Battle for the 2019 SEC Championship
The only conference that matters for a lot of college football fans will be playing their championship game this weekend, though without one of the most successful teams in the country. Nevertheless, it should be an exciting game Saturday afternoon from Atlanta, with two of the top teams in the College Football Playoff rankings.
The winner will no doubt be in the College Football Playoff; the loser could find their way there too depending on the outcome of the other games this weekend. Alabama has played in four of the five College Football Playoff championship games, but they will be on the outside looking in after losing twice during the season, including to one of the teams playing in this game. Will one of their conference mates take their place in the championship?
That question will be answered in Atlanta Saturday afternoon. Let’s take a closer look at the matchup:
Louisiana State University Tigers
The Tigers are one of three undefeated teams (12-0) in major college football, joining Clemson and Ohio State. Last season, the Tigers finished 10-3 (5-3 SEC), second place in the SEC West and they notched a Fiesta Bowl win over previously undefeated UCF. As such, they entered the season ranked 6th in the preseason AP poll, and were predicted to finish second in the SEC West (behind Alabama).
The LSU offense is ranked second in the country, averaging 560.5 yards per game. Aside from their game against Auburn, a 23-20 win, they scored more than 36 points in each game this season, with a per game average of 48.7 points.
Passing: The Tigers were a distant second to Washington State, throwing for 390 yards per game. Joe Burrows, the likely Heisman Trophy winner, led the LSU offense to that lofty position on the leaderboards. He threw for 4,366 yards, with 44 touchdowns and six interceptions. He is second in the nation in passing efficiency behind injured Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, so a solid game could place him at the top of that leaderboard with a new all-time record.
He has two, 1,000 yard receivers at his disposal to try and get there, so Ja’Marr Chase (70 catches for 1,457 yards and 17 TDs) and Justin Jefferson (81 catches for 1,092 yards and 13 TDs) could help take Burrows to NYC for the Heisman ceremony on a high note.
Rushing: The rushing offense wasn’t terrible, averaging 170.5 yards per game, good for 57th in the nation (a lot of teams in college football run a lot). Joining Chase and Jefferson with over 1,000 in his respective discipline is Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who ran for 1,233 on 182 carries, good enough for 6.8 yards per carry. He was also good for 16 touchdowns, giving Burrows another tool to help the Tigers score nearly 50 points a game.
The Tigers offense didn’t need much help from the defense, but the defense still came up big all season. They surrendered only 345.9 yards per game, good for the 35th in the nation. They also had the about the same rank when it came to points allowed, ranking 31st after surrendering 22.1 points per game.
Passing: Playing in the high scoring SEC leads to a less than stellar pass defense, and LSU is no exception. They’ve surrendered 221.4 passing yards per game, which still ranks in the top half of the nation… but closer to the bottom than the top half in 56th place. The pass defense picked off 14 passes, led by Derek Stingley’s four interceptions. They ranked a bit better when pursuing the quarterback, ranking in the top 40 with 30 sacks.
Rushing: With other teams just constantly throwing the ball to keep pace, the Tigers rush defense fared a little better, ranking 28th after surrendering 124.5 rush yards per game. Eliminate their game with Ole Miss, where the Tigers surrendered 402 yards on the ground, and the rush defense looks impenetrable, giving up less than 100 yards per game in the other 11 games this season.
As mentioned above, the Georgia Bulldogs are playing in their third consecutive SEC Championship game, and have played in five of the last nine; the SEC East is considered the weaker division after all. In the last three championship games, they’ve gone 1-1, scoring 28 points in both games. This season, aside from a surprising loss to South Carolina, Georgia has done well, losing only that game on the way to an 11-1 record (7-1 SEC). This wasn’t unexpected, as Georgia was favored to win the SEC East by the SEC media, and ranked #3 in the preseason AP poll.
The Georgia offense is not quite as proficient as the Tigers, but a lot of teams can say that. They were just outside the top 50, ranking 55th with 420.6 yards per game. They were a little better ranked in scoring offense, averaging 32.9 points per game to rank 40th nationally.
Passing: The Bulldogs average 220.6 passing yards per game, ranked 76th in the nation. With a solid game on Saturday, junior quarterback Jake Fromm should match what he’s done the past two seasons. He currently sits at 2,385 passing yards, about 400 yards short of what he did last season and 300 yards short of what he did his freshman year. He has 21 touchdown passes and only three interceptions as well.
Unlike the Tigers, there aren’t two thousand yard receivers. The two leading Georgia receivers – George Pickens and Lawrence Cager – are both short of 500 yards, a plateau they should reach on Saturday. Both those players have 33 receptions, leading nine players with at least 13 receptions.
Rushing: Beyond Fromm, the other star of the Bulldogs offense is running back D’Andre Swift. The team averages 200 yards per game on the ground, 30th in the nation. And Swift paces the team with just over 1,200 yards and seven rushing touchdowns. Brian Herrien has added nearly 500 yards of his own (with six touchdowns). The long tradition of Georgia running backs continues apace.
The Georgia defense is the star of the team, 4th in the nation and surrendering only 257 yards a game, as well as allowing only 10.4 points a game, 2nd-best in the nation. They had three shutouts – Arkansas State, Kentucky, and Missouri – and held two more teams to less than seven points.
Passing: The team is 15th in passing yards allowed, yielding 186 yards per game through the air. And this is despite only intercepting four passes all season and getting after the opposing quarterback at an average pace (26 sacks all season). In that Kentucky shutout, they allowed only 17 passing yards. Against rival Georgia Tech, they allowed 40 yards.
Rushing: The Bulldog rushing defense is even better, and they are second in the nation (behind the University of Utah) after allowing 71 yards a game thus far this season. Only three teams rushed for over 100 yards in a game this season, and Texas A&M was held to -2 yards in their game two weeks ago.
This game pits a top offense – led by the leading Heisman candidate – against a top defense that held a team to negative yards on the ground. The LSU offense has three skill players over a thousand yards on the season in their respective skill. The Georgia defense has shut out three teams.
One of the teams is going to end up going against type in this one, and I feel like the offense will rule the day.
Based on their performance this season, I just don’t think that Georgia has the strength on offense to keep pace. The teams will likely end up right around their scoring averages on the season, the the Tigers coming out on top.
Prediction: LSU 49 – Georgia 27