Georgia Offense Can Hang with LSU, but Can Bulldogs Defense Stop Tigers?

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterSeptember 23, 2013

Georgia linebacker Amarlo Herrera (right) and South Carolina running back Mike Davis.
Georgia linebacker Amarlo Herrera (right) and South Carolina running back Mike Davis.Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

The game of the week in the SEC takes place between the hedges in Athens, Ga., as No. 9 Georgia will host No. 6 LSU in a game that will have enormous ramifications in the SEC and national title race.

If LSU wins, the Tigers will clear the first of many major hurdles standing in the way of a return trip to the Georgia Dome and the SEC Championship Game. If Georgia wins, it keeps its one-game lead on South Carolina in the SEC East and takes the SEC one step closer to cannibalization—which could prevent the eighth straight BCS National Championship for the conference.

The major storyline will be Georgia's defense—particularly its ability to slow down what's become a very dangerous LSU offense led by offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. For the first time in program history, the Tigers have topped the 400-yard mark in each their first four games.

LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger.
LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger.Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Quarterback Zach Mettenberger has been virtually flawless in 2013, completing 64.8 percent of his passes (59-of-91) for 1,026 yards, 10 touchdowns and only one interception in four games. His 11.3 yards-per-attempt average is fourth nationally, and his 193.61 passer rating is sixth.

Cameron has maximized his potential, allowing the senior to stretch the field with wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry.

A big reason Mettenberger has been so successful is the Tigers running game, first behind the combination of Alfred Blue, Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee, and most recently behind sophomore Jeremy Hill.

LSU running back Jeremy Hill.
LSU running back Jeremy Hill.Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Hill sat out the TCU opener after being arrested in the offseason, but he has fought out of the doghouse and back to the top of the depth chart. He set a career high on Saturday with 183 rushing yards and tied a career high with three rushing touchdowns.

Not only is the 6'2", 235-pounder back, he's better than ever.

LSU's versatility on offense presents a challenge to Georgia's new-look defense, which ranks 11th in the SEC, giving up 388.7 yards per game.

South Carolina's Mike Davis rushed for 149 yards and a touchdown in Week 2 against Georgia. But the Dawgs tightened up last week, giving up just seven yards on the ground to the North Texas Mean Green.

A Jekyll-and-Hyde rush defense is certainly an upgrade from last year's defense which couldn't stop anybody on the ground, but with a hot running back coming in, it certainly can't sit well for head coach Mark Richt and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.

Georgia linebacker Jordan Jenkins.
Georgia linebacker Jordan Jenkins.Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

LSU is going to line up and punch Georgia in the mouth and test that defense early. That means linebackers Jordan Jenkins and Amarlo Herrera, as well as hybrid safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, are going to have their work cut out for them.

It's going to be the difference in the game.

If LSU can establish the run, it will allow Mettenberger to take the top off the defense when the safeties creep up and allow big plays for the Tigers. 

Through four weeks of the season, LSU is the most complete team in the SEC. The offense is clicking on all cylinders, and the defense—for the most part—has played solid with the exception of the second half versus Auburn with a big lead.

Georgia's hasn't, and it's going to decide this game.

Expect a big outing from Hill against the Bulldogs defense and Mettenberger to hit on the shots he takes downfield. That'll be all the Tigers need.