LSU‚Äôs future NFL quarterback passed for a career-high 372 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday, and the Tigers seemed to have an answer for each of Georgia‚Äôs dramatic scoring drives.
AJ Reynolds/Staff, @ajreynoldsphoto
Georgia safety Josh Harvey-Clemons (25) breaks up a pass intended for LSU tight end Travis Dickson (41) during the second half of the NCAA college football game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Louisiana State Tigers in Athens, Ga., Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013.
And yet the Bulldogs still walked away winners.
It marked a curious case of two contrasting defenses, both on the same team.
There was the Georgia defensive front that held LSU to 13 yards rushing in the first half and let the Tigers net less than 100. There were Georgia pass rushers sacking quarterback Zach Mettenberger four times for a loss of 26 yards and pressuring him into quick decisions.
And there was the defense that allowed him to have the most prolific passing day of his career and to make an otherwise solid game a little more frightening for Georgia than it probably should have been considering the way the Bulldogs‚Äô offense posted points.
The good news for Georgia ‚Äî and you‚Äôve heard this ‚Äî is it only gets better.
The Bulldogs‚Äô secondary may still be young, but it‚Äôs hardly now untested after facing three powerful offenses in Clemson, South Carolina and LSU in less than a month.
‚ÄúThey‚Äôve been thrown in that fire, and they‚Äôve got to grow up fast,‚Äù senior defensive lineman Garrison Smith said. ‚ÄúThis isn‚Äôt high school any more. They‚Äôre playing with the big boys and they have to bring their A-game. But guys like Shaq Wiggins and Brendan Langley, they‚Äôve been making plays out there. I‚Äôm proud of them, but we do have a lot of work to do. We can‚Äôt give up these big third downs. Today wasn‚Äôt good enough. We‚Äôre going back to the drawing board.‚Äù
Nowhere was the need to fix some issues more evident than late in the fourth quarter with LSU facing a third-and-22 at the LSU 13 and Georgia‚Äôs prevent defense allowed Mettenberger to find Odell Beckham for a 25-yard gain and keep alive a scoring drive that gave LSU a 41-37 lead.
‚Äú[Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham] said we didn‚Äôt get any reroutes,‚Äù freshman safety Tray Matthews said of the play. ‚ÄúWe were just like a second from making the play.‚Äù
Grantham chalked it up to inexperience. No one jammed a receiver, giving LSU a chance to make a clean play. It was just one misstep, but that‚Äôs one more than any team needs in a one-score game.
‚Äú[Mettenberger] drills one in there because we didn‚Äôt do the things we needed to do in that situation because of youth,‚Äù Grantham said. ‚ÄúAnd in the combination of youth not playing the situation right along with [LSU] being good and them making plays kind of makes it the way it happens. That‚Äôs why you‚Äôve got to coach resiliency and keep playing. And if guys believe in your and your system and keep playing, they‚Äôve got a chance to win at the end.‚Äù
Fortunately for Grantham, his squad has come out on top in most of those chances this season. It‚Äôs been a bumpy ride for the secondary, but not one that hasn‚Äôt come with its own reward. At 3-1 through what is likely the toughest opening stretch in the country, Georgia‚Äôs defense has already seen its biggest hurdles with its Southeastern Conference and national title aspirations intact.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a lot of ups and downs,‚Äù Matthew said. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre feeling more and more confident every game.‚Äù