Four games into the 2009 season, the Georgia Bulldogs are still looking for an identity. After opening the season with a tough loss on the road to Oklahoma State, the Dawgs have come back to win three games in a row. Sitting at 3-1 (2-0 in the SEC), the Dawgs are right where most experts expected them to be. But the road to get here has been rather unpredictable. After two shootout victories in conference, the Dawgs struggled to put away Arizona State at home and find themselves as a team that can't find a pass rush, shows brilliance on offense one moment and looks horrible the next, and continues to make turnovers which lead to easy scores for the other team. Without the play of AJ Green, the Dawgs record may be 1-3 instead of 3-1. This weekend, the #4 LSU Tigers come to Sanford Stadium as a team that is searching for an identity as well. At the end of this game, we will know that one team is alive and should be a contender for the SEC Championship. The other team could be in for a very long season.
Who are these guys?
LSU is ranked #4 in the country, but that ranking comes mostly from starting the season ranked high and winning games they should win while other teams ahead of them have lost. The Tigers have looked rather unimpressive in their victories over Washington, Vanderbilt, Louisiana-LaFayette, and Mississippi State. The Mississippi State game was the most telling, as the Tigers needed a goal line stand to prevent an upset loss to the lowly Bulldogs from Starkville.
On the defensive side of the ball, LSU has been solid allowing just over 15 points a game. They are led cornerback Patrick Peterson. An elite member of LSU's 2008 signing class, Peterson draws the task of guarding AJ Green this week. Peterson will not be alone, as LSU safety Chad Jones will provide support. I expect to see both of these players on Green almost everytime he is on the field. The Tiger defense is much improved over the squad that struggled down the stretch in 2008. While I am not ready to put them on the level of the 2007 team, they are dangerous with playmakers at every position.
The real trouble for the Tigers this year lies on the offensive side of the ball. The Tigers rank dead last in the SEC in yards, averaging only 310 a game. That is good for 105th in the country. With dual threat quarterback Jordan Jefferson and experienced running backs Charles Scott and Keiland Williams, many expected the LSU rushing attack to be among the best in the SEC, but they are only 76th in the country right now. Charles has really struggled, averaging a mere 44 yards a game (after averaging 90 yards a game last season).
Jordan Jefferson was expected to improve his passing during his second season, but despite having a great receiving tandem in Terrance Tolliver and Brandon LaFell, the Tigers are 88th in the nation in passing at 190 yards per game. Jefferson has been an improvement over Jarrett Lee 9he of the many pick 6's last season) by throwing only 1 interception thus far. like many other teams this season, I expect LSU to try and use its size advantage over the Georgia corners to complete deep passes.
What are the Dawgs going to do?
That is a real good question. This team has been more up and down than the 2006 team that lost to Vandy and Kentucky and came back to beat three ranked teams to close the season. One minute the offense looks great, the next minute we can't move the ball. There have truly only been two consistent things about Georgia in 2009: turnovers on our side of the field that lead to easy scores and AJ Green.
For Georgia to win this football game, Georgia will have to prevent LSU from getting easy scores. That may mean that Joe Cox is not able to just throw it up and hope that AJ comes down with. LSU's secondary is too tall and athletic to just count on the fact that AJ will make a play. That also means that the running backs must hold on to the ball. All three Georgia running backs have had costly fumbles that have led to points for the opposing team this season. Caleb King had a good game running the ball for the second week in a row, but the fumble and two dropped screen passes put a damper on the performance. LSU is big and quick up front, and i think stretch runs and toss sweeps to Caleb give Georgia the best chance to get a running game going.
If the running game is successful, Georgia should be able to open up the play action game and take advantage of the double coverage applied to Green. Look for Cox to throw short to Michael Moore and Orson Charles if LSU keeps the double team on Green into the second half.
Defensively, the game plan should be similar to what was applied against Oklahoma State. They have a mobile quarterback with proven weapons at receiver and tailback. If Georgia can keep Jefferson in the pocket and get some pressure, they may be able to force some bad throws.
This is a match up between two teams who I feel are very similar. Both teams are filled with extremely talented players who have yet to put it all together. If one team can cut down on the mental mistakes, this games has the potential to move from a close battle to a blowout. However, I do not think that will happen. Vegas favors the Dawgs in this one pretty much on the fact that we are at home. I was in Baton Rouge last season and I am sure the Tigers want to get some revenge for that game. This one should be close, but for the first time i am predicting us to come out on the short end of the stick.
LSU 31, Georgia 28