ATHENS — College football games between relatively evenly matched teams can often come down to a handful of plays, with momentum playing a large role in the outcome.
The LSU-Georgia game on Saturday in Tiger Stadium was no different, the Bayou Bengals prevailing 36-16 over the previously undefeated Bulldogs.
Both teams had their strengths, but they had also shown their deficiencies leading up to a high-profile clash that drew the largest college football game rating last weekend.
LSU did a better job of exposing the Bulldogs’ weaknesses than Georgia did the Tigers.
Here are the three key moments that played a large role in determining the outcome of Saturday’s game
1. Georgia’s failed fake field goal
Perhaps the biggest play of the game in hindsight, as Georgia had ran the ball nine straight times for 60 yards before two incomplete passes put the Bulldogs in position for a field goal attempt.
Kirby Smart said the staff knew before the game they were going to run a fake if they saw an LSU alignment they felt they could take advantage of, and the Tigers presented that look on Georgia’s second drive.
“They were like 15 of 17 (88 percent) with a look that it would work on,” Smart said, explaining why the Bulldogs passed on a 31-yard field goal attempt at the 3:28 mark of the opening quarter, down 3-0. “We wanted to be aggressive.”
LSU coach Ed Orgeron said Georgia’s fake field goal did indeed surprise him.
“It surprised me, 10 yards to go, it surprised me,” he said. “But we always have a guy for the fake. We have eyes. And when you’re playing for the field goal block, you have to have your eyes on your man, not on the field goal kicker. Tremendous discipline.”
2. LSU’s 47-yard run on third-and-1
Tiger Stadium erupted again on the final play of the first quarter on the ensuing drive after Georgia had lost its initial momentum with the fruitless fake field goal.
The game within the game was LSU’s offensive line vs. the Georgia front seven, and this was the first short-yardage battle of the game, third-and-1 at the Tigers’ 46.
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The Bulldogs were not gap sound, and LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire rushed 47 yards to the UGA 7 to set up a TD that made it 10-0.
It was only the second run of longer than 20 yards Georgia had given up all season.
The play gave the Tigers the confidence they needed to go for it on four other fourth-and-1 situations against the Bulldogs, all of which they converted in back-breaking fashion.
“At the end of the day,” Smart said, “you don’t win the line of scrimmage in this league, you won’t win the football game.”
Orgeron, meanwhile, said LSU was still smarting from its 27-19 loss at Florida the week before. The Tigers coach was intent to make amends after electing to kick a field goal from the Gators’ 15-yard line on a fourth-and-inches situation in the second quarter with that game tied at 7-7..
“We were throwing out the kitchen sink, man, everything we had, we did,” Orgeron said, asked about the decision to go for it on four fourth downs against Georgia.
“All week, we talked about being aggressive. I was a little pissed at myself for not going for it against Florida down there fourth and half an inch.”
Third-and-6 sack in fourth quarter
Georgia trailed 19-9 when it took over at the LSU 38-yard line with 14:39 remaining, Mecole Hardman having broken loose on a 27-yard punt return after the Bulldogs’ defense turned the momentum by forcing LSU to go three-and-out.
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A jet sweep call for Hardman was stopped for no gain, and then Justin Fields was brought in to handoff to third-string tailback Brian Herrien for 4 yards, bringing up the third-and-6 at the 34.
Georgia was still within Rodrigo Blankenship’s field goal range when Jake Fromm took the snap, but the veteran QB failed to make a play — instead taking a 9-yard sack that took the Bulldogs out of field goal range.
“Some of those you’ve got to escape and get rid of the ball, there’s a lot of pressures they run that are hard to pick up, and I was very concerned with that coming into the game,” Smart said.
“But I didn’t think it was the protection as much as it was making decisions quicker, getting rid of the ball quicker, and at the end of the day, don’t be in third-and-long.”
LSU, its crowd still roaring from the sack, responded with a six-play, 86-yard drive to go up 26-9.
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