NEW ORLEANS — LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda has had more answers for the Georgia football offense than any other coach the past two seasons.
If you want to talk Xs and Os, Aranda is your man, highly regarded as one of the best defensive strategists in the game.
Aranda, sounding very much like Bulldogs’ head coach Kirby Smart when discussing defensive principles, said on Saturday it starts with stopping the UGA ground game.
LSU did that in the SEC Championship Game this season in a 37-10 win. They also limited the Bulldogs in a 36-16 win in 2018 in Baton Rouge. It was Georgia’s two lowest-scoring games in each of the past two seasons.
The Bayou Bengals are loading up to play Clemson in the College Football Playoff Championship Game on Monday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
But on Saturday, Aranda took a moment to elaborate on how LSU got there, beating Georgia in UGA’s third-straight SEC title game appearance.
“Well, with Georgia, it starts with defending the run,” said Aranda, whose LSU defenses have held the Bulldogs to their season-low in points each of the past two seasons.
Aranda explained at Saturday’s College Football Playoff Media Day how the Tigers set the edges with their odd fronts, while avoiding coverages Georgia could exploit.
UGA offensive coordinator James Coley, Aranda said, did a good job with the opening game plan.
“We were anticipating shot plays (deep throws) … the first play of the game was a shot play, you know,” Aranda said, referring to the deep post Jake Fromm put on target but was dropped by an open receiver. “Georgia did a great job with their first 15 (plays), just coming out of motioning and shifting out of a bunch.
“That shook me some. I’m ready to play single high (safety) and I see that they’re in this bunch (formation) — and they’re not in that a lot. I didn’t know what they would get out of it.”
Georgia’s receivers certainly had their struggles.
Dropped passes and poor routes put the Bulldogs’ offense at a disadvantage in a game Smart knew they needed to start fast.
“I’m sure the Georgia people were disappointed the guy didn’t catch the ball,” Aranda said, referring to the potential TD catch on the first play of the game. “We were able to make some adjustments from there, and be able to adjust our single high versus that.
“But so much of it is what’s best for the run, and you want it to be acceptable and good for the pass. That was a fight, really, that whole first half.”
Georgia star tailback D’Andre Swift was injured and limited to just two carries against the Tigers. Without Swift, the Bulldogs’ run game was simply not as dynamic, held to a season-low 61 yards on 25 attempts.
Aranda said LSU’s game plan for this season’s Georgia’s team was different than the 2018 Bulldogs, who had three future NFL receivers and an NFL tight end to scheme up.
“I think last year there was probably more, there was both a Z and an X (receiver),” Aranda said. “The injuries probably took that away some. So now here there’s just an X. So it changes.”
Aranda said it does complicate things when offenses have a quarterback who can run, an element new Georgia grad-transfer Jamie Newman is expected to bring.
“It is difficult because it adds yet another layer,” Aranda said. “You know, you wish you could play with 12.”
One key to good defense Aranda identified — which a mobile QB makes more difficult — is tackles for loss.
“I think if we get tackles for loss, we win 75 percent of those drives, they don’t score,” Aranda said. “That’s where the game is going and we’ll be of that mindset in this (national championship) game. I know they will be, too.”
LSU DC Dave Aranda