3 keys for Georgia football against LSU in SEC Championship Game
ATHENS — Georgia coach Kirby Smart spent most of the week admiring and praising the one player he has been scheming to tear down on Saturday afternoon.
LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, the SEC’s new single-season passing record holder, the recently named Golden Arm Award winner and the Heisman Trophy front runner, is in the crosshairs.
“He’s got balance, body control, pocket awareness,” Smart said. “Probably when you wrap all those things together, it makes the combination of probably one of the best quarterbacks that I’ve seen, because I’ve seen guys that can run, tons of them.
“Very few that keep their eyes downfield like he does.”
The Tigers’ offense is the envy of the league with its New Orleans Saints’ concepts and Penn State RPO elements.
Smart said he has never seen anything like it.
The video of LSU offense has undoubtedly rolled for hours in Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall.
Smart and the No. 4-ranked Bulldogs (11-1) are plotting to find ways to disrupt Burrow and derail the No. 2-ranked Tigers (12-0) in the 4 p.m. SEC Championship Game on Saturday.
Georgia calls its indoor football facility the “House of Payne,” but Mercedes-Benz Stadium has been another version of such for opposing quarterbacks who have faced Smart’s defenses there.
The last two times the Bulldogs have played in the Atlanta Falcons’ NFL nest, the opposing team’s starting quarterback did not finished the game.
There was Tua Tagovailoa replacing Jalen Hurts in a national championship game, and then Hurts replacing Tagovailoa in last year’s SEC Championship Game.
Georgia doesn’t necessarily need or want to knock out Burrow to be effective, but the Bulldogs have to make him uncomfortable in the pocket.
“He’s calm in the pocket, he extends plays,” Smart said, explaining Burrow’s secrets to success. “When you think you’ve got everything done right, he breaks tackles. I mean, they have a free run of the quarterback. He breaks a tackle and throws a completion.”
Here are the three keys for a Bulldogs’ win over LSU:
Georgia and LSU have several returning players from their last meeting in Baton Rouge, a game the Tigers dominated en route to a 36-16 win.
But the Bulldogs have added some noteworthy pass-rushing weapons since that meeting in the form of outside linebackers Azeez Ojulari, Nolan Smith and Jermaine Johnson.
Freshman defensive lineman Travon Walker has emerged as the season has progressed, making the game-clinching sack at Auburn in the fourth quarter of the 21-14 win.
Senior defensive lineman Tyler Clark is considerably healthier and more effective than last year.
Junior Devonte Wyatt, who was held out of the Georgia Tech game, did not play against LSU last season and has blossomed into a pass-rush threat.
Swift run game
There’s only one D’Andre Swift, and the Bulldogs need the talented junior to continue to carry the run game and provide a much-needed home run threat. Swift, at his best, is as good as any tailback in the nation.
But there have also been times, like last Saturday, and like the Sugar Bowl, where Swift has gone into a fumbling funk. That version of Swift doesn’t do himself or his team any favors, as he has yet to show he can turn things around after a bad start to a game.
Georgia has a deep backfield, but there are no options that measure up to Swift when he’s in his zone. The NFL scouts have seen the best from Swift — and worst. But marquee games like this are often what backs get judged on.
This is a legacy game, and if it’s not a Georgia win, it’s likely Swift’s last game for the Bulldogs. One way or another, it’s a game Swift will be remembered by.
Momentum is such a powerful component in an emotional game like football, and Georgia will need to own that intangible early to pull the upset.
Mercedes-Benz Stadium will have a decidedly red tint about it in the crowd, one secondary ticket broker projecting approximately 70 percent of the crowd to be of the Bulldog persuasion.
But for anyone familiar with LSU’s following, the purple and gold are among the loudest and certainly most festive in the nation, and that 30 percent will make itself known and heard appreciably.
Georgia players, like much-maligned quarterback Jake Fromm, need to hear the Bulldogs’ crowd get behind the team early and find some positive reinforcement.
A Swift breakaway touchdown, a J.R. Reed Pick-6 or perhaps an Ojulari sack and forced fumble, scooped up by Malik Herring.
UGA needs to score first or at least be tied with LSU at halftime to have a chance. Playing catchup against this ring of Tigers is not a desirable scenario.