By: James Johnson
If you weren’t on your couch Saturday at 3:30 PM EST watching the battle between the hedges of Georgia and LSU, my heart bleeds for you–you missed what could be one of the best games of the year as the Bulldogs edged passed the LSU Tigers in a 44 – 41 victory. Lucky for you, however, I’ve written the article below to give you my thoughts and analysis on the game.
Simply put, this victory can be pinned on two things: Aaron Murray’s emergence as a leader, and the Bulldogs run game. Murray, who most were concerned with due to the team’s struggle against ranked opponents, elevated his game yet again against their opponents LSU. Crazy thing about it is his 20 of 34 passing attempts for 298 yards was his worst performance of the year as far as completions and yards go. However, if you saw the game you’d know those statistics weren’t exactly telling of his heroics as he had 4 TD passes, and a TD in which he ran in from the one. I’ll be the first to say, despite those numbers, I now trust Aaron Murray to lead this team to the promised land as he went toe-to-toe with a very impressive QB performance from Zach Mettenberger, who I’ll speak on later in this piece. All that aside, I think the most important part of his performance was his last drive in which he marched down the field with a combination of All-SEC TE Arthur Lynch, RB’s Keith Marshall, J.J. Green and WR Justin Wesley-Scott (repping my area code), who caught the game winning TD pass. With their help and contributions it appears that they not only helped Murray during a performance for the ages, but have also shown the nation just how deep they are as an offensive unit.
As for the other key factor in their victory, the run game, there is no team that is better when it comes to that. Early in the game, Todd Gurley was putting up another Heisman-like performance until he sprained his ankle in the second quarter. His backup, Keith Marshall, was then called upon and had a solid second quarter. As most UGA fans knew, the team had the best duo in college football, but the question then became whether or not Marshall was capable of being a #1 RB without his Heisman running mate, Gurley. Marshall answered the call as he came away with 56 yards total in the second quarter. Surprised? I certainly wasn’t–I’ve stressed on multiple occasions just how deep this team is when they lost their best offensive player, Malcolm Mitchell, against Clemson. It’s safe to say that while Marshall isn’t Todd Gurley, the four star recruit would start for 99% of any other colleges out there had he not be in Georgia playing behind his good friend Todd Gurley. I’d go as far as saying even the depth behind Marshall is promising with Brendan Douglas and J.J. Green, who broke a nice 15 yarder in the final drive. When I said we had weapons for days, I wasn’t being biased.
Now onto the unsung heroes in the Bulldogs WR group, which, again, despite having such a superior run game counter part, is one of the best in the country. The reason I say that is because they lost Malcolm Mitchell and seem to still somehow flourish without him. Justin Wesley-Scott, who I mentioned above, has been just fine in the place of Mitchell, and as we know he caught the game winner from Murray. He’s stepped up big since day one in Clemson. As of today, he has 289 yards on the season for 2 TD’s and looks well on his way to continue improving. Chris Conley, who most remember for the pass he should’ve dropped in the SEC Championship just short of the end-zone, has been a solid #2 behind Wesley-Scott with 254 yards and 2 TD’s of his own for the season. 112 of those yards came against LSU as well as one of his touchdowns. And who could forget about Michael Bennett, who, before he tore his ACL in 2012, looked liked UGA’s #1 WR and a high draft pick in my eyes. Though he only had 3 receptions against LSU, 2 of those receptions were TD’s. And I’d be wrong not to include All-SEC TE Arthur Lynch as he was key to marching the team down the field in that last drive along with Murray.
Lastly, I must give props to LSU as they, too, showed me a lot in this epic showdown. Former UGA QB Zach Mettenberger had a beyond memorable performance in his return to the stadium he dreamed to play at as a kid. He ended the game with 23 of 37 passes completed and 372 yards for 3 touchdowns, and had a performance which I’d say was better than Murray’s epic performance. The only difference is that Murray lead his team to a game winning drive. Had it been the other way around, Mettenberger may have been on the Heisman ballot the moment he walked off the field. But all isn’t bad for Mettenberger as reports have been surfacing of his rising draft stock, including one which states that most NFL executives would take Mettenberger over Murray. As Daniel Jeremiah put it, Mettenberger made himself a lot of money that game.
Mettenberger wasn’t alone, however, as his WR deserve credit for the Tigers’ performance. Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham shredded and abused UGA’s secondary (who I’ll shred in another article) as Landry came away from the games with 156 yards and Beckham 118. What’s even more astonishing is their deep play ability as Landry averaged 15.6 yards per catch and Beckham averaged a whopping 19.7 yards per catch. Despite my love for the Bulldogs and disappointment in their secondary, I must say those are some impressive numbers for the LSU starting duo. This team is in good shape under Les Miles, and you better believe I’ll be watching them all season, especially when they play #1 ranked Alabama.
To close things up, I want to first get on the Bulldogs defense, particularly the secondary which I said above really needs to step up their game. Safety’s Josh Harvey-Clemons, Tray Matthews, and Corners Damian Swann and Brendan Langley, all looked lost at times. It appears that what they need is a leader among the four, and if I had to chose one, I’d say it needs to be the one with the most experience, Damian Swann. He needs to take a page out of his former teammate’s book in Shawn Williams, and find a way to “nicely” call out his young counterparts. And if he can, I firmly believe this defense will turn around for the better, just as it did last year when Williams called his teammates out for being….well you know the word. As for the front seven they actually held their own in the run game. They held LSU’s workhorse RB Jeremy Hill in check with only 86 yards, which in the end was one of the reasons LSU lost. Yeah, they gave up a few red-zone TD’s, but who doesn’t to LSU? They could also afford to get better in the pass-rush department, though they flashed at times. Freshman Leonard Floyd is one guy to keep an eye on as the Bulldogs next pass-rusher as he’s just scratching the surface. LSU’s defense will also need to tighten up as they aren’t as fortunate as Georgia seeing as their biggest game is ahead of them against Alabama. I have no doubts in my mind that Les Miles will make the necessary adjustments to have his young defense ready when they head to Tuscaloosa and face the Tide. Problem is they also have to face ranked opponents in Florida, Ole Miss, and Texas A&M. Talk about having it tough huh? As for Georgia, though they’ve gotten through the hardest part of their schedule, they still need to sleep with one eye open in this unpredictable SEC race. They head into Tennessee in a game that Mark Richt says the Bulldogs would be foolish to overlook. I couldn’t agree more with that notion. They also play on last ranked opponent in their likely biggest rival in Florida, who will be dealing with the absence of Jeff Driskell and Dominique Easley, yet if I were anyone in the SEC, I still wouldn’t take them lightly . One thing is in Georgia’s favor: their offense is red hot, and if their defense can show some improvement and step up to the plate…..well look out everyone, I’m warning you!
Also, Tune in tomorrow to our podcast via Blogtalkradio.com as me Phil, and Eric will talk on this game with Greg Poole of Bulldogillustrated.com .
If anyone would like to comment here or to James himself, feel free to do so and follow him on Twitter @IES_Don to give him your thoughts.