We’re nearing kickoff for Saturday’s Georgia showdown with LSU. For the perspective from the Tigers’ side, I traded questions with Scott Rabalais, columnist and sportswriter for The Advocate in Baton Rouge. You can follow him on Twitter at @RabalaisAdv and find his stories at theadvocate.com .
Here’s what Scott had to say on some questions posed to him heading into the top 10 matchup:
1. The dominant storyline this week has centered on Zach Mettenberger. How is
that playing out around the rest of the team and what impact, if any, do you think
it has on Mettenberger on Saturday?
Zach’s storyline is a very personal one I think, and one that I don’t expect
will be much on the minds of his teammates other than perhaps a fleeting
consideration that Athens is his hometown and Georgia is his former team. But
along those lines, though, LSU has six other Georgia natives on its roster:
J.C. Copeland, Vadal Alexander, Reid Ferguson, Anthony Jennings, Quantavius
Leslie and Andy Dodd. So there are a lot of Tigers who will have their own
stories going on. I do think Zach has been a little uptight about this week,
saying he’ll be glad when the game is over. I believe he’s thinking more about
the impact the game will have on his mother, Tammy, who the world now knows
works in the Georgia football office. It’s definitely a distraction at this
point, but he has played so well to start the season I don’t think his
performance will be diminished much if at all.
2. Georgia players that were on the team in 2011 still remember the impact LSU’s
special teams had on the SEC championship game. How good is the Tigers’ special
teams this time around?
One of the 11 LSU players who left early for the NFL draft was punter Brad Wing.
The Tigers also lost very dependable senior kicker Drew Alleman. Alleman’s
replacement, the very Cajun-named Colby Delahoussaye, has done fine so far, 23
of 23 on PATs and 4 of 4 on field goals, but he hasn’t kicked one longer than 28
yards yet. Punter Jamie Keehn, another Australian like Wing, was either kicking
55-yarders or shanking 28-yarders in the first three games, but he came through
with some good, strong, important punts late in the Auburn game when LSU was
trying to keep Auburn at bay. Return-wise, Odell Beckham Jr. has been excellent,
with a 100-yard (actually about 108) missed field goal return for a touchdown
against UAB. So the advice to Georgia’s kicker: Don’t be short on a long field
3. LSU is 4-0 and ranked No. 6 in the nation. What’s your sense about how
legitimate LSU is as a threat to Alabama in the SEC West and as a national title
Now that Alabama has gotten past Texas A&M, I think LSU is the only team other
than Ole Miss – which I give a puncher’s chance of an upset Saturday – that can
beat Alabama in the regular season. Certainly this is the telltale game. The
opening win over TCU looked impressive but the Horned Frogs have since
struggled. Auburn is improved but not ready for prime time. LSU has improved
markedly on offense and its defense while not dominant clearly hasn’t been the
brush fire some feared it would be after losing seven starters. Win or lose, LSU
is still a player in the SEC West, just one with no margin for error left with
tough games remaining at Ole Miss, at Bama and at home with Florida and Texas
A&M. I think LSU is a legitimately talented team, one that could win every game
on its schedule but also one that could finish 9-3 because of the brutal nature
of the schedule it’s playing.
4. With all of those players drafted from LSU’s defense after last season, how
much of a dropoff is there in talent level on John Chavis’ group? Who are a
couple of players that Georgia fans should be aware of Saturday that could be
The most notable difference has been on the defensive line, which I think is the
one key area where the SEC truly separates itself from the rest of the nation
and has led to seven straight BCS titles. The top five – DEs Jordan Allen,
Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter and DTs Anthony “Freak” Johnson and Ego
Ferguson – are very good. But there just isn’t as much depth as there has been.
It showed late in the Auburn game when Auburn’s no huddle offense left the LSU
defense pretty gassed by game’s end after 85 snaps. Allen is a former Louisiana
Mr. Football who has been hampered by injuries his entire LSU career but has now
come into his own. He’s a fiery, Clay Matthews type who can rush off the end or
slide inside to spell Johnson or Ferguson. Free safety Ronald Martin missed the
Auburn game after his father passed away but is expected to be back. He’s a
converted quarterback, quite talented, and it will be interesting to see where
his head is in this game.
5. How does this game play out? Who do you like Saturday and why? What swings
the game in Georgia or LSU’s direction?
This game has everything that makes college football great: talented
quarterbacks, bruising running backs, big-play defenders, huge stakes and
fascinating subplots. The key I think for LSU is keeping the ball away from
Georgia’s offense. Mettenberger’s arm will be a big factor, but even bigger will
be the running of Jeremy Hill. Conversely, the Tigers need to try to limit the
big plays from Murray and Gurley. I think both teams roll up close to 1,000
combined yards but bog down a bit in the red zone. Field goals could be a
factor. I see LSU taking a 30-25 lead late with Georgia getting one more drive
and LSU needing a fourth-down Murray pass break up to pull out a classic
–Please follow me at Twitter.com/marcweiszer