SEC: Dawgs-Tigers-111203

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If it's Alabama again, so be it

December, 4, 2011

ATLANTA -- The entire state of Alabama will be on pins and needles while awaiting the announcement of the final BCS standings on Sunday night.

Oklahoma State’s 44-10 rout of Oklahoma on Saturday night was just what the Crimson Tide were hoping wouldn’t happen. Now, it’s probably going to come down to the narrowest of margins between Alabama and Oklahoma State for that No. 2 spot in the final BCS standings.

LSU, meanwhile, locked up its berth in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game with a 42-10 bludgeoning of Georgia in the SEC championship game on Saturday, and the Tigers made it abundantly clear afterward that they had no problem going through Alabama a second time to get their crystal trophy.

“We beat them at their house,” LSU receiver Russell Shepard said. “Now they’ve got to come to our house [New Orleans]. So I feel like we have the advantage. We didn’t play our best football that first game.

“Now, we have a full month to prepare, and there’s nobody I would want preparing us more than Coach Miles.”

LSU sophomore safety Eric Reid said that if the Tigers' opponent is Alabama, everybody shouldn’t expect the same kind of game. LSU won 9-6 in overtime on Nov. 5 in Tuscaloosa.

“It’s a new game,” Reid said. “The game we played in the past is in the past. We’ve got to go out there with a clean mind and clean slate and do it again.

“The name on their jersey doesn’t matter to us. We’re going to line up and play football. If it’s Alabama again, then we’ll be playing Alabama again.”

Reid added, “But, first, we’ve still got a little celebrating to do.”

Sam Montgomery, the Tigers’ sophomore defensive end, reiterated his sentiments from a week ago. In short, the ultimate way to culminate this season would be to beat Alabama for a second time.

“It’s one of those things that you want to go down the hardest path, so when you look back on these moments, there’s nothing nobody can say,” Montgomery said.

One thing that Montgomery doesn’t buy is that LSU won the first time simply because Alabama missed four field goals.

“I wouldn’t blame it on the field goals at all,” Montgomery said. “You have an offense. We have a defense. You have a kicker. We have a kicker. Pressure is a part of football. If you can’t handle pressure, you’ve got a problem. Get the right guy in.”

Shepard said the last time he checked, football was made up of three phases.

“At the end of the day, we don’t care what anybody says,” Shepard said. “We’re 13-0. If we’ve got to play Bama, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma ... we welcome anybody. We’re not scared of anybody.”

LSU senior offensive guard Will Blackwell said he didn’t think it was fair that Alabama would get a shot at the national title without winning its conference title.

“But I’m not a voter, and my opinion doesn’t really matter,” Blackwell said. “If we beat them again, we’ll be the best team there ever was.”

Mistakes sink off-balance Georgia

December, 4, 2011
ATLANTA -- Georgia threw everything including the kitchen sink at top-ranked LSU early in Saturday's SEC championship game.

The net result of the Bulldogs' spate of early deception plays in the first quarter? An emotional edge, but only a nominal advantage on the scoreboard.

Georgia's inability to build off its early dominance left the door open for LSU to mount a comeback -- and the Tigers were more than successful in that attempt, scoring 42 unanswered points en route to a 42-10 victory that secured their spot in the BCS title game.

"I thought our guys knew what to do, and I thought we would have a chance to execute some of those plays," Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "We weren't going to leave anything not called or not ran. This was our chance against a very good football team. They're an awesome team and awesome defensively, and playing against a team like that, you've got to hit on some of those."

LSU's second-half wave buries Georgia

December, 3, 2011

ATLANTA – Like waves rolling over rocks, the Tigers just keep coming.

Sometimes, there’s a lull – that moment of naivety – where it seems like the surge won’t come. But that feeling is always temporarily, as the Tigers find a way to kick their game into another gear.

“You want to be like a machine and you just keep on working,” LSU offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert said.

That machine has proved to be unstoppable for 13 weeks now, as the Tigers are headed to the Allstate BCS National Championship Game riding an undefeated season and the endurance to maul anyone.

This team not only doesn’t understand how to quit, it gets stronger as the clock ticks. Opponents can take leads or find weak spots, but that lasts long enough just to make LSU mad.

It happened last week when LSU outscored Arkansas 41-3, after trailing 14-0, and it happened again in the SEC title game, when Georgia jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first half.

The Tigers found their switch, flicked it on, and went to pounding Georgia into the artificial surface inside of the Georgia Dome.

After spending the first 30 minutes setting offenses back 100 years, the Tigers strutted out in the second half with their usual bully demeanor. As usual, the defense feasted and the LSU ground game went to clubbing away.

LSU ran for a measly 5 yards in the first half, but at the end of the Tigers’ 42-10 victory over Georgia had 207 debilitating rushing yards against the beat-up Bulldogs.

It was a complete change from a first half that featured some pretty revolting play by quarterback Jordan Jefferson. He was 2-of-8 passing for 7 yards and was getting eaten up in the pocket.

He overthrew and underthrew open receivers, while trying his hardest to turn the ball over with throws into double coverage.

In the second half, Jefferson and his coaches turned to handing the ball off more and it worked. Jefferson said his running backs took the pressure off him and bailed him out.

When you have four backs who average 223 pounds of pure hurt, it isn’t that hard to get on a ground-game roll.

“We’re very powerful because there are too many of us back there,” said running back Alfred Blue, who led all rushers with 94 yards, including a 48-yard touchdown run. “We knew going into halftime that we were down and their defense was going to eventually wear out and we were going to start pounding them.”

And did they.

LSU transformed in the second half. That solid Georgia defense that entered the game fifth in total defense and sixth against the run, looked tired and hopeless before the third quarter even ended.

Tyrann Mathieu got LSU’s 42-0 run going with his 62-yard punt return for a score, but an Aaron Murray fumble and another scintillating Mathieu return nearly buried the Bulldogs as they set up LSU’s first two offensive scores almost minutes apart.

It all cascaded down on the Bulldogs when Kenny Hilliard, the man behind LSU’s first two third-quarter touchdowns, bulldozed over a helpless Brandon Boykin before walking into the end zone on an 8-yard reception to make it 28-10.

“When someone punches you in the mouth, you can either back down or you can come and punch them right back,” Hebert said.

Kenny Hilliard
Dale Zanine/US PresswireKenny Hilliard had three touchdowns -- two rushing, one receiving -- in the third quarter.
LSU punched, kicked and totally had its way with Georgia. LSU forced three turnovers, harassed a completely flustered Murray and made Georgia’s running game nonexistent until garbage time.

As frustrated as Murray looked after the handful of drops his receivers delivered him in the first half, the downtrodden expressions he showed in the second half appeared far more painful.

But it was the Georgia defense that looked even more abused. This group outplayed LSU’s offense in the first half, but didn’t have enough steam thereafter.

“It happens to every team we play,” Blue said. “We know we’re a four-quarter team and once we start going, it’s on.”

And the waves just keep coming.

Honey Badger sends Tigers on their way

December, 3, 2011

ATLANTA -- They say the Honey Badger takes what he wants.

On Saturday, with the LSU offense running on embalming fluid in the first half, Tyrann Mathieu plucked the SEC championship right out from under the noses of an inspired Georgia team. In the process, he sent the No. 1 Tigers on their way to the Allstate BCS National Championship Game.

They’re crazy about Mathieu on the Bayou, for sure. But the BCS organizers might be even bigger fans, because without his heroics in jump-starting LSU to its 42-10 dismantling of Georgia, there could have been utter chaos when those final BCS standings come out on Sunday night.

Not anymore.

Mathieu took a snooze-fest in the first half and turned it into his own little highlight show.

“Everybody calls him the Honey Badger. I call him the Chosen One,” LSU receiver Russell Shepard said. “When we need a play, he makes that play. The dude is a great testament to those kids who didn’t get recruited highly and just got overlooked.

“He’s not the fastest, and he’s not the biggest. But he plays with a lot of passion.”

[+] EnlargeTyrann Mathieu
AP Photo/John BazemoreTyrann Mathieu's punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter sparked LSU's win over Georgia.
Mathieu, making yet another case as to why he belongs at the Heisman Trophy ceremonies next weekend, broke loose on a 62-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter -- his fourth touchdown of the season.

Remember, he hasn’t taken an offensive snap all season.

“Last night, I envisioned having three touchdowns,” Mathieu said. “I think I came close to that. What it came down to is me trying to do what I can for my team. I put the pressure on myself at times.”

And when it comes to the other team, he keeps applying that pressure.

Georgia, playing great defense, managed to get into halftime with a 10-7 lead.

But then on the first possession of the second half, LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers leveled a scrambling Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray. The ball popped loose, and Mathieu was there to pounce on it at the Bulldogs’ 27, setting up the Tigers’ second touchdown.

Georgia again couldn’t go anywhere on its next possession and did the unthinkable. The Bulldogs kicked it to Mathieu again, and he turned in his second dazzling punt return of the night to send the Bulldogs packing for good.

On this return, as many as seven Georgia defenders had chances at Mathieu. He was eventually dragged down at the Bulldogs’ 17-yard line.

“He breaks people down. He breaks their spirit down,” LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery said. “That’s what you’ve got to do, take away people’s heart, and he does that.”

Mathieu, voted the SEC championship game MVP, called it an “honor” to pick up his team.

And, man, did the Tigers needed a pick-me-up. They didn’t manage their first first down until the 13:26 mark of the third quarter. That’s after netting 1 yard of total offense in the second quarter.

“My teammates do a great job of having my back,” said Mathieu, who’s now forced six fumbles and has recovered five this season. “Anything I can do for those guys to lift their spirit, I think the Honey Badger [does] that sometimes.”

In a lot of ways, he embodies this entire LSU football team.

Mathieu’s one-game suspension for testing positive for synthetic marijuana back in October was the kind of thing that would have rocked a lot of teams. Teammates Spencer Ware and Tharold Simon were also suspended against Auburn.

Obviously this isn’t just any team.

The Tigers have weathered bar brawls, suspensions and injuries. They even came back after offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe gave up play-calling duties in August after announcing that he had Parkinson’s disease.

But as LSU coach Les Miles said last week following the Tigers’ 41-17 rout of Arkansas, this team doesn’t flinch.

“We’ve just been through so much together,” Mathieu said.

When Mathieu rejoined the team in October, he was determined to make amends.

“He just said, ‘I’m going to make it up,’” Shepard recounted. “It was a short statement, but it meant a lot. He knew he was one of our leaders. We’re all brothers, and we’re in this together.

“We want to make history. Our ultimate goal is to be one of the best teams in college football history.”

Mathieu said he’ll let the voters determine whether he’ll get a trip to New York City next week for the Heisman Trophy ceremonies.

“I just try to go out there and play my best football for my team and my coaches,” said Mathieu.

The replay on his punt return for a touchdown looked like he might have tossed the ball to the official prior to crossing the goal line.

“I could see the referee looking at me kind of strange,” Mathieu conceded. “I’ll be sure next time to make sure I cross the goal line.”

It’s about the only thing he did wrong Saturday.

The ultimate compliment came from Georgia coach Mark Richt.

“I’ll be honest with you,” Richt said. “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. You appreciate it because of how he plays.

“There’s something about him that he seems to find a way to do something special just about every game … and he did it again.”

Something says it won’t be the last time, either.

Video: LSU safety Brandon Taylor

December, 3, 2011

LSU safety Brandon Taylor talks about the Tigers’ season and the SEC championship.

Video: SEC championship and the BCS

December, 3, 2011

Mark Schlabach and Edward Aschoff discuss the SEC title game and the BCS race.

Video: LSU DT T-Bob Hebert

December, 3, 2011

LSU defensive tackle T-Bob Hebert talks about LSU’s win over Georgia in the SEC championship game.

Final: LSU 42, Georgia 10

December, 3, 2011

ATLANTA -- LSU has taken the SEC title and is headed to the national championship with its 42-10 win over Georgia. Here is the instant analysis:

How the game was won: After LSU showed the country how to not play offense in the first half, it rebounded in the second to go on one of its patented runs. Things started with Tyrann Mathieu's 62-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter, and ended with LSU just wearing down and laying a beating on Georgia's rush defense. LSU ran for 203 yards in the second half, scoring three rushing touchdowns in the process. LSU's defense also smothered Georgia after the first quarter. The Bulldogs gained 134 yards in the first quarter, but finished with 296 and turned the ball over three times.

Turning point: LSU had no life until Mathieu's return in the second quarter to make it 10-7 Georgia. The play shouldn't have been ruled a touchdown, as video evidence showed Mathieu pitched the ball to the referee before he crossed the goal line. The ball looked like it went through the end zone, so Georgia should have gotten the ball back. The play was never reviewed and LSU scored 42 straight points and sucked the life out of Georgia.

Player of the game: When LSU needed a big play on special teams, Mathieu delivered with the touchdown. On Georgia's first drive of the third quarter, Mathieu recovered a fumble at the Bulldogs' 27-yard line and set up the Tigers' second touchdown of the game. After a quick three-and-out, Mathieu returned a punt for 47 yards that led to LSU's third score. He also disrupted Georgia's passing game with blitzes and by blanketing receivers.

Unsung hero of the game: With a first half consumed with atrocious offense from LSU's side, the player who made sure Georgia didn't get into good position to score was LSU punter Brad Wing. He punted the ball seven times in the first half and averaged 54.1 yards per kick, including a long of 67 yards. He pinned Georgia inside its 20 once and the Bulldogs recorded zero yards on four returns.

What it means: LSU will now play for the Allstate BCS National Championship Game, and it will likely do so against Alabama, which the Tigers beat 9-6 in Tuscaloosa, Ala., earlier this year. LSU is now 13-0 for the first time in school history and will compete for its second national title in five years. Georgia is now most likely headed to the Outback Bowl.

LSU has completely taken over

December, 3, 2011
ATLANTA -- Georgia might have been leading at the half, but it didn't look like the Bulldogs showed up in the second half.

That was because LSU absolutely dominated all aspects of the third quarter.

Two turnovers and a scintillating punt return by Tyrann Mathieu set up the Tigers' three touchdowns in the third quarter -- the most scored in a single quarter by a team in the SEC title game.

LSU went from down 10 to scoring 28 consecutive points on the Bulldogs in the past two quarters.

If the game wasn't totally in LSU's hands when Tharold Simon made a tremendous play on the ball to intercept Aaron Murray's pass, it certainly was when running back Kenny Hilliard caught a pass from Jordan Jefferson and trucked Georgia's Brandon Boykin before walking into the end zone for the 8-yard score to put the Tigers up 18.

That play drew little celebration from LSU's side, almost like the players and coaches knew they had sucked all of the life out of Georgia.

Barring a total collapse, it looks like LSU will head to the national title game undefeated.

Carlton Thomas injures knee

December, 3, 2011
ATLANTA -- We just received word in the press box that Georgia running back Carlton Thomas injured a knee and his return is uncertain.

Thomas, who started over Isaiah Crowell, had carried the ball seven times for a team-high 28 yards, including a long of 16.

Now, Crowell, who has limped on and off of the field a few times Saturday night, must step up more for the Bulldogs. He has carried the ball nine times for just 14 yards, including a long of 11.

Maybe this team will even turn to freshman Brandon Harton instead.

Georgia's Michael Gilliard is out

December, 3, 2011
ATLANTA -- Georgia linebacker Michael Gilliard won't be returning to Saturday's game.

Gilliard injured his right ankle in the first half and is down on Georgia's sideline using crutches.

Losing Gilliard is a big hit to the Bulldogs' defense. He's really been coming on this season and with LSU starting to run the ball better, the Bulldogs will miss his presence on defense from here on out.

LSU starting its run?

December, 3, 2011
ATLANTA -- You knew Les Miles would have a plan.

You knew the Tigers would find some sort of spark in the second half.

Well, it didn't take long, as on the third play of Georgia's opening drive Michael Brockers forced quarterback Aaron Murray to fumble. The Tigers recovered and went 26 yards in two plays for a touchdown.

They even picked up a first down ... on a Jordan Jefferson pass. The Tigers didn't record one in the opening half.

But it was Kenny Hilliard's 15-yard touchdown run that sent LSU and its fans into a frenzy. The momentum and energy belongs to LSU right now. All the juice Georgia had is absolutely gone.

Tyrann Mathieu, whose 62-yard punt return for a touchdown has been marred in controversy after video replay clearly showed that he pitched the ball to the ref and through the end zone before he crossed the goal line, caused everyone in the Georgia Dome to lose it when he danced around almost every Georgia defender on special teams to set the Tigers up deep in Georgia territory.

From there, the Tigers went 17 yards in four plays to make it 21-10. LSU is now on a 21-0 run. Thanks to Mathieu's play, the Tigers are in control of this game, as Georgia's offense has had nothing to show for itself since the first quarter.

Halftime: Georgia 10, LSU 7

December, 3, 2011
ATLANTA -- It's halftime in the SEC championship game with Georgia leading 10-7.

Stat of the half: LSU entered the half without a first down from its offense. The Tigers went three-and-out six times and Georgia's defense held LSU to just 12 total yards. LSU totaled just 1 yard of offense in the second quarter. Georgia has 135 yards at the half.

Turning point: LSU had barely any life before Tyrann Mathieu took Drew Butler's 59-yard punt 62 yards to the house to get the Tigers on the board. The play not only gave LSU points but it energized the Tigers and their fans. LSU promptly came out and forced Georgia to go three plays and out on offense. That play definitely ate into the energy that Georgia had to open the game.

What Georgia needs to do: The Bulldogs have to get back to their more aggressive offensive play calling. Deciding to hit the air hard during Georgia's early drives caught the Tigers off guard. LSU's defensive line has stiffened up, making the Georgia run game almost nonexistent heading into the half. LSU can get overly aggressive in the secondary and Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray did a good job finding holes early. But as the half neared a close, the Bulldogs got way too conservative on offense.

What LSU needs to do: The Tigers also need to liven up their play calls. The Tigers couldn't move the ball on the ground, and certainly didn't get anything of substance from quarterback Jordan Jefferson in the first half. LSU headed to the half with just 12 total yards of offense. There was rarely any creativity from LSU's offense and the Tigers looked overmatched by Georgia's defense. LSU has to get its passing game going in the second half if it wants to get some more points on the board. Maybe that means getting Jarrett Lee some meaningful snaps in the second half.

The Honey Badger returns

December, 3, 2011
ATLANTA -- If LSU ever needed some sort of momentum, it was right before Tyrann Mathieu touched the ball on a Drew Butler punt.

LSU had zero first downs in the game with just over six minutes remaining in the second quarter and had gone three-and-out five times.

Georgia had held the Tigers to just 16 yards of total offense. LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson is 1-of-6 passing for minus-2 yards.

With LSU fans itching to get back into this game, Mathieu fielded Butler's sky-high, 59-yard punt and went to work. The Honey Badger juked a defender, went right, stepped past a couple of more defenders, cut up through the middle of the field and jogged in while Butler tried helplessly to catch up.

Mathieu's 62-yard return gave LSU and its fans new life. It also quieted a Georgia crowd that has been overwhelmingly loud all day.

Is this the play that turns the game for the Tigers? Remember what he did against Arkansas last week and what it did for LSU?