Georgia coach Kirby Smart tackles challenges explosive LSU offense presents
ATHENS — Georgia’s league-leading defense faces the ultimate test against LSU in the SEC Championship Game.
Kirby Smart made no attempt to downplay the challenge LSU’s offensive will present when the teams meet at 4 p.m. next Saturday in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, indicating the Tigers’ strengths are too multiple to narrow down.
“Where do you want me to start? I’ve only got 30 minutes,” Smart said on Sunday night’s teleconference. “It’s all over. The running back …. does an unbelievable job.
“It all starts with the quarterback. Their offensive line protects really well, and they’ve got probably the best group of wideouts, size, speed-wise, that you could ever imagine.”
The Tigers (12-0) feature Heisman Trophy front-runner Joe Burrow at quarterback.
Burrow, 6-foot-4 and 216 pounds, is tops among active FBS quarterbacks with a 203 pass efficiency rating. The transfer from Ohio State has already set an SEC single-season record with 4,366 passing yards to go with his 44 TD passes (6 interceptions).
LSU has averaged 560.5 yards and 48.7 points per game, second in the nation in both categories despite playing four games against teams that were ranked in the Top 10.
The Bayou Bengals’ tailback, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, has rushed for 1,234 yards and leads SEC running backs with 6.78 yards per carry.
Receiver Ja’Marr Chase is one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award. Chase is tops in the nation with 132.5 yards receiving per game and 17 TD catches.
The Tigers’ passing game coordinator, Joe Brady, is a former NFL assistant. Brady is credited with bringing concepts from the New Orleans Saints offense along with RPO elements from a stint at Penn State.
Smart, a noted defensive guru from his time as Nick Saban’s coordinator at Alabama, said he can’t remember seeing anything like this LSU offense from a conceptual standpoint.
“It’s very unique, very different, and I think the players in it — we’ve played a lot of teams that have strengths and weaknesses, and you try to exploit those,” Smart said. “But when you look across the board at this group, there’s not a lot there weakness-wise.
“I mean, they really play physical, and people don’t give them credit for that. They play really physical, and their back, their offensive line, their receivers are extremely physical. But they have a really great ability to throw the ball quickly and get it out and throw the ball vertically down the field.”
Indeed, LSU coach Ed Orgeron seemed to brush off any concerns about Smart’s defense being able to disguise schemes against his powerful offense.
“I think, if you stay in traditional formations — you know, everybody has traditional disguises, and he’s very good at it,” Orgeron said, asked about Smart’s defensive prowess. “But we also have some formations where it’s hard to disguise. I know we’ll have a plan. I know our guys are able to have a plan against anything anybody can give us. We’ve shown that all year, and I feel confident we can do it again.”
The Georgia defense hasn’t given up a play longer than 30 yards in the past six games and ranks first in the SEC in total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense and pass efficiency defense.
But the Bulldogs haven’t faced an offense like this, and Smart didn’t know — or wasn’t ready to acknowledge — if Georgia will change things up.
“It’s hard to say that right now,” Smart said on Sunday night. “I’ve been three, four hours into it today, and it’s not even Monday yet, so I don’t know that.
“If I did know it, I probably wouldn’t say it anyway.”