the map. It allowed 8.65 to Ole Miss and 7.96 to Bama, but also allowed just 4.16 to a good Auburn offense and 2.82 to Texas A&M, a mark better than any Georgia defensive performance in SEC play. At its best, LSU can hang with Georgia. The question is, how do you know which LSU defense will show up?
LSU’s three worst defensive performances came against Ole Miss, Bama, and Texas. All three have mobile quarterbacks which gave the LSU pass rush fits, plus all three had elite receiving treats (Elijah Moore, pretty much the entire Bama receiving corps, and Devin Duvernay, respectively).
Georgia doesn’t have either of those things. Jake Fromm is a pure pocket passer and while Georgia had some elite receiving threats, they won’t be playing in this game due to injury and suspension. OK, George Pickens will play the second half, which leads us to LSU weakness #2.
LSU has the unfortunate habit of letting the guard down in the second half after building a big lead. LSU allows 4.35 yards/pass in the first half and 5.55 in the second. But LSU’s pass defense tends to play poorly in the second half when nursing a big lead, which is already a bad sign for the other team. In close games, like Auburn and Florida, the defense played better in the second half.
The weakness against the run is a bit of a myth. Ole Miss is a massive outlier, rushing for 402, while LSU’s second worst game on rush defense was 145 yards to Vanderbilt. Which sounds bad, but Ke’Shawn Vaughn is pretty darn good, and secondly, over half of his rushing yards came in the first drive.
It’s tough to see Georgia scoring a lot of points against LSU. No, what they want to do is keep LSU’s offensive total to something reasonable and win this on defense and just enough offense. Which brings us back to the Auburn game. Auburn is the one team to at least slow down the LSU scoring machine, so what did they do and can Georgia emulate it?
Temper Your Expectations
First, and most importantly, let’s define slowing down LSU. LSU only scored 23 points against Auburn, which is about what Georgia is going to need to do, but it’s not like they stopped the machine. LSU gained 508 yards on an average of 5.77 yards/play. Burrow threw for over 300 yards, Ja’Marr Chase topped 100 yards receiving, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire rushed for 136.
This leads nicely into the most important point, and the thing you need…
LSU has the second best red zone offense in the nation. The Tigers excel at finishing drives. When they smell blood, like good tigers, they go in for the kill. Except against Auburn. LSU failed in the red zone two of five times. It turned the ball over on downs and kicked a 20-yard field goal.
But more than that, LSU had gobs of wasted yards. Three of its four longest drives, accounting for a total of 28 plays, 158 yards, and 12:15 of clock resulted in zero points. If your plan is to allow a bunch of yards and hope LSU doesn’t turn that into points… well, good luck.
And one of the reasons the offense stalled is that the remnants of a tropical storm rained down on Louisiana before kickoff. The game itself was dry because It Never Rains in Tiger Stadium, but a slick field had its impact. The weather won’t help Georgia in the same way.
LSU fumbled a punt return, gifting Auburn great field position, but also costing LSU’s offense a possession. Joe Burrow threw an interception, something he doesn’t do very often. And LSU failed to convert two different fourth downs.
That’s four turnovers. Auburn responded with one Bo Nix interception but no other turnovers. Georgia ranks 13th in the SEC in forced turnovers. They have forced just 7 turnovers in SEC play with just two interceptions. This is a great defense, but it is not one that commits havoc.
Get to Burrow
Auburn sacked Joe Burrow three times. Not a ton, but all three were in the first quarter when LSU struggled the most. Had Auburn been able to maintain that pressure, they might have eked out a victory.
Auburn has one of the best defensive lines in the nation. Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson make you account for them on every play. Georgia has 15 sacks in SEC play, 8th in the conference. Azeez Ojulari, a freshman linebacker, leads the team with 4.5 sacks. No one else has three. Look, the defensive line isn’t bad, they anchor a solid shutdown defense, but they do not generate pressure like Auburn or Florida does. And they don’t have a guy who can overwhelm the LSU line.
Get Them Complacent
LSU started slow on offense, and that was due to Auburn’s defensive performance. But LSU finished slow as it nursed a 10-point lead that seemed insurmountable. LSU had three fourth quarter possessions, and gained just one first down. LSU went 10 plays for 40 yards, and punted three times. LSU simply couldn’t put the game away.
But do you honestly believe an LSU offense fails to perform in a close game? This offense has shown up in a big way in every clutch situation all year. If the plan to get the offense to stop producing is to get it up two scores… well, you can see the problem right there.
Georgia has a great defense, maybe the best one LSU has faced all year. But Georgia has not faced anything like the LSU offense. And I’m not sure there’s even a roadmap on how to beat it. Teams now try to emulate Auburn and drop a bunch of guy in coverage, but that simply gives Burrow all day to pick you apart and gives CEH holes the size of the Mariana Trench to run through.
It all boils down to this: you have to hope Joe Burrow has a bad day. And this year, that hasn’t happened yet. It probably won’t on Saturday, but… you never know. That’s why they play the games. If anyone is good enough to make LSU make mistakes, it’s the Georgia defense.
LSU should win this game, and that’s what terrifies me.