4:00 PM ET, December 3, 2011
For some experts, the SEC championship game is being considered a minor bump in the road for LSU on its path to the BCS national title game. Some even believe Les Miles' team can still reach the national championship game with a loss.
Georgia knows it doesn't have a BCS title shot, but it would love to be the ones to pull off the upset and spoil the Tigers' perfect season.
Top-ranked LSU looks to win its 11th SEC title and safely secure a berth in the national championship game when it faces the No. 12 Bulldogs on Saturday at the Georgia Dome.
The Tigers (12-0, 8-0) are putting together one of the more remarkable seasons in years, having defeated seven ranked teams, including three that were either No. 2 or 3 at the time of the game. LSU defeated then-No. 3 Arkansas 41-17 last Friday to move to 12-0 for the first time in school history.
Miles believes participating in all the high-profile games, which includes a trip to Alabama in what was billed the Game of the Century and opening the season against Oregon at Cowboys Stadium, will benefit his team at the Georgia Dome.
"To me, we're used to playing in that environment, used to being on the big stages," he said.
The Bulldogs (10-2, 7-1) arrive in Atlanta riding a 10-game winning streak -- their longest single-season winning streak since an 11-0 regular season in 1982 -- but they haven't played the same caliber of opponents as LSU.
Georgia, which opened the season with a loss to then-No. 5 Boise State at the Georgia Dome followed by a 45-42 loss to No. 12 South Carolina, has only faced two ranked foes during its surge. The Bulldogs defeated No. 24 Auburn on Nov. 12 and beat No. 25 Georgia Tech 31-17 last Saturday.
This relatively weak schedule over the last 2 1/2 months is a big reason why Georgia still isn't gaining a lot of respect.
"We've been an underdog ever since those two games we lost," defensive back Branden Smith said. "We're used to it. We believe in ourselves. Even when no one else believed, we still believed. Even though we're an underdog now, we keep believing."
If the Bulldogs were able to pull off the upset and win their 13th SEC title, it might not hurt LSU's BCS title hopes.
The Tigers, who beat Georgia 20-13 in their last meeting in 2009 to snap a three-game losing streak in the series, are considered a favorite to play for the national championship regardless of the result Saturday. Miles, however, doesn't want to take that chance.
"We are so looking forward to playing Georgia. This is what a team sets its sights for at the beginning of the year," he said. "The opportunity that this season gave us, we've taken advantage of to this point. Now it is one to a championship. It is the very next one."
The SEC championship features two of the country's top defenses.
LSU is second in the FBS in total defense (248.4 yards per game) and scoring defense (10.6 points per game), while Georgia is fifth in total defense (271.1) and 10th in scoring (17.8).
The heart and soul of the Tigers' defense is cornerback Tyrann Mathieu. Against the Razorbacks, Mathieu returned a punt 92 yards for a game-tying score, helping LSU bounce back from an early 14-0 deficit, and also forced two fumbles. He has six forced fumbles on the season, and is part of an LSU secondary that has six touchdowns -- the same number of passing touchdowns it has allowed.
"We really want to go undefeated and Georgia is in our way," Mathieu said.
LSU's defensive backs could be tested by Georgia's Aaron Murray.
The sophomore set a school record with 32 touchdown passes and finished second in the SEC with 2,698 yards. The Tigers, however, did manage to effectively shut down the conference's top passer, Arkansas' Tyler Wilson.
LSU's Jordan Jefferson actually outpassed Wilson last week -- 208 yards to 207. It was a rare performance by Jefferson, as the Tigers like to pound the ball on the ground, ranking second in the SEC with an average of 215.8 yards.
Michael Ford has rushed for a team-best 721 yards, Spencer Ware has 687 and Alfred Blue has 445. Ware had eight rushing touchdowns, Ford seven and Blue and Kenny Hilliard each have six, making it the first time in school history LSU has four players with at least six rushing TDs.
"We are fortunate to have a very deep position there and we use them," Miles said of his running back corps.
Georgia is hopeful freshman starting tailback Isaiah Crowell will play after sitting out last week with a left ankle injury. Crowell is fifth in the SEC in rushing with 832 yards, and coach Mark Richt expects him to play.
"Unless there's a setback, I think he will play in the game," Richt said.
LSU is fourth in the nation in rush defense (86.1), and Murray knows it is imperative to establish a run game.
"We really want to be able to run the ball," he said. "I think we need to be able to run the ball against LSU to get the victory and put some points on the board."
Top 25 Overview
Talk about a weird dynamic for an SEC championship game. LSU will probably get a berth in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game whether it wins or loses on Saturday. Georgia is trying to win its first SEC title since 2005 and play its way into the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Both defenses have been stifling. The Tigers are ranked second nationally in total defense and scoring defense. The Bulldogs are ranked fifth nationally in total defense and 10th in scoring defense.
Georgia brings a stout defense to square off against LSU's running attack in the SEC championship game.
|Avg Points Allowed||19.6||10.5|