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Thursday, December 1, 2011
Updated: December 2, 9:46 AM ET
Bulldogs must keep heads down

By David Ching
DawgNation

Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery
Georgia can ill afford mistakes against the likes of DEs Sam Montgomery (left) and Barkevious Mingo (right), each with a team-high 8 sacks.
Georgia (10-2, 7-1) vs. LSU (12-0, 8-0)
Saturday, Dec. 3, 4 p.m. ET, Georgia Dome, Atlanta
TV: CBS

Competing with LSU requires that a team stand toe-to-toe with the relentless Tigers for a full 60 minutes.

Only Alabama was still standing at the end of regulation, but even the Crimson Tide eventually got taken off their feet when the top-ranked Tigers (12-0) finally earned a 9-6 overtime win in Tuscaloosa.

That game aside, LSU has beaten each of its remaining opponents by double digits -- often in blowout fashion.

Las Vegas prognosticators foresee another blowout, setting LSU as a 13.5-point favorite over No. 12 Georgia (10-2) in Saturday's SEC championship game. The Bulldogs know it won't be easy to stay in the game with LSU, much less hand the Tigers their first loss of the season.

"They're an intimidating group to watch on film, and it's going to be a very big challenge for us," Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "The thing we stressed all week is that we can't get frustrated in this game. They're going to make plays, and we've just got to keep playing, we've got to keep calling plays, we've got to keep going out there and try to execute them. And when the opportunity comes to make a play, we've got to make it."

Most of all, the Bulldogs must avoid mistakes that would allow the Tigers to launch one of their trademark runs. Arkansas had LSU in a 14-0 hole early last week, only to allow a punt return for a touchdown and commit a turnover that allowed the Tigers to take a 21-14 halftime lead.

Before Arkansas knew it, LSU had put together a 41-3 run and was cruising. Georgia knows it probably can't withstand such a run if it allows LSU to get rolling.

"Before you know it, 'all three phases of the game' has made a big play, and it might result in 21 points in a very short amount of time," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "If something bad happens, you've just got to be able to shake it off and regroup and get back to work. If you let it get in your head, then you've got problems."

Three storylines
1. Bowl implications:
Many college football observers say LSU is assured a spot in the BCS title game regardless of what happens against Georgia, but the Tigers don't want to take any chances. They are still in search of the program's first undefeated season since winning the national title in 1958. Some Georgia players were angered by the notion that this weekend's game would not affect the BCS title pairing, so linebacker Christian Robinson called the league title game "my national championship game." The Bulldogs know if they want to play in a BCS bowl themselves, they can do so only by defeating LSU.

2. Avoiding errors: Georgia ranks among college football's top teams in turnover margin, but LSU is the nation's best. The Tigers are both opportunistic on defense and protective of the ball on offense -- tying for the national lead in both fewest interceptions (four) and fewest fumbles lost (four). Georgia probably needs to generate takeaways to be able to hang with the top-ranked Tigers, but LSU has not lost the turnover battle all season.

3. Who's in the backfield?: Georgia players and coaches stressed the need for a balanced offense against LSU, but that effort will be much more difficult if Isaiah Crowell is unable to make a positive contribution. The Bulldogs' star freshman running back missed nearly all of the last two games with an ankle injury and was the subject of swirling rumors during the week concerning how much he could play against LSU -- or whether he could play at all.

Players to watch
Georgia
1. QB Aaron Murray:
With Georgia's running game an uncertainty, the Bulldogs' offensive hopes could fall on Murray's shoulders. The sophomore quarterback was outstanding in the month of November, passing for 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions as the Bulldogs played their way to an SEC East title.

2. OLB Jarvis Jones: The heart and soul of Georgia's defense comes from high-motor outside linebacker Jones, who leads the SEC with 13.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss. The Bulldogs will rely on the Butkus Award finalist to wreak havoc in LSU's backfield in an attempt to force mistakes.

3. ILB Alec Ogletree: He missed half of the season with a broken foot but has been extremely effective since returning for the Florida game. The sophomore has led the team in tackles in each of the last three games and has forced a team-high three fumbles in the last five games.
Tyrann Mathieu
Big-time playmaker Tyrann 'Honey Badger' Mathieu leads the SEC in forced fumbles and fumble recoveries.
LSU
1. QB Jordan Jefferson:
Jefferson missed the first four games while serving a suspension for his role in an off-campus fight, but he has assumed the Tigers' starting role in recent weeks. Although his biggest strength is facilitating the Tigers' running game, sprinkling in some option keepers, Jefferson can throw when necessary. He passed for a season-high 208 yards last week against Arkansas.

2. CB Tyrann Mathieu: Nicknamed "The Honey Badger" after the relentless and vicious animal, Mathieu is one of college football's most exciting players. He leads the SEC in forced fumbles (six) and fumble recoveries (four) and is known for his ability to make timely big plays -- like in last week's win against Arkansas, when he returned a punt 92 yards for a touchdown and forced a fumble that led to another touchdown and allowed the Tigers to take a 21-14 halftime lead after trailing 14-0.

3. DE Barkevious Mingo: LSU has no shortage of dynamic defensive linemen, but Mingo might be the scariest. The sophomore's eight sacks tie fellow defensive end Sam Montgomery for the team lead, and Mingo's 13.5 tackles for loss lead the team and rank fourth in the SEC.

Key matchup
Georgia's offensive line vs. LSU's defensive front

LSU benefits from incredible depth on its defensive line -- and the Tigers make use of it, rotating eight and nine players into the game. That ability to utilize their available talent allows the Tigers to wear down opponents and pull away as the time progresses. Georgia will have to withstand the LSU line's pressure to keep Murray on his feet and its running game moving if it is to stay in the game.

By the numbers
1. 35-4.
LSU is one of the nation's most opportunistic teams and is nearly impossible to beat when it wins the turnover battle. Under coach Les Miles, the Tigers are 35-4 when they have fewer turnovers than their opponent, including 9-0 this year.

2. 43. Georgia kicker Blair Walsh is tied with former Bulldog Billy Bennett for an NCAA career record with a field goal in 43 different games. Walsh is nine points behind Bennett's SEC career record of 409 points.

3. 4. LSU has remarkable balance in its backfield. For the first time in school history, the Tigers have four running backs with at least six rushing touchdowns -- Spencer Ware (eight), Michael Ford (seven), Alfred Blue (six) and Kenny Hilliard (six).

David Ching covers University of Georgia sports for DawgNation. He can be reached at davidchingespn@gmail.com.