LSU vs. Georgia features a contrast in styles. Whose style will win?
In the boxing world they say that “styles make fights.”
Simply put, the best fights are between boxers with different styles. One might be a brawler looking to land the knockout punch in the early rounds. The other fighter punches and jabs and tries to stay out of trouble, hoping to wear his more powerful opponent down in the later rounds.
That’s the kind of heavyweight fight we have for Saturday when No. 2 LSU (12-0) takes on No. 4 Georgia (11-1) in the SEC championship game in Atlanta. At stake is a spot in the College Football Playoffs.
LSU makes no secret that, with its historic offense (46.7 ppg, second only to Ohio State) it wants to play at a rapid pace and wear down the opposing defense.
Georgia is a bit more methodical in its approach, running the ball and then leaning on the No. 2 scoring defense in the country (10.4 ppg). Georgia leads the SEC in total defense, rushing defense, and scoring defense. The Bulldogs have given up only 12 touchdowns (1 rushing) in 12 games.
So the question becomes: Which team can dictate the tempo and the style of the game? That team will be your winner.
Georgia’s defense certainly has the attention of LSU Coach Ed Orgeron, the former defensive line coach.
“No question this is the best defense we’ve played all year,” said Orgeron. “They just do it all.”
Offensively, Georgia will try to dictate tempo with its running game. A big key there will be the health of running back D’Andre Swift, who suffered a shoulder contusion last Saturday against Georgia Tech. Georgia Coach Kirby Smart said on Sunday that he expected Swift to play. By Monday Smart said he was “hopeful” that Swift could go.
That’s important because Georgia’s offense in general, and the play of quarterback Jake Fromm in particular, has been struggling down the stretch of the regular season.
Since completing 20 of 30 passes in a 24-17 win over Florida in Jacksonville on Nov. 2, Fromm has gone four straight games with a completion rate of under 50 percent.
Here are the numbers on Fromm’s past four games:
To be fair, in those same four games Fromm has thrown 10 touchdown passes. He’s made the big throw when it was needed.
A year ago as a sophomore Fromm completed 67.3 percent of his passes. He entered this season with a career average of 64.8.
There are a lot of reasons why Fromm’s numbers have dipped from his two previous seasons. One is that a bunch of guys he threw to last season are now in the NFL.
“The biggest difference this year is who’s healthy and who’s out there playing,” said Smart. “There has not been the level of consistency with perimeter skill that was probably there last year.”
It has been suggested that Fromm misses his old offensive coordinator, Jim Chaney, who left for Tennessee, and that he’s not as comfortable with new OC James Coley.
Fromm shot that theory down when asked about it by reporters.
“I think any time you get change…..it could be a little different,” Fromm said. “But I think things have gone extremely well with Coach Coley and Coach Coley has been a huge factor in why we’re 11-1.”
But to beat LSU on Saturday, Fromm is going to have play better. He 34-6 as Georgia’s starting quarterback and this will mark his third straight start in the SEC championship game. Throughout his career Fromm has lifted his game to the challenge at hand.
But it doesn’t help Fromm that his favorite target, Lawrence Cager, has been lost for the season with an ankle injury.
And it doesn’t help that another receiver, George Pickens, will miss the first half of this game after getting into a fight against Georgia Tech.
And while Georgia has great depth at running back, it probably needs 100 yards from Swift to win the game.
Here’s another factor that Georgia has to consider. Right now LSU may be playing its best defense of the season.
After giving up over 400 yards of rushing against Ole Miss and 20 points to lowly Arkansas, LSU was dropped from No. 1 to No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings last week. CFP chairman Rob Mullens said the drop was due to concerns about the LSU defense and the belief that Ohio State was a more complete team.
Well, last week LSU held Texas A&M, a team averaging 30 points and 389 yards per game, to only seven points and 169 total yards. LSU also had six quarterback sacks.
Orgeron said his defense was less than pleased at what it perceived was a slight from the CFP committee.
“I do believe, without us even mentioning it, there is internal motivation,” said Oregon. “I do believe our best defensive games are yet to come.”
Finally, consider this basketball analogy:
In 1983 North Carolina State played mighty Houston, a.k.a. Phi Slamma Jamma, for in the NCAA championship game in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Houston—with a roster full of future NBA players like Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon—was a heavy favorite after beating Louisville 94-81 in the semifinals.
But the Wolfpack, led by Jim Valvano, slowed down the game and managed to hang around until the final minutes. N.C. State scored on a dunk as time ran out to win 54-52.
N.C. State got Houston to play its game. And that’s what Georgia must do when it meets LSU.
The last time LSU played a defense this good the Tigers beat Auburn 23-20 in Baton Rouge. It was the only time this season that LSU has been held to under 36 points.
Bottom line: If Georgia can use its defense to keep this game in the 20s, then the Bulldogs have a chance to steal it at the end. If the game gets into the 30s, Georgia does not have the firepower to win.