ATLANTA — The numbers wouldn’t reflect it, but LSU quarterback Joe Burrow was caught off guard by the Georgia defense in the SEC Championship Game on Saturday night.
Burrow, who likely clinched the Heisman Trophy with a commanding performance in the Tigers’ 37-10 win over the Bulldogs at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, talked about key adjustments.
“They came out on defense with kind of what Auburn played against us a little bit, and we didn’t expect that against Georgia at all,” Burrow said. “We kind of had to feel our way out a little bit.”
Burrow was 28-of-38 passing for 349 yards and 4 touchdowns against a Bulldogs’ defense that led the SEC in total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense and pass efficiency defense.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart utilized a defensive look that sometimes featured talented freshman safeties Tyrique Stevenson and Lewis Cine walked up into rover spots, replacing outside linebackers.
Auburn also went with a 3-1-7 alignment in its 23-20 loss to LSU this season. The extra defensive backs were added to counter LSU’s ability to spread the field, the objective to neutralize the Tigers’ speed at receiver.
The Bulldogs were close to getting a stop on LSU’s opening drive, but on third-and-10 at the Georgia 47, Burrow found Terrace Marshall for a 24-yard gain.
Burrow was sacked twice, but on several other occasions he scrambled and bought time, improvising when plays broke down.
Burrow rushed for 41 yards on nine carries, and LSU was 9 of 16 on third down conversions.
“They did a great job of disguising their blitzes,” Burrow said. “They had a new package for us the week that I didn’t see on film. That’s why I was having to make those scrambles.”
Burrow’s “Heisman moment” came in the third quarter when LSU took over at its own 20 following a Georgia missed field goal.
Burrow dodged UGA freshman defensive lineman Travon Walker, and then seemingly hemmed in by Jordan Davis and Walker, avoided Walker again and rolled right, firing a pass 45 yards downfield to Justin Jefferson. Jefferson ran another 26 yards for a 71-yard gain.
I’m so ready for Joe Burrow in the NFL
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) December 8, 2019
Georgia did force the LSU offense into three, three-and-out series — matching Auburn. Put into full context, the Bayou Bengals went three-and-out just 17 times in 12 regular season games.
Smart, who said at the beginning of the week this Tigers team represented the greatest challenge of his coaching career, explained how the Bulldogs worked to find an answer for Burrow.
“We had a three man, four man, a five man and a six man rush, and we try to change things up,” Smart said. “We did a lot of studies going into the game of ways to get incompletions because you’re basically fighting for incompletions on them.
“We got pressure, we didn’t finish. When we had three man rush, a lot of times he was able to hold the ball, but we had a lot of guys covering, and you’re fighting.”
Georgia senior safety J.R. Reed boiled it down to the key to the most basic element of LSU’s offensive success: Joe Burrow’s talent.
“He’s a great athlete, man,” Reed said. “We had a lot of plays out there we were supposed to make, and he’d just squeeze out of it. He did a good job.
“We had a lot of guys on him, and he broke like three or four tackles. He extends a lot of plays.”
Tigers coach Ed Orgeron warned anyone who would listen that LSU was going to be able to handle anything Georgia threw at the Tigers.
“I am confident in our football team, they’re very confident in their abilities, very confident in their abilities to adjust during the game,” Orgeron said in the days leading up to the game. “I think we have an excellent coaching staff that people can throw whatever they want after us.
“We’re going to have answers and players that can do it.”
LSU, the highest scoring offense in SEC history, with the league’s newly crowned all-time leading passer, certainly had all the answers on Saturday night.
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