BATON ROUGE – The question coming in was if No. 2 Georgia could stand up to the heat of a marquee opponent on the road. The answer was the Bulldogs melted like a King Cake left out in the mid-day sun.
First, their coach had a meltdown, then the rest of the team followed suit as No. 12 LSU (6-1, 3-1 SEC) rocked the previously undefeated Bulldogs 36-16 before a sellout crowd of 102,321 at Tiger Stadium.
It was Georgia’s first visit to Death Valley since 2008. So it was a rare regular-season matchup between these two SEC power-brokers, as the presence of 20,000 or so Georgia fans suggested. Turns out they came all this way to see their Bulldogs fall to 5-6-1 all time on LSU’s field. A chance at redemption won’t come until 2030.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart didn’t do them any favors. The tough-minded, no-nonsense coach stepped out of character in the first quarter and never could get his team back on track.
After calling 10 straight run plays to gash LSU’s defense and drive all the way to the Tigers’ 14, Georgia flinched and called back-to-back passes. Those went incomplete – as most would Saturday – but Georgia had one of the nation’s most dependable place-kickers in Rodrigo Blankenship to turn to for a 31-yard field goal try.
He never tried it.
On fourth-and-9, Georgia ran a fake. Holder Jake Camarda flipped the ball over his head to Blankenship, who ran it around right end. Only he had nowhere to go. Safety Grant Delpit had it sniffed out all the way. Needing nine, Blankenship was brought down after two, and LSU was back in business with a 3-0 lead.
The Tigers made good on it, too. They put together a 12-play, 84-yard scoring drive, highlighted by Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s 47-yard run on third-and-1 at midfield. It took a fourth-down sneak from inches away by Joe Burrow, but in a matter of minutes the game had turned to 10-0.
Georgia’s defense did well to limit the Tigers to two more field goals the rest of the half. The Bulldogs were doubled-up in yardage, 246 to 124, as sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm and his receivers connect on only 5 of his 16 passes. That Georgia punted away on fourth-and-5 at its 48 with 45 seconds remaining in the half was a statement in itself about the Bulldogs’ lack of confidence on offense.
And with that first half, whatever fire was in Georgia seemed to stay starved for oxygen. Fromm had his worst day as a Bulldog, completing just 16-of-34 passes and throwing two interceptions to one touchdown. Meanwhile, LSU rolled up 476 yards of offense, with 276 of that coming via the rush.
Trailing 16-0 at the half, the Bulldogs mounted a brief comeback. Elijah Holyfield’s 10-yard run with 7 seconds remaining in the third quarter got Georgia into position to be down one score with a 2-point conversion. But like every one at every critical juncture of Saturday’s game, that one was a bad call. D’Andre Swift was stopped two yards short on a sweep left.
Trailing 19-9, the Bulldogs would get a long punt return from Mecole Hardman to set them up at the LSU 38. With Holyfield averaging 8 yards a carry at that point and the Bulldogs re-establishing the line of scrimmage with their run game, they started the drive with Brian Herrien at running back. Then they ran a jet sweep for flanker Mecole Hardman, which failed to gain any yardage.
Justin Fields came in for one play at quarterback and handed to Herrien on a zone-read for two yards. Fromm came back in and did the one thing he couldn’t do. He was sacked for a nine-yard loss, which took Georgia out of field-goal range.
And, finally, Hardman chose unwisely to bring out a kickoff return four yards in the end zone. He fumbled and LSU recovered deep in Georgia territory to set up another chip-shot field goal for Cole Tracy and give the Tigers an insurmountable lead.