ATLANTA — Getting to the Southeastern Conference championship game after an 0-2 start that followed the first losing season in 14 years will probably be the legacy of this year’s Georgia football team.
LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne (17) breaks up a pass to Georgia wide receiver Tavarres King (12) as Georgia takes on LSU in the SEC Championship at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Ga. on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2011.
Winning an SEC title won’t be a part of it.
LSU’s “Honey Badger” made sure of that to fuel the top-ranked Tigers’ 42-10 rout of No. 12 Georgia on Saturday in the Georgia Dome.
Tyrann Mathieu returned a punt 62 yards for a touchdown, set up another touchdown with a spectacular 47-yard return and recovered a fumble to set up another touchdown as LSU overcame a 10-0 second-quarter deficit and rolled to the win.
“At the end of the day, it stings and it’s going to hurt for a long time remembering this loss in this championship,” said Georgia tight end Aron White, who scored the Bulldogs’ only touchdown on a 12-yard first-quarter pass from Aaron Murray. “They came out in the second half and really got after us. … I don’t care what anybody says, these are my boys. This was a special season and nobody’s going to take that away from us.”
Georgia (10-3) is expected to play in a January bowl for the first time since the 2008 season.
The Bulldogs are likely going to the Outback Bowl in Tampa on Jan. 2 against a Big Ten opponent.
LSU (13-0) is going to the BCS title game and Mathieu probably is headed to the Heisman Trophy ceremony next week.
“He’s definitely a Heisman-like talent,” Georgia punter Drew Butler said.
“They stole the momentum with the big plays they had on special teams,” Georgia junior Bacarri Rambo said.
Georgia, playing in its first SEC title game since 2005, folded after LSU racked up 21 third-quarter points, the most ever in an SEC championship game, and scored the game’s final 42 points.
“They’re a championship team,” Georgia linebacker Christian Robinson said. “That doesn’t mean they have the most high-powered offense or the best defense in the world. It means they know how to rise up when things don’t go their way.”
Said offensive tackle Cordy Glenn said: “We made a couple of critical mistakes to start the second half and we had to pay for them. “
Murray fumbled on Georgia’s first possession of the second half on a scramble and Mathieu recovered at the Georgia 27.
Kenny Hilliard scored the first of his three third-quarter touchdowns. He scored on runs of 15 and 4 yards and caught an 8-yard scoring pass from Jordan Jefferson.
His second touchdown was set up by the 47-yard return from Mathieu, who weaved through up to a half dozen Bulldogs in pursuit.
“He made guys miss left and right,” said Blake Sailors, who covers punts for Georgia.
“I’ll be honest with you, I enjoy watching the guy play football other than when he plays against us because when you see a guy like that, you can appreciate it,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said.
Alfred Blue added a 48-yard touchdown run after some Bulldogs fans started heading for the exits. Adding to the wound, Murray’s final pass of the game was returned 45 yards for a touchdown by Mo Claiborne.
“When you face a team like this you’ve got to be on top of your game and you’ve got to do it for four quarters,” Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said.
LSU finished with 237 total yards of offense, its lowest total of the season.
Murray went 16 of 40 for 163 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
LSU opened a 28-10 lead after generating only 135 yards of offense through three quarters. The Tigers didn’t have a single first down in the first half when it went three-and-out on all seven possessions and mustered just 12 total yards.
LSU trailed only 10-7 because the Bulldogs had at least three first-half drops (and at least six on the day).
“We felt like we had control of the game and we just let it slip,” Murray said.
Tavarres King had a pass go off his fingertips in the end zone. An open Malcolm Mitchell later dropped a pass inside the LSU 5-yard line that would have been a sure touchdown.
“Probably could have had 21 points in the first half if we just catch the football,” Richt said.
Georgia had 36 yards of total offense in the second and third quarters.
“We pretty much called everything we had on our sheet,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “Some of it worked, some of it didn’t. That’s just how it goes when you play a good defense.
LSU limited Georgia to its lowest point total of the season, sacked Murray four times and held Isaiah Crowell to 15 yards on 10 carries. Crowell said the ankle he sprained two weeks earlier was “hurting the whole game.”
Georgia opened a 10-0 lead before The “Honey Badger” did his thing.
The 5-foot-9, 175-pound Mathieu returned a punt for a touchdown for the second straight game.
This time it was an electric 62-yard return with 5:48 left in the second quarter in which he weaved his way downfield and coasted into the end zone, but perhaps without the ball. A replay indicated he flipped it to an official before he crossed the goal line.
“I just felt like I needed to change the momentum of the game,” Mathieu said.
LSU will try to become the sixth straight BCS champion from the SEC when it plays Jan. 9 in New Orleans.
Georgia hopes to get back to the SEC title game again.
“The seniors this year started a great foundation of how it’s supposed to be done,” Glenn said. “I think they’ll be right back next year in this game again.”