Georgia has seen some of the best defensive players in the country this season.
The Bulldogs faced South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram, Vanderbilt defensive back Casey Hayward and Kentucky linebacker Danny Trevathan.
But make no mistake about it: Georgia has not seen a team defense this season like LSU’s.
Across the board, the Tigers have proven to be one of the deepest, most talented and well-coached defenses in the country. LSU leads the nation or is among the leaders in nearly every defensive statistic, making it one of the few teams in the country to be doing better, at least on paper, than Georgia leading into Saturday’s Southeastern Conference championship game.
“We’ve faced some good defenses this year,” Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray said. “I think overall their defense as a whole is the best we’ll face all year. There’s not really a weak spot in the defense anywhere, so our offense will have to be ready to go.”
Maybe the most frustrating part aspect for Georgia as it prepares for Saturday’s game is that the Tigers don’t try to disguise any of it. Every team the Tigers have faced knew what cornerbacks Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne were capable of. They all saw game tape of safety Eric Reid.
Each team on LSU’s schedule has more and more defensive film to study, yet none has been able to do much of anything with that information.
“The thing about them is they’ve got plenty of diversity on their defense, but they’re not trying to trick you offensively in any way shape or form,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “It’s just kind of line up and we’re going to see who the best man is, who the best team is, and they make very few mistakes.”
The Tigers’ knack for winning those battles is reflected in their perfect record. Possibly more telling is how quickly the Tigers’ defense turns into offense.
The LSU defense has a nation-leading plus-19 turnover margin – Georgia is second in the SEC with a plus-10 – and has accumulated 16 interceptions and 11 fumbles, and LSU’s defensive backs had scored six touchdowns this season, the same number of passing touchdowns it has allowed.
Keeping the ball away from LSU defenders will be more difficult than getting it into the hands of Georgia players.
“They’re very good with the ball in their hands,” Murray said. “They’re good just getting the ball in their hands, first off, between interceptions, stripping the ball. They’re ball hogs. When the ball is in their hands, they’re great athletes and they know what to do with it.”
LSU’s depth will be an issue as its athletes rotate in and out with frequency. The SEC championship game’s abundance of television timeouts plays somewhat into Georgia’s hands as LSU has been able to wear teams down to a pulp with its second-half rotations. To combat that, the Bulldogs plan on playing an efficient game.
“(Wide receivers coach Tony Ball) is going to harp on us all week, as he does every week that every step you take and every move you make with your hands has to toward beating that DB,” Georia receiver Michael Bennett said. “These guy are fundamentally sound, they’re quick, they’re big. It’s going to be a little scary, but I think we’re ready for the challenge.”
Arguably the best approach to taking on LSU is to avoid looking at the big picture. Win one matchup at a time and the rest will come. Or at least that was the approach receiver Chris Conley suggested.
“Our focus is just going to be on what we can control,” Conley said. “That’s something that has helped us throughout the season, whether it be Florida’s defense or anyone else. All defenses are going to have talent in different areas. Their defense is talented all over – their front, linebackers and secondary are very talented – so we just have to focus on creating space and being quick off the ball.”
And that’s just fine, Conley said, because Georgia has embraced this challenge. The Bulldogs can shrug off criticisms about their running game, their strength of schedule and just what the SEC Eastern
Division is made of this year.
“I think our offense is very talented, but there’s no doubt in our minds that this is going to be a challenge,” Conley said. “And it’s something that we’ve looked forward to because this is the kind of game you come to Georgia to play in: a game where you’re going to be challenged, a game where things aren’t handed to you, a game where you’re going to have to work and take things for yourself.”