The LSU Tigers SEC Championship run this season has been nothing short of remarkable. No one expected the program to win the West division in Brian Kelly’s first year. Nonetheless, the Tigers finished the regular season at 9-3 overall and 6-2 in the SEC. Next up is a conference championship match-up against No. 1 Georgia.
LSU Tigers SEC Championship Run: How the Tigers Got to Atlanta
Following wins over Alabama, Arkansas, and UAB, the Bayou Bengals were rolling. Sitting at 9-2, the only game standing in their way of a 10-2 regular season was at Texas A&M. In College Station, LSU struggled mightily losing 38-23. In that game, Aggies running back Devon Achane rushed for 215 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Conner Weigman torched the defense going 12-of-18 for 155 yards and two touchdown passes.
After that loss, LSU travels to Atlanta with no hopes of a shocking College Football Playoff berth. But, a win over the Bulldogs from Athens puts the Tigers in the Sugar Bowl.
How the Tigers Offense Keeps The Game Close
Looking at the offense, the unit succeeds and suffers at the hands of Jayden Daniels. The former Arizona State transfer has passed for 2,566 yards with 15 touchdowns and two interceptions. The downside to Daniels’ pocket presence is that he has been sacked 40 times in 2022.
The offensive line has dealt with injuries all season and Daniels has had to escape the pocket with his feet just to keep drives alive. In the backfield, John Emery Jr and Josh Williams will carry the workload. Both tailbacks have their own skill set and match up differently in formations. Williams was the top tailback for the majority of the season. However, Emery Jr. has seen more playing time as of late.
The wide receiver threat for the Tigers gives the offense a good battle against the Georgia secondary. Malik Nabers leads the team in reception yards with 726 but has only one touchdown. Jaray Jenkins can line up anywhere on the field and make a play. On the season, he has five touchdowns to go along with 332 yards.
For LSU to have success on offense, the Tigers must force Georgia to make them one-dimensional. Just when the Dawgs think the tailbacks will get a handoff, the ball can be in the hands of Daniels. Giving the signal-caller time in the pocket only allows him to make progressions and find open receivers. The Georgia defense allows 191.2 passing yards per game. This will be the toughest defense the Bayou Bengals have faced all season.
Defense Must Stop Georgia
From a defense perspective, the Tigers’ front is key. BJ Ojulari and Jaquelin Roy have played outstanding for defensive coordinator Matt House’s unit so far. Linebacker Micah Baskerville has taken an elite step up and leads the team in tackles with 74. Freshman linebacker Harold Perkins has become an instant fan favorite with his ability to spread out all over the field and make plays.
Pressuring Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett will say a lot about this defense. The Bulldogs aren’t a team that dominates their opponents by 40+ points. The way Georgia has won games this season is by slowly working down the opposing defense and taking time off the clock. With many talents on the defense, LSU has to attack early and force the Dawgs into unwanted territory.
Attacking Georgia early also means the defense has to contain Bulldogs tight end Brock Bowers, who can torch defenders after the catch. During 2022, Bowers has caught 46 passes for 645 yards and five touchdowns. He is excellent after the catch and can quickly race to the end zone if given open space. Ladd McConkey, a 6-foot, 185-pound Sophomore wide receiver, has caught 46 passes for 606 yards and four scores of his own.
While Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs aren’t an elite rushing team, Kenny McIntosh and Daijun Edwards are elusive rushers. McIntosh leads the program with 654 yards and eight rushing touchdowns. He is also solid in the passing game with 35 catches for 437 yards and one touchdown. Edwards has totaled 604 yards and seven rushing touchdowns on 115 attempts.
The Tigers’ defensive front has to be prepared for a multiple-attack offense that Georgia brings to the game. Just when LSU thinks it has the Bulldogs on the ropes, a chunk play can happen via the air or by one of the tailbacks on the ground.
In the secondary, the Tigers’ solid rotation of Greg Brooks, Jay Ward, and Joe Foucha has proven to be one of the best in the SEC. Among the three safeties, there are a combined eight passes defended and three interceptions.
Tigers and Dawgs Meet in Atlanta for the Fifth Time
The LSU Tigers SEC Championship run is certainly one for the ages. In program history, only one coach has led the Tigers to the conference title in their first year. That coach was Bernie Moore in 1935. But now, Kelly has accomplished something Ed Orgeron, Les Miles, and Nick Saban could not.
In SEC Championship history, LSU is 4-1 against Georgia. The last game was played in 2019 when LSU defeated the Dawgs 37-10 en route to an undefeated National Championship season. This time, the stakes are different. But, Kelly has already won over the fan base with so much success in 2022.
A 17.5-point underdog, the Tigers have the talent to go win this game. The only question that remains is can the program do what no other team has done in 2022 and defeat Georgia? As Saturday approaches, the LSU Tigers SEC Championship hopes and a potential Sugar Bowl berth draw closer.