Can LSU Hang with Georgia in SEC Championship Game?

LSU will look to pull off its second massive upset of the season when it heads to Atlanta to meet SEC East champ Georgia in the SEC Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 4 p.m. ET on Saturday.

The Tigers are currently 17.5-point underdogs at most sportsbooks, including DraftKings, BetRivers and PointsBet.

On Nov. 5, LSU knocked off Alabama in overtime as a 13.5-point home underdog. It’s hard to say whether that means it can pull another big upset this weekend, but it might make the Tigers a good bet to cover the spread.

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Plenty for Tigers to Play For

Prior to the Tigers’ loss to Texas A&M last week, they appeared to have a chance to make the College Football Playoff. An 11-2 record (had they taken care of both A&M and Georgia), an SEC title, and a win over Georgia, would have at least put them firmly in the conversation. But while that ship sailed after LSU’s defense gave up 38 points in the loss to the Aggies, there’s still plenty for Brian Kelly’s team to play for on Saturday.

In fact, that’s likely an understatement after LSU was picked to finish fifth in the SEC West in Kelly’s first season in Baton Rouge. Considering those expectations, a win over Georgia would give LSU one of the most successful seasons of any team in college football, even if it would not quite mean a CFP berth.

How does LSU’s offense match up with Georgia’s defense?

Despite losing a ton of talent from the historically strong defense they fielded a year ago, Georgia once again boasted the best defense in the country this season, according to ESPN’s SP+. That unit started the year by holding Oregon to just three points, and it also suffocated Tennessee’s high-flying offense in the Bulldogs’ 27-13 win over the Vols.

Oregon (whose offense was the fifth-best in the country, according to SP+) and Tennessee (SP+’s No. 1 offense) scored at will all season against almost every team besides Georgia this season. But they combined for just 16 points and 602 yards against the Georgia D coached by Kirby Smart and Will Muschamp and led by cornerback Kelee Ringo and defensive tackle Jalen Carter.

LSU’s offense (SP+ No. 37) was humming during a three-game stretch in October and November that included high-scoring wins over Florida (45-35), Ole Miss (45-20) and Alabama (32-31 in OT). But QB Jayden Daniels and Co. struggled in a 13-10 win over Arkansas on Nov. 12, and in last week’s loss to Texas A&M.

Daniels, who ran for 824 yards and 11 touchdowns this season, is battling an ankle injury he sustained against the Aggies, making the task of scoring on Georgia that much more difficult. Even with a healthy Daniels, it would be hard to imagine the LSU offense (No. 37 in SP+) doing a lot of damage. With their QB hobbled, the Tigers will almost certainly struggle to score more than 20 points or so. That means the LSU defense will have to be lights out to give their team a shot.

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How does LSU’s defense match up with the Georgia offense?

Statistically, Georgia is not nearly as dominant offensively as they are on defense. The Bulldogs offense, led by veteran QB Stetson Bennett, finished the regular season ranked just 26th in SP+ thanks to a few pedestrian scoring outings. Those included a 27-point output against Tennessee, though the biggest reason for that was likely the fact that Georgia led 24-6 at halftime. Still, there were other times this season, including against Missouri (Georgia won that game 26-22) and Kentucky (UGA won 16-6) when Georgia’s offense sputtered a bit.

Georgia’s offense boasts impressive depth

Looking at Georgia’s offensive talent, though, makes you wonder if the occasional underwhelming effort had more to do with overlooking an opponent than anything the defense did to stifle Georgia. Bennett’s numbers only look average at first glance because he doesn’t throw the ball as many times per game as the stars at the position. His accuracy (his completion percentage this year is over 67%) and efficiency (an impressive 8.6 yards per attempt) speak to his effectiveness, even if his 16-to-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio leaves something to be desired.

Georgia’s ground game was outstanding all year. Four running backs logged at least 56 carries and averaged 4.8 yards per carry or better for a rushing attack that piled up 35 touchdowns. Top backs Kenny McIntosh and Daijun Edwards combined for more than 1,200 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns, with Kendall Milton chipping in six more rushing TDs and Bennett scoring seven times on the ground.

Georgia’s pass catchers include two of the most gifted tight ends in the country in Brock Bowers (who led his team in receptions, receiving yards and receiving TDs) and 6-foot-7, 270-pound Darnell Washington (16.1 yards per catch).

In the Dawgs’ biggest games this year, those weapons came through – Georgia had 28 points at halftime against Oregon, 24 at halftime against South Carolina and 28 at the break against Florida.

Will the LSU defense rise to the occasion?

LSU’s defense (SP+ No. 23) had its moments this season, most of which involved defensive end BJ Ojulari or star freshman linebacker Harold Perkins Jr. (59 tackles, 7.5 sacks).

That unit got enough stops to secure the win over Alabama, held Florida State to 24 points in the season opener, and played well in wins against Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Auburn and Arkansas. Still, a group that gave up 35 to Florida and 38 to Texas A&M last week, including 21 in the second half, seems unlikely to get enough stops against Georgia.

Can LSU Cover The 17.5-Point Spread?

For all the reasons listed above, Georgia should win this game comfortably. However, given the Dawgs’ tendency to race out to big halftime leads and then salt games away in the third and fourth quarters, 17.5 points feels like too many for Georgia to lay. With that in mind, take LSU to just barely cover the spread.

AP Photo/Sam Craft

About the Author

Tyler Everett

Tyler Everett has been a sportswriter since joining the student newspaper at his alma mater, NC State, back in 2008. He's covered sports and sports business for a number of newspapers and websites, including the Denver Broncos, Charlotte Observer, High Press Soccer and Sports Business Journal, where he currently works full-time.