There is no doubt what the game of the week is in college football. The sixth ranked LSU Tigers make the trek to Athens, Georgia to face the ninth ranked Georgia Bulldogs, in a game filled not with just SEC title implications, but also National Championship implications.
The Bayou Bengals have ignored their critics, who thought they were too young and would take a step back this season, by sporting a perfect 4-0 record, including a solid 35-21 victory over Auburn last week.
Georgia has recovered after an opening week setback to Clemson, with two straight victories, including an impressive victory over 12th ranked South Carolina. However, with one loss already, Georgia will need to win this game if they have any hope of winning their first National Championship since 1980.
When LSU Has The Ball:
If there was an award for most improved player in college football, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger would be the hands-down winner. The 6-5, 235 pound senior has completed 64.8% of his pass attempts for 1,026 yards, 10 touchdowns to only one interception. What has impressed most observers about Mettenberger are his improved mechanics and footwork. Mettenberger isn’t a scrambler, but he does enough to avoid the pass rush, and step up in the pocket to find the passing lane. Mettenberger has received a boost from new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. The former Miami Dolphins head coach, is known as an offensive guru and his knowledge has given confidence to Mettenberger and the offense.
What makes LSU’s offense so difficult to stop is that they’re balanced. Nowhere is LSU more balanced than in the running game. Sophomore Jeremy Hill is averaging 8.4 yards per carry and is bruising, punishing style is very effective in wearing down the opposition, late in games. Junior Terrence McGee uses his speed to average 7.6 yards per carry, and provides a solid counter to Hill’s power. Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard can also be used in the ground game, giving LSU plenty of depth in the backfield.
The passing game has improved considerably this season, and Mettenberger isn’t the only reason why. Receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry have been excellent so far this season for the Tigers. Beckham has recorded 20 receptions for 389 yards and 4 touchdowns, while Landry has registered 24 receptions for 364 yards and 6 touchdowns. Both are hoping to take advantage of a young Georgia secondary that was lit up by Clemson in the season opener.
When Georgia Has The Ball:
The strength of the Bulldogs is their offense led by Aaron Murray. The senior quarterback is looking not just for a National Championship, but to improve his draft stock for next spring’s NFL draft. Murray is enjoying an outstanding start to his 2013 campaign, completing 72% of his pass attempts for 1,040 yards, 7 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. The one knock against Murray is his failure to win the big game, but that is a bit unfair. He will need more support from his teammates, especially the defense in this encounter.
Murray is aided by a strong running game, led by Todd Gurley. The sophomore tailback is averaging 6 yards per carry, and has carried the bulk of the load on the ground. Gurley’s 6-1, 232 pound frame is deceptively fast, while not losing any power. He is an absolute beast who can take over games at a moment’s notice.
The receiving corps don’t necessarily have one big name, but as a group, they are a solid, cohesive unit that is vital to the offense. Justin Scott-Wesley is the game breaker in the group, averaging 23.4 yards per reception. He will be asked to stretch the LSU defense, forcing the safeties back so that it will open up the Georgia running game. Chris Conley and Michael Bennett are the possession receivers who will be called upon, on critical third down plays.
While this isn’t the most powerful LSU defense in its proud history, it still can bring pressure to the quarterback and can stiffen up at the right time. Like Georgia, the Tigers defense is younger than in previous years, but John Chavis is one of the best defensive coordinators in the country, and will have his team well prepared for any situation.
Both coaches have their critics, but one has had more success. Les Miles, aka The Mad Hatter, does have a National Championship on his résumé to go with a pair of SEC titles. Mark Richt, on the other hand does have an SEC championship to his credit, but has seen his Bulldogs choke under the spotlight far too often during his tenure in Athens. If Georgia loses this game, it will surely eliminate the Bulldogs from the National Championship picture, and put Richt squarely on the hot seat. The pressure is on.
Expect lots of points and high drama on Saturday. Both teams can light up the scoreboard and aren’t afraid to take chances. However, Georgia’s defense is young and still new to the big stage. It couldn’t keep up with Clemson in the opener, and it could wear down against a bigger, stronger LSU team. The Tigers have enough defense to contain Georgia, and the Tigers’ offense should exploit the holes in the Georgia secondary. Yes, Georgia has home field but it won’t help out enough. A close, high scoring game that LSU wins 41-35.
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