The 2019 SEC Championship is set to go down between LSU and Georgia and, as usual, the game holds major playoff implications.
The Tigers have put together an impressive resume to secure the No. 1 spot in the most recent playoff rankings. Their undefeated season has included wins over fellow SEC powers Alabama, Auburn and Florida. A win over another in Georgia would have them in the driver's seat for the No. 1 seed.
Georgia sits at four in the latest playoff rankings and finds themselves in a familiar spot. They've made it to the last three SEC championship games and have split the last two with Alabama. The Tide narrowly defeated the Dawgs 35-28 in last year's contest en route to their National Championship appearance.
The stakes couldn't be higher in this one. A matchup of two of college football's best teams with everything on the line.
2019 SEC Championship: No. 1 LSU vs. No. 4 Georgia
When: Saturday, Dec. 7 at 4 p.m. ET
Where: Mercedez-Benz Stadium in Atlanta
Clyde Edwards-Helaire is the Game's Leading Rusher
Throughout the season it's been Joe Burrow that gets the headlines for LSU. He's a Heisman candidate. He's by far the best quarterback LSU has had in the last decade. He's the one with the storyline as a spurned transfer turned superstar.
But in the games that have counted the most running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire has come through for the Tigers and it wouldn't be shocking if he's the No. 1 rusher in the game. Especially with Georgia's leading rusher D'Andre Swift leaving the game against Georgia Tech with a shoulder injury.
In three games against ranked opponents, this season Edwards-Helaire has rushed for 373 yards and six touchdowns on 19.6 carries per game. That's compared to 12.7 carries in games against non-ranked opponents.
Georgia's stingy run defense will make things difficult. They're the No. 1 rush defense in SEC play, holding conference opponents to just 2.5 yards per carry. But the Dawgs have been helped by a favorable schedule. When facing one of the SEC's best rushing offenses in Kentucky (5.35 yards per rush) they allowed Lynn Bowden Jr. 99 yards on 17 carries.
Edwards-Helaire is having a better season than Bowden and LSU has shown it wants the running back involved in the game plan when the games matter most. His ability to grind out tough yards between the tackle and hit the big run will make him a factor.
Joe Burrow Puts an Emphatic Stamp on his Heisman Campaign
Joe Burrow's statline looks like something that could only be achieved on the defunct NCAA Football video game franchise...on Varsity difficulty.
He's carved up defenses all season with shocking efficiency and it hasn't mattered what defense is put in front of him.
Alabama is second in the nation in interceptions this season. They've allowed an average of 184.4 passing yards on 57.9 percent passing for the season.
Against the Tide, Burrow had 393 yards passing and three touchdowns on 31-of-39 passing.
Burrow puts stress on even the best defenses. His surgical accuracy kills teams if they just want to sit in coverage. If they want to bring pressure he's been even better:
Georgia's defense is elite, but so was Alabama's. Burrow has yet to have a game where he doesn't complete at least 70 percent of his passes. His remarkable consistency will shine through against a good Dawgs defense and that could be enough to officially separate the quarterback from his fellow Heisman contenders.
Georgia Offense Comes up Short
It's no secret that both of these team's strengths will be on the field when LSU has the ball. Kirby Smart's team has relied on its defense all season, but the LSU offense has found ways to score against the best defenses it has faced all season.
The same can't be said for Georgia.
As a scoring offense, Georgia is somewhere in the middle of the pack of the country. Part of that is by design. Smart's approach to the game is to rely on the defense and play old-school bully ball when they have the football.
"I know you all don’t believe in it, and you all think it’s boring,” Smart said of his offense, per Glenn Guilbeau of the Lafayette Advertiser. "And you all hate it, and it’s not explosive. I get it. OK. But in this league, you've got to be able to have the threat of the run in order to sustain. It's hard to run the ball in this league."
Smart is right. There's still something to be said for a team that can control the clock, win in the trenches and play great defense. Teams like Wisconsin and Georgia do that successfully year in and year out, but in a game like this, it's the explosive plays that set teams apart.
The Dawgs big play ability is further hampered by the loss of receiver George Pickens for the first half after his ejection from the Georgia Tech game. Leading receiver Lawrence Cager is expected to miss the game as well with an ankle injury.
The Tigers are programmed to make those big plays while the Bulldogs are not. In Georgia's upset loss to South Carolina the team struggled to put up just 17 points. They didn't eclipse 30 points in SEC play after putting up 43 against Tennessee in early October.
The Georgia defense may be able to keep LSU's offense relatively in check, but what does that mean against an offense like LSU's? Holding a team that averages 48.5 points per game to 31 is an achievement, but even if that happens it's unlikely that Georgia can get the 32 they would need to win the game.
Prediction: LSU 31, Georgia 21