The Georgia Bulldogs will have another test of their mettle this weekend as they face the talented LSU Tigers.
Last season the Dawgs went to Baton Rouge and handed the Bayou Bengals a nasty loss of 38-52 as they marched up and down the field at will and scored points with little resistance. It was the nail in the coffin for the Tigers national title hopes and LSU didn't win another SEC game after that point.
That was then and this is now.
The Tigers will come into Sanford Stadium with a No. 4 ranking and a lot of questions about the kind of team they wish to be this season. Their first true chance to answer that call will come against a scrappy little Georgia team that has found ways to win in spite of themselves.
The questions about LSU's prowess are valid. Ask any LSU fan or player and you quickly get the idea that they know they are underachieving. This team has too much talent to be struggling against a team like Mississippi State and Les Miles is too good of a coach to not have these guys playing up to their potential.
It's just a matter of time before they bring it all together so the question is will it be this week or not?
So, as the Dawgs get ready for another big game, there are a few matchups worth taking note of that will likely decide precisely who wins this game on Saturday.
A.J. Green versus Patrick Peterson
It's doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that A.J. Green is the star of this Georgia Bulldog offense. Already this season he has amassed 428 total receiving yards—good enough for ninth in the nation.
That said LSU will look to take him out of his game early and force Joe Cox to find another way to beat them through the air.
Patrick Peterson will draw the job of shadowing the 6-foot-4 Green for the duration of the game and, even though he gives up a little bit in height at 6-foot-1, he has the speed and athletic ability to cover Green man-to-man with no trouble whatsoever.
Look for Green to step his game up in light of the high caliber of play that Peterson will surely bring to the table but it will be a lot more difficult for him to make the types of catches that he has made in weeks past.
Joe Cox vs. Chad Johnson
Joe Cox relapsed a bit last week against a tough Arizona State defense which gave him a number of different looks and forced him to make quick decisions with the football. This likely played a major role in the two picks he threw—one of which ended up in the endzone.
Cox is not very good at making reads when he feels the slightest bit of pressure and that could spell trouble for the Dawgs if the Tigers are successful in both shutting down A.J. Green and finding the consistent pass rush from the ends that has eluded them this season.
Wide receivers Mike Moore, Rantavious Wooten, and Orson Charles will need to do a better job of getting open and giving Cox a good look at his second and third options if the Dawgs hope to keep their air game in play.
If Cox is unable to find anything downfield, look for him to checkdown to his tight end or throw a quick screen to his running back.
We may see a little bit of Carlton Thomas this week as he has the hands and the speed to be good in space and make some plays if called upon in the right situations.
What Cox does not need to do, however, is try to force any passes into the middle of the field. LSU's Chad Jones has been dangerous in zone coverage so far this season and will be lurking in those small pockets that a QB like Cox will hope to find open.
Jones is coming off a stellar game against Mississippi State in which he not only ran back a 93-yard punt for a touchdown but also saved the game with a finger-tip deflection at the goal line which saved a likely score. He is a special player who is beginning to heat up with each week.
Cox will need to play more disciplined ball this week than the last and must be aware of all of his offensive options because A.J. Green is liable to be bottled up more effectively this week.
Georgia has two phenomenal forces in both their kicker, Blair Walsh, and their punter, Drew Butler. However, their kickoff coverage has been another story as the Dawgs rank 90th in punt return yards allowed (12.57 ypr) and 107th in kick return yards allowed (25.11 ypr).
A major culprit on the kickoffs has been the continued use of the directional kick. It simply has not worked and more than once this year has led to the opposition starting on the 40-yard line.
Georgia must not give the Tigers a short field this weekend as quarterback Jordan Jefferson is one of the more efficient quarterback's in the SEC and can beat you with one play if you aren't careful—no need to shorten his field even more through poor execution on special teams.
Georgia's defensive line vs. LSU's offensive line
Georgia needs to start finding a way to get more pressure on the quarterback. The return of defensive end, Justin Houston, seemed to be a step in the right direction but the offensive line of LSU will be significantly tougher to handle.
Jordan Jefferson has had a ton of time to stand in the pocket and deliver precise throws downfield to his wide receivers and will look to continue that trend against a Georgia secondary that improved last week but is still vulnerable to the big play.
The way to combat the LSU air attack is to get to Jordan Jefferson quickly and often. Force him to make decisions in the pocket and pressure him into making a few mistakes that can, hopefully, turn into some turnovers going Georgia's way.
Look for the LSU run game to emerge
LSU's run game has been relatively quiet this season when you consider the talent they have in both Keiland Williams and Charles Scott. Neither has hit his stride yet and it will be interesting to see if either decides to turn on the jets this week.
The Georgia front four has been vulnerable to aggressive offensive line play and that has led to some respectable gains by the opposition. Georgia is ranked No. 42 in the nation in run defense (allowing a little over 3.5ypc) and if LSU is able to eat up large chunks on 1st and 2nd down, they could get some great gains off play action.
If they do, the time of possession goes into LSU's favor and this Georgia team is already looking a bit weary after three straight games where they had to rally and win in the closing minutes. They may not have enough in the tank to do that again.
It is for that reason that it will be important for Georgia to be careful not to be complacent on the defensive side. Stick to their assignments and play just as mistake free on the defensive side as they will need to on the offensive.
Coach Mike Bobo has yet to really show what this Georgia offense can do as his playcalling has been predictable to this point.
Here's what any Georgia fan knows:
- If you see Logan Gray in the game, he's not passing. He will either run the ball on a keeper or hand it off to one of the tailbacks.
- If Branden Smith is in the formation, it's likely going to be a reverse or a throw out in the flat.
- If it's a goal line situation and you see Fred Munzenmaier in a single-back formation, look for him to try and power it in on a keeper.
- Carlton Thomas is not a between the tackles runner so if he's in the game, look for a screen or something out in the flat.
If a casual fan can tell you this, how difficult will it be for a dyed in the wool SEC defensive coordinator to figure it out?
Bobo needs to be less obvious and more creative with his playcalling. Odds are he will look to do that this week as the Dawgs will want this game as much as they have any other this season.
This will be a good game and both sides have something major to prove by coming through with the win.
If the Dawgs expect to keep it close, they will need to eliminate the turnovers and continue to keep the penalties to a minimum.
It should be a great game between the hedges.