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What the 2018 Georgia football loss to LSU does and doesn’t mean for 2019 SEC Championship Game
Georgia did not have a worse showing in 2018 than its Oct. 13 performance against the LSU Tigers. The confident Bulldogs entered the game with an undefeated record. It left Tiger Stadium with a 36-16 beatdown.
“It left a real sour taste in our mouth,” senior wide receiver Tyler Simmons said. “Just going out there and losing to them the way we did, it was the last thing we expected.”
The loss sparked a strong second-half finish from Georgia — much like the South Carolina defeat did this season — as the Bulldogs won out and entered the SEC championship game with an 11-1 showing. The Bulldogs put up a respectable showing against the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide. But because of the loss to LSU, Georgia was left out of the College Football Playoff.
Georgia will once again enter the SEC championship game with a chance to punch its ticket to the College Football Playoff. But to do so, the Bulldogs are going to have beat an LSU team that’s significantly improved on the offensive side of the ball.
“Schematically, they’re different. They hurt us with some things last year. Some of the things they hurt us with last year they still do,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “Some of them they don’t. They’re just a really different team from an offensive perspective.”
LSU has become one of the best passing offenses in the country. Joe Burrow — who completed 15 of his 30 pass attempts and threw for no touchdowns in the 2018 game — is the clear Heisman Trophy front-runner. He’s rewritten the LSU and SEC records books this year. Wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase ranks second in the country in receiving yards.
The Tigers’ biggest offensive weapon in the 36-16 win was running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who ran for 145 yards that day. Since then he’s blossomed into the SEC’s most versatile running back, as he ran for over 1,200 yards this year while also catching 43 passes.
Related: Georgia football is well aware of ‘the best running back in the country’ in LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire
But LSU also had another element working in its favor that day. And it won’t have it on Saturday, as the 102,000 fans who packed Tiger Stadium won’t all be able to make it to Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“For us, we’ll be playing in a different location. So I think that will help a little bit. I think our guys will be more focused and ready to roll this time around,” Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm said.
Fromm had his worst game of the season that day, as he was intercepted twice and completed 16 of his 34 pass attempts. He bounced back against Florida and eventually Alabama, but Fromm has looked more like the passer we saw in Baton Rouge — sans the turnovers — than we did in Atlanta last year.
As for the other side, Burrow acknowledged that LSU won’t be walking into such friendly confines. He actually expects it to be a pro-Bulldog crowd, even with it technically being a neutral site.
“The crowd was great. They played a huge part,” Burrow said. “We’re kind of going into enemy territory with this week, so it’s going to — they’re going to want revenge on us, so we’re going to have to be on our game for sure.”
As Smart and a number of Georgia players said, this Georgia team isn’t an exact replica of last year’s team. For all the frustrations surrounding the Georgia offense, the defense is much improved, especially from the one that took the field in Baton Rouge.
LSU rolled up 275 rushing yards against Georgia that day, by far the most in either of the last two seasons. This year, Georgia ranks second in the country rushing defense and has given up just a single rushing touchdown.
In talking with a number of Georgia players, they made it very clear this isn’t the same team that got drilled in 2018. But that game did leave a lasting mark on the guys who were on the field that day.
“I was really mad that we lost,” senior defensive tackle Michael Barnett said. “They’re a really good team and that was a crazy environment but it still hurts a little bit.”
Simmons added the team will enter the game with a chip on its shoulder. It will also carry a better defense and more experienced offense into the game. And while LSU’s passing offense figures to be much more potent, the crowd won’t nearly be as much a factor as it was in 2018.
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