ATLANTA, Ga. — Likely Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow did to Georgia’s highly-touted defense what he’s done to other teams the entire 2019 season.
The LSU senior quarterback riddled the Bulldogs’ secondary for 349 yards and four touchdowns in Mercedes-Benz Stadium here Saturday and with the Georgia offense only able to cash a lone touchdown early in the fourth quarter, the 2nd-ranked Tigers pulled away from a 17 -3 halftime lead and went on to rock the Bulldogs 37-10 in the SEC Championship Game.
It was a night of disappointment for 4th-ranked Georgia, which entered the contest with a third consecutive regular-season record of 11-1. The Tigers climbed to 13-0 on the season and await their College Football Playoff seeding Sunday afternoon. The Bulldogs also await their bowl destination, which at this point would seem to be a second consecutive trip to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans with a likely opponent being the Baylor Bears, who fell to the Oklahoma Sooners in overtime Saturday in the Big 12 championship game. The Orange Bowl against Virginia is also a possible landing spot for the Bulldogs.
Coming into the game against LSU’s explosive offense, Georgia knew it would have to stymie Burrow’s passing somewhat while also controlling the football and cashing touchdowns… instead of field goals. The Bulldogs could do neither as Burrow continually avoided Georgia’s pass rush and hurled strikes downfield to his talented receiving corps. Georgia’s only touchdown, a 2-yard pass from Jake Fromm to George Pickens, didn’t come until 11:41 remained in the game.
Not only did the Bulldogs’ receivers drop a number of Fromm’s passes, especially early in the game, but Rodrigo Blankenship continued his kicking problems inside Mercedes-Benz, misfiring on field-goal attempts of 52 and 37 yards. Also, more than five Georgia players had to leave the field with injuries, one being Fromm late in the second quarter but he did return before halftime after backup Stetson Bennett ran a couple of plays at quarterback. The most serious injury seemed to be that of freshman receiver Dominick Blaylock, who left the game late in the first quarter with a knee injury.
“Unfortunately, we just couldn’t make enough plays tonight, and I give LSU a ton of credit,” said Georgia head coach Kirby Smart. “That is a really good football team and we knew that coming in. We were going to have to play well. We were going to have to make explosive plays, and we were unable to do that. I am very proud of the way our players compete, and I am very proud of the leaders on this team who have continued to compete.”
The Tigers jumped to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter on Burrow touchdown strikes of 23 yards to ace receiver Ja’Marr Chase and 7 yards to Terrace Marshall. After missing his 52-yard attempt in the opening quarter, Blankenship connected on his second field goal try, drilling a 39-yarder with 11:28 left in the second period. That pulled Georgia within 14-3 and when the battling Bulldog defense limited LSU to just a Cade York 41-yard field goal the rest of the quarter, the SEC East Division champions were still in this game, trailing at the halftime by 14.
But it was all Tigers in the third quarter as they cashed a 28-yard field goal by York, a 4-yard TD toss from Burrow to Marshall again and an 8-yard Burrow-to-Justin Jefferson scoring strike. The touchdown pass to Marshall came after Burrow again escaped the UGA pass rush and hurled a 71-yard bomb to Jefferson, to the Georgia 9-yard line. Those two touchdowns blinked the scoreboard to 34-3 as the LSU faithful began setting their sights on more than just an SEC championship.
“We had a great call on that,” said Smart of Burrow’s scramble away from the Bulldog rush and connecting on the run to Jefferson on the 71-yard pass. “We brought six people. You bring six, you expect to get home. … He just made a better play than we made a call. Joe Burrow made an incredible play. Said safety J.R. Reed: “He just squirms out of it.”
Freshman receiver Pickens then tallied the Bulldogs’ lone touchdown with 11:41 left in the final quarter when he pulled in Fromm’s 2-yard pass. LSU would then put the topping on its conference crown by getting another field goal from York, this time from 50 yards out with 7:41 remaining.
The Bulldogs’ defense, second in the nation against scoring and also rushing defense, did limit Tiger tailback Clyde Edwards-Helaire to just 57 yards on 15 carries with 36 of that coming in the fourth quarter when Georgia’s stop-em unit was obviously fatigued but, again, the Bulldogs had no answer for Burrow and his ace receivers. Jefferson had 115 yards on seven catches and the touchdown and Edwards-Helaire also caught seven passes for 61 yards. Marshall snared five balls for 89 yards and his two scores while the team’s leading receiver on the season, Chase, showed three receptions for 41 yards including the Tigers’ first score of the night.
To be successful in this game against LSU’s high-powered attack, the Bulldogs needed to run the ball satisfactorily and, they couldn’t do it. With D’Andre Swift apparently still hampered by his shoulder contusion, he had only two carries on the night for 13 yards. Georgia’s ground leaders were senior Brian Herrien and sophomore James Cook and they could run for only 24 and 23 yards, respectively, as the Tiger defense shut the Bulldogs’ rushing attack down to the tune of 61 net yards.
“I originally wasn’t going to run up the middle unless I needed to,” said Swift, the Bulldogs’ leading rusher this season with 1,216 yards. “Unless the game was tight and I needed to go back in there. So I just tried to get into space and make some plays and stuff like that.”
“He was fine,” said Smart. “He warmed up. He played. He looked fine to me.”
And though Fromm finished the night with 225 aerial yards, he was under the 50 percent completion rate for a fifth consecutive game, hitting on 20 of 42 attempts with two costly interceptions thrown into that mix. LSU’s ace cornerback, Derek Stingley, had both of the picks off Fromm, his second one which he returned to the Bulldogs 13-yard line to set up the late third-quarter touchdown pass to Jefferson that lifted the Tigers up by 34-3.
Pickens, coming on in the second half after serving his first-half suspension for fighting in the Georgia Tech game, managed four catches for 54 yards including the Bulldogs’ lone touchdown. Junior Demetris Robertson also pulled in four of Fromm’s passes for 52 yards while Tyler Simmons and Herrien each had three receptions.
“It’s kind of tough on us, but for us, it’s a ‘next man up’ mentality,” Fromm said of his receiver ranks being thinned by injury. “I think the guys were ready. They understood the plan. It’s just an opportunity for them to go out and make a couple of plays.”
“You have an offense that’s built around the players you have,” offered Smart. “People say, ‘Coach Smart wants to play man-ball.’ Coach Smart wants to win. We run some of the same plays they do. The difference is that they’re having success. …They got guys who are getting open. We had a lot of drops tonight.”
“That’s upsetting,” Georgia junior tackle Andrew Thomas said. “We had a good game plan coming in. We just didn’t execute it the way we needed to.”
Defensively, junior safety Richard LeCounte, freshman safety Lewis Cine and senior safety J.R. Reed all were credited with six tackles each while junior linebacker Monty Rice followed closely with five stops. Junior tackle
Devonte Wyatt and sophomore nose tackle Jordan Davis notched the only sacks of Burrow.
“We just didn’t get it done tonight,” summed up redshirt freshman linebacker Azeez Ojulari. “We had a chance to get to Burrow for sacks but he’s a great quarterback with quick feet and he would get away from us and make the throw.”