Atlanta, GA – College football's best conference will crown a ranked LSU Tigers will clash with the 12th- ranked Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC Championship Game.
Georgia opened the season with back-to-back losses to Boise State and South Carolina, and many fans of the Bulldogs were calling for Mark Richt's job. The school stuck with its head coach and he has bounced back in a big way, leading the 'Dawgs to 10 consecutive wins since the slow start. Last weekend, Georgia closed out the regular season with a 31-17 decision over Georgia Tech on the road, one week after claiming the outright SEC East title. The Bulldogs have won 12 SEC Championships with the most recent one coming in 2005. That tally ranks third in league history behind Alabama (22) and Tennessee (13).
"Winning 10 in a row is nice," said Richt after last weekend's victory over Georgia Tech. "When we were 0-2, people in the Butts-Mehre building we're wanting to say, hey, we can go 10 in a row. You can't go 10 in a row unless you get one in a row. That kind of became our war cry. Let's win one in a row, once a week. The goal also was to try and improve every single week. I thought the guys bought into that pretty good."
LSU head coach Les Miles may be a bit unorthodox at times in his approach, but his teams do nothing but win. The Tigers are the only team from a BCS conference without a loss this season, as they carry a 12-0 record into this weekend's showdown. Among the most notable victories this season was a 13- point decision over a loaded Oregon team to open the campaign and a three- point overtime win over Alabama on the road. With a victory in this title tilt, LSU will move on to play for the BCS National Championship.
"There was never a thought in our minds what the next game holds," said Miles, who refuses to look past Georgia and this weekend's opportunity. "This was very specifically about this championship and this conference is where we compete year in and year out. We intend to make a great showing for our self and prepare and play well."
LSU holds a 15-12-1 advantage in the all-time series with Georgia, and the teams have split their two previous meetings in SEC Championship Games (2003, 2005).
The Georgia offense has been tremendous this season, averaging 34.0 ppg and 423.7 total ypg. Aaron Murray has been a stud under center and is worthy of SEC Player of the Year consideration thanks to 32 touchdown passes and 2,688 passing yards. Orson Charles and Tavarres King are two of the top receivers for Murray, as they have combined for 12 TD passes. As for the ground attack, freshman tailback Isaiah Crowell has rushed for 832 yards and five touchdowns, and he figures to play this weekend despite an ankle injury.
Opponents are scoring 17.8 ppg and generating 271.1 total ypg against Georgia this season, as Richt's defense has been tremendous, especially since allowing a total of 80 points through the first two outings. Stopping the run has been a specialty of the Bulldogs, who are limiting foes 94.8 ypg at a clip of 3.0 yards per carry. Georgia has generated 29 takeaways this season and has posted 32 sacks, so there has certainly been a solid amount of big plays made. Jarvis Jones has been a standout performer for the Bulldogs, as he has recorded 66 total tackles, including 19.5 TFL and 13.5 sacks.
Against Georgia Tech last week, Georgia posted 380 total yards, 25 more than it surrendered. Murray was tremendous, racking up 252 passing yards with four TDs. Crowell missed the game and the rushing attack suffered significantly. Fortunately, the defense came up with a pair of interceptions.
Jarrett Lee was the sole leader of the LSU offense early on this season, but Jordan Jefferson has gradually taken over as the team's top QB since returning from an early suspension. Jefferson is the more dynamic of the two, and he has thrown for 654 yards and five touchdowns with only one interception while also rushing for three scores. Michael Ford and Spencer Ware spearhead the rushing attack with just over 1,400 combined yards and 15 TDs, while Rueben Randle leads the receivers with 48 catches for 889 yards and eight scores.
While LSU is generating 38.2 ppg and 386.8 total ypg, the team is limiting opponents to a low 10.6 ppg and 248.4 total ypg, as the defense has clearly been the strength of the team. Foes are rushing for a mere 86.1 ypg at a clip of 2.6 ypc against Miles' squad, and just 12 touchdowns have been permitted to opposing offenses in 12 games. There are a number of standout performers on defense, including Morris Claiborne who has posted five INTs. But the best of the bunch is Tyrann Mathieu, who has recorded 66 total tackles to go along with six forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and two INTs.
In last weekend's 41-17 victory over Arkansas that clinched the SEC West Division title for LSU, Mathieu returned a punt 92 yards for a touchdown. Jefferson ran for a score and passed for 208 yards and a touchdown, while Randle finished with nine catches for 134 yards. Arkansas actually led the game 14-0 in the second quarter, but the Razorbacks scored just one offensive touchdown all afternoon against the stellar LSU defense.