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SEC Championship - LSU 42 … Georgia 10
Posted Dec 4, 2011

The Bulldog are on a roll, but will it matter against the red-hot Tigers?

2011 SEC Championship

Week 14, Georgia vs. LSU

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National Rankings
34th Total Offense 62nd
5th Total Defense 2nd
25th Scoring Offense 13th
10th Scoring Defense 2nd
36th Rushing Offense 18th
6th Run Defense 4th
47th Passing Offense 100th
11th Passing Defense 6th
15th Turnover Margin 1st
Position Rankings
relative to each other
5 Highest - 1 Lowest
G   W
5 Quarterbacks 3.5
4 RBs 4
3 Receivers 4
3.5 O Line 5
4.5 D Line 5
4.5 Linebackers 4.5
4.5 Secondary 5
3 Spec Teams 5
4 Coaching 5
Dec. 3 LSU 42 … Georgia 10

CFN Analysis: LSU deserves to be the national champion based on the regular season. No one else deserves to even play for the title now. … However, the best team in college football should come up with a first down in the first half. … Jordan Jefferson will have to do better than 5-of-13 for 30 yards and a touchdown in the BCS championship. … Actually, maybe he doesn’t. The LSU O line is KILLING everyone, while the defense and special teams are picking up the slack. … Tyrann Mathieu deserves Heisman consideration, and Morris Claiborne might be the best defensive back in the country, but the defense revolves around the tremendous defensive tackles. Michael Brockers and Bennie Logan belong in the NFL right now.

CFN Analysis: Georgia had several chances early to get up big, but the dropped passes and mistakes proved costly. The Dawgs should’ve been up 21-0 in the first quarter. … Aaron Murray was better than the 16-of-40, 163-yard, one score, two pick stat line. … Georgia held on to the ball for 36:36, but LSU still wore down the Dawg defensive front. … Tyrann Mathieu might have returned a punt for a score, but Drew Butler had a strong game averaging close to 52 yards per boot and putting three inside the 20. The offense didn’t take advantage of the field position.

(AP) ATLANTA -- The "Honey Badger" doesn't care when his team struggles.

He just takes what he wants.

In this case, it's a trip to the national championship game.

Tyrann Mathieu turned in an MVP performance when the No. 1 Tigers needed him most. He ran back a punt 62 yards for a touchdown, set up another score with a fumble recovery and finally finished off Georgia (No. 14 BCS, No. 12 AP) with his best play yet -- a whirling dervish of a return that led to the decisive TD in a 42-10 victory in the Southeastern Conference title game Saturday.

LSU (13-0) advanced to a spot in the BCS Championship Game in New Orleans, just 75 miles from its Baton Rouge campus. The Tigers' opponent will be announced Sunday night, but SEC West rival and No. 2 Alabama -- already beaten by the Tigers 9-6 in overtime a month ago -- had the inside track even though it didn't win its division.

The Crimson Tide will have to deal with a fearless sophomore who has the country's best nickname, and is an even better player.

"Last night, I envisioned me having three touchdowns," Mathieu said. "I think I came close to that. It comes down to me trying to do what I can for my team."

His moniker stems from a humorous YouTube video that supposedly depicts the world's fiercest animal ("Honey Badger don't care, he just takes what he wants," the narrator says). Defensive coordinator John Chavis showed the 5-foot-9, 175-pound player the clip on the way back from a victory at West Virginia, believing it fit Mathieu perfectly.

No argument there.

"My teammates love the name, and I think it depicts me on the field," Mathieu said. "I just go with it. My teammates do a great job having my back. Anything I can do to help those guys, lift their spirits, I'll do it. I think the Honey Badger does that sometimes."

The Bulldogs (10-3) raced to a 10-0 lead that could've been even bigger if they hadn't dropped a pair of potential touchdown passes in the first quarter. LSU looked downright awful on offense, going three-and-out on all seven of its possessions before halftime.

The Tigers didn't even have one first down, finishing the half with just 12 total yards.

But, thanks to Mathieu, the deficit was only 10-7 when the teams went to the locker room. He fielded a punt at his own 38, found an opening and was gone -- all the way to the end zone for his second punt return for a touchdown in as many weeks. He had a 92-yarder that sparked a win over Arkansas.

Well, almost to the end zone. A replay showed Mathieu flipped the ball to an official just before he crossed the goal line, but no one on the field caught the blunder.

"I'll have to remember not to do that next time," he said with a smile.

That was long forgotten by the time he was done. On Georgia's first possession of the second half, quarterback Aaron Murray tried to scramble for a first down but had the ball knocked loose just before he hit the turf.

Mathieu was there to fall on it at the Bulldogs 26 for his fifth fumble recovery of the season.

LSU quickly seized its first lead. The Tigers finally picked up a first down before freshman Kenny Hilliard broke off a 15-yard run for the first of his three touchdowns. Normally, that would've been more than enough to win the game's MVP award. Not even close on this day.

Mathieu dropped back to receive another punt. About the only thing the Bulldogs managed to do was keep him out of the end zone. He cradled the ball, took off down the center of the field, cut back to his left, stutter-stepped and turned on a burst of speed, basically came to a stop around the Georgia 30, then took off again and was finally dragged down at the 17.

He avoided or broke away from at least eight of the 11 red-clad guys trying to bring him down, a Heisman-worthy play that could be enough to at least get him to New York for the banquet -- if not earn serious consideration for the award as the nation's top player. Certainly, no defensive player has come up with more game-changing plays.

"As the conference champion in the SEC and being one of the key players on that team, I think he needs real consideration," coach Les Miles said. "He's a special player. He has a special place."

Georgia would certainly be willing to send a letter of recommendation. Mathieu essentially ruined any chance of the Bulldogs -- a 13½-point underdog -- pulling off an upset that would've shaken up the race for No. 1.

"I enjoy watching him play football except when he plays against us." Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "You appreciate the way he plays. There's just something about him. He finds a way to do something special just about every game. He did it again today."

Mathieu has scored four touchdowns this season -- two on returns, two more from his cornerback spot. He's forced six fumbles. He's picked off two passes. He's the leading tackler on one of the nation's top defenses.

"I respect him a lot, especially with me being a return guy," Georgia's Brandon Boykin said. "That turned the momentum of the game."

LSU took control with a 21-point third quarter, coming back from a double-digit deficit for the second week in a row and leaving little doubt that it's the best team in country heading into bowl season. The only other unbeaten team, Houston, was blown out in the Conference USA championship game Saturday. All the other top teams have at least one loss.

The Tigers have knocked off five teams in The Associated Press' current Top 25 -- including three of the top eight. They'll still have to win one more game to claim the BCS title, but they could still be voted No. 1 in the final AP poll, no matter what happens Jan. 9 in the Big Easy.

Miles, at least for public consumption, said he looks forward to a rematch with the Tide, a game that will ensure the SEC of its sixth straight national champion.

"I would certainly understand if college football decides it should be two SEC teams playing for the national championship," he said. "It's a very special conference with very special teams."

SEC East champion Georgia came into the game on a 10-game winning streak, and the Bulldogs showed no fear of LSU in the early going. Murray connected with Tavarres King on a 44-yard pass and could've had a TD when a pass across the middle went through King's hands. They settled for Blair Walsh's 40-yard field goal.

Knowing he would have to throw caution to the wind, Richt called an onside kick that worked to perfection. Walsh bounced the ball off the turf and high into the air. Alec Ogletree soared in to grab it beyond the necessary 10 yards, giving the Bulldogs another possession.

They should've scored a touchdown. Instead, they wound up with nothing. Freshman Malcolm Mitchell dropped a pass right in his hands at the LSU 5 with no one around, and Walsh missed a 45-yard try.

But LSU couldn't do anything with the ball. The Tigers' longest play in the first half was 9 yards. Eleven of their 21 plays went for zero or negative yards. Outside of Mathieu, punter Brad Wing was LSU's best weapon, averaging 54.1 yards on his first seven punts.

Both offenses stalled in the second quarter, managing a grand total of 2 yards -- 1 for each team. Georgia went to the locker room with a commanding 135-12 lead in total yards, but certainly a sense it had missed its chance to put away an LSU team that had outscored Arkansas 41-3 after falling into an early 14-0 hole.

Hilliard scored on a 4-yard run after Mathieu's second long return to make it 21-10, essentially enough to finish off the Bulldogs, but the freshman runner then hauled in an 8-yard touchdown pass for good measure.

The Tigers romped in the final period. Alfred Blue broke off a 48-yard touchdown run and Morris Claiborne returned an interception 45 yards for the final score. LSU won even though Jordan Jefferson completed only five passes and the offense totaled a mere 237 yards.

Murray had a miserable day, completing just 16 of 40 for 163 yards with two interceptions. Georgia's running game was non-existent with Isaiah Crowell hobbling on a sore ankle. The freshman had only 15 yards on 10 carries.

The Bulldogs will likely settle for a trip to the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla.

Mathieu has a bigger goal in mind.

He doesn't care what it takes to get there.

"There's a part of Tyrann Mathieu that's definitely the Honey Badger," Miles said. "On the football field, he takes what he wants."

Georgia (10-2) vs. LSU (12-0) Dec. 3rd, 4:00, CBS

Try to explain the SEC and national title situation to someone who doesn’t know anything about college football.

This is the SEC championship.


So the winner is the best team in the conference, right?

If it’s LSU, yes, if it’s Georgia, sort of.

What happens if LSU loses?

It’ll play for the national championship.

But it won’t be the best team in its own conference, so why won’t Georgia play for the national title?

It lost twice.

But it’ll be the SEC champion.


So who will LSU play in the national championship?


Isn’t Alabama in the SEC?


So Georgia will have won the SEC championship, which is supposed to determine who the best team in the conference is, but two other teams who weren’t good enough to win the league title, including one team that wasn’t even good enough to even play for it, will play for the national championship?

You’ve got it.

That doesn’t make any sense.

Welcome to the 2011 college football season.

The 2008 and 2009 Florida vs. Alabama battles for the SEC title were like national championships, and the Auburn blowout over South Carolina last year helped finalize the BCS championship matchup. This year, the game is more of an exercise. It’s a glorified scrimmage that won’t really determine too much, because either LSU will win and will go on to play – in all likelihood – Alabama for the national title, or Georgia will win, and LSU will go on to play Alabama for the national title. Meanwhile, thanks to a quirky BCS rule that goes against the rule that only three teams from one conference can play in the BCS, if Georgia wins, it’ll take the SEC’s automatic spot in Sugar Bowl, and LSU and Alabama could still play in the BCS championship if they each finish in the top two in the final BCS standings.

All the crazy theoretical discussions can quickly disappear if LSU does what it’s supposed to do. The Tigers have been the best team in America all season long thanks to three wins over teams – Oregon, Arkansas, and Alabama – who were ranked in the top three. The LSU defense has been a brick wall, allowing 11 points or fewer in nine games, and technically keeping the Arkansas offense to ten points last week with a Hog touchdown coming from the defense. The Tigers have risen to every challenge and have put on a clinic week after week, with the only drama outside of the Alabama overtime win coming against West Virginia, before pulling away late for a 47-21 win.

A win would be LSU’s first SEC title since 2007 and would be the fourth since the start of the SEC championship game. The Tigers beat Georgia in 2003 on the way to the national title, but got rolled by the Dawgs 34-13 in the 2005 title game.

Since Georgia’s 2005 title win, it’s been an interesting run for head coach Mark Richt.

He has had teams with enough playmakers to win the SEC title, and his 2008 team had the talent to win the national championship, but the rise of Florida into an elite of the elite superpower, and South Carolina’s great run last year, has made it a long five seasons since the last SEC championship appearance. After going 14-14 over 2009, 2010, and the first two games of this season, Richt was on the hottest of hot seats that would only cool off with a great string of wins. Ten victories later, and Richt has a shot at the SEC title.

Of course, it was a giant help that Georgia didn’t have to face the three best teams in the SEC – LSU, Alabama and Georgia – in the regular season, and it was a plus that the SEC East was miserable, but 10-2 is 10-2, and for everyone who dogged the Dawg schedule, here’s the chance. There’s no ducking LSU now.

It’s the weirdest SEC championship game in its now-fabled history. Will it be a coronation or chaos?

Why Georgia Might Win: LSU has faced two quarterbacks who could throw – West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson – and it has faced a couple of nasty defenses, but it hasn’t had to deal with both in the same game. Georgia’s Aaron Murray is the best passing quarterback the Tigers have played so far, while the Dawg defense is the second best on the LSU schedule behind Alabama’s.

Just when it seemed like the Georgia D was only looking great because it faced no one with an offense since the losses to Boise State and a fully functional South Carolina in early September, it flexed its muscle a bit by rising up and slowing down the Georgia Tech ground game, allowing a better-than-it-looks 243 yards and two scores in the surprisingly easy win.

The Georgia pass rush is among the best and the most aggressive in the country, with the ability to get into the backfield from all angles and all positions. LSU’s offensive line has been a rock, but the passing game isn’t good enough or sophisticated enough to deal with any sort of pressure. Jordan Jefferson was a terrific decision maker against Arkansas, but he’s not exactly Aaron Rodgers when it comes to pushing the ball throw the eye of a needle. He’s a baller, and the more the Dawgs can get him moving, the better. The Georgia linebackers have the speed to keep him contained.

Why LSU Might Win: Yeah, the Georgia defense has looked terrific, but outside of the Georgia Tech running game, it hasn’t dealt with an offense with a pulse in a long, long time. When New Mexico State is the best statistical offense a team has played since the opener, the schedule is a tad light.

No, LSU isn’t going to wing the ball all over the yard, and no, it’s not going crank out 500 yards and make it a shootout, but what they will do is pound away on a Georgia front four that hasn’t been slugged in the mouth all year. Georgia Tech’s offensive line is good, but it’s not going to steamroll over anyone. Florida, Auburn, and Mississippi State were supposed to be able to pound away this year, but didn’t. Georgia has to prove it can hold up for a full four quarters, and it can’t assume that any early success will carry over. There’s a reason LSU dominated West Virginia in the fourth quarter, and tore up Arkansas in the second half, and has come taken control in game after game. The big, talented offensive line has been wearing everyone down, and unless Georgia comes up with a steady rotation of several players to keep everyone fresh, it’ll suffer the same fate as everyone else.

LSU has also found away to use several backs to keep everyone healthy and everyone spry. Against Arkansas, Spencer Ware pounded away here, and Kenny Hilliard ripped off big runs there. Michael Ford averaged 8.7 yards per carry, and Jordan Jefferson was able to take off for 53 yards. The Tiger ground game never, ever wears down.

And then there’s the defense.

LSU stuffed the Oregon ground game, and kept Arkansas under wraps. The mediocre offenses on the slate haven’t done anything, and no one has been able to put points on the board on a regular basis. LSU isn’t going to give up a slew of big plays and it’s not going to allow more than 20 points. Georgia needs to be perfect to have any sort of a shot, but LSU is No. 1 in the nation in turnover margin, and while being 110th in the nation in red zone defense might seem awful, LSU has allowed just 21 drives to get inside the 20. Only Alabama has allowed fewer – 17.

What To Watch Out For: If everything goes according to form, and if the defenses play up their potential and talent, this isn’t going to be a high-scoring shootout. The punters should take center stage, and that means it’s time for Georgia’s Drew Butler to regain his form.

One of the best punters in the nation over the last few years, he won the Ray Guy Award in 2009, blasting away for 48.1 yards per kick, and was a runner-up in 2010 averaging 44.5 yards per boot with 19 kicks put inside the 20. He hasn’t been bad this year with 16 kicks put inside the 20 and a solid 43-yard average, but against LSU he has to be great. Arkansas was able to stay in the game early on last week by tipping the field to LSU’s side, and while the Tiger offense has proven it can go on long marches, Georgia has to win the field position battle.

Georgia’s punt return game has been mediocre, and it has to be great to counteract Brad Wing, one of the stars on a star-studded, national title-level team. The Australian is most famous for getting nailed with a showboating penalty on a fake punt for a score against Florida, but he’s been a weapon who deserves All-America honors for his role in helping out the defense. He’s averaging 43 yards per kick, just like Butler, but he has 21 kicks put inside the 20 and time after time he has changed games by changing the field position with one kick. If he’s having a good game, Georgia is in trouble.

This game, though, will all come down to Aaron Murray. The Georgia sophomore has had a phenomenal season considering A.J. Green has been busy this year tearing up the NFL. Murray has been better as the season has gone on, finishing with 32 touchdown passes and ten picks, with three coming in the win over Mississippi State. He threw for four scoring passes or more in three of the last four games, while doing a terrific job of spreading the ball around to all his options. Nine different receivers caught passes against Georgia Tech, eight players caught passes against Kentucky, and seven receivers got the ball against Auburn. Against LSU, he has to be perfect and he has to be sharp. He’ll have to handle the LSU pass rush by getting the ball out of his hands in a hurry, and he has to avoid the killer, game-changing turnover that LSU is so great at coming up with.

What Will Happen: LSU has found ways to rise to every occasion by being more physical when it has to be, more athletic when needed, and more explosive when it has the chance. The formula is simple. Don’t turn the ball over, run hard for a full four quarters, and let the defense take care of the rest. The Tiger offense has to manufacture 21 points. If it can do that, it’ll be off to the national championship with ease. However, Georgia has nothing to lose. It’s gravy time, and while winning the SEC title would sweet, there’s really no pressure and it can relax and take a few chances. The Dawgs won’t fold and they won’t get blown away, but they’re about to play the best team in America.

CFN Prediction: LSU 34 … Georgia 16
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