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Georgia and LSU since 1990

Georgia and LSU have faced off twelve times since I became a fan of the Dawgs. We’d prefer to meet more often of course, and I’m glad to see the occasion of another Georgia-LSU game used to bring up the idea of a nine-game SEC schedule. That might be the only way to avoid twelve years between trips to Baton Rouge, and it would require coaches and programs acting against the SEC’s best interests. Kirby Smart and Nick Saban are on board, and that’s a start.

Georgia holds a slim 7-5 advantage over these twelve meetings since 1990. Even in the leaner years, the games have tended to produce memorable endings and big moments. You might not remember much else about the 1999 season, but Will Witherspoon’s game-saving tip was a season highlight. With the teams set to meet on Saturday for the first time in five years, here’s a look back at the twelve Georgia-LSU games since 1990.

1990 (LSU 18-13): In brutal early September conditions in Baton Rouge, Georgia dropped the season opener 18-13. It was the start of a disappointing 4-7 1990 campaign for the Dawgs, and both teams ended the year with a losing record. This was probably the least remarkable matchup in the recent series.

1991 (Georgia 31-10): Georgia opened SEC play against LSU in Athens after dispatching of Western Carolina in the season opener. While the Tigers continued to struggle and finished under .500 again, the Dawgs had improved quite a bit from 1990. Eric Zeier hadn’t taken over the starting QB spot yet, but Georgia still put up an impressive 31–10 win over LSU.

1998 (Georgia 28-27): It’s the only night game in Death Valley we’ll mention, and it lived up to the hype. LSU entered the game ranked #6, and Georgia came in ranked #12 with an undefeated record led by “freshman” quarterback Quincy Carter. Carter was brilliant, completing his first 15 passes and finishing 27-34 for 318 yards and two touchdowns. He added 41 yards rushing and even caught a 36-yard throwback pass. Champ Bailey played an astounding 96 plays on offense, defense, and special teams. LSU matched Georgia’s strong start for a 21-21 halftime deadlock. The Dawgs got a third quarter touchdown and held on for the razor-thin 28-27 win as another Carter-to-Bailey pass helped the Dawgs run out the clock.

The 1998 game loomed large for both programs. LSU lost their next game, against Florida, and then proceeded to lose 13 of their next 17 games. The impact on Georgia was more mixed. The end of the 1997 season with the win over Florida and the bowl win over Wisconsin bolstered Jim Donnan and set the team up with big expectations for 1998. Georgia rose to #7 following the win at LSU, and Athens was out of its mind for the next week preparing for a visit from Tennessee (and its first opportunity to host ESPN’s College Gameday.) The Dawgs were never in that game, and both Donnan and Carter spent the next two and a half seasons trying to recapture the magic they had that night in Baton Rouge.

1999 (Georgia 23-22): Though not nearly as hyped as the 1998 game, this game had one of the more thrilling finishes Sanford Stadium has hosted. By this point LSU was well into their downward spiral. Georgia was ranked #10 and was the favorite for LSU’s return visit. The Dawgs though showed cracks in a narrow 24-23 escape against UCF a week earlier. LSU, with their own former minor league baseball player Josh Booty making his first start, took it to Georgia and led 16-13 at halftime. Georgia responded with ten straight points to lead 23-16 and had to face two late LSU comeback drives. Cory Robinson intercepted a pass in the endzone with two minutes remaining, but the Dawgs could not run out the clock. The Tigers had to drive 60 yards in 90 seconds, and Booty completed a fourth down pass for a touchdown with 18 seconds left. Rather than go for the tie and force overtime, LSU chose to try to win the game in regulation with a two-point conversion. Booty ran a slow-developing bootleg to the right and lofted a pass towards two open receivers back on the left side of the endzone. Georgia linebacker Will Witherspoon made a tremendous play to leap, stretch as long as he could, and bat the pass away. Georgia won 23-22 for their second one-point win in two weeks.

Those consecutive nailbiters early in the year foreshadowed an inconsistent 8-4 season for Georgia. LSU’s two-year slide continued en route to a 3-8 season. Coach Gerry DiNardo was dismissed, and LSU introduced a guy named Nick Saban as their new head coach.

2003 (LSU 17-10): Much changed for both programs between the 1999 and 2003 meetings. Georgia made their own coaching change following the 2000 season. The Tigers came from almost out of nowhere in 2001 to win the SEC. Georgia followed that with their own SEC title in 2002. Both Nick Saban and Mark Richt were still relatively new SEC coaches, but they didn’t waste time building the top two programs in the conference. The 2003 clash in Baton Rouge between two top-ten teams was as anticipated as the 1998 game, and it turned into a battle of two tremendous defenses. Georgia struck first with a field goal, but LSU scored 10 straight points and maintained a 10-3 edge until the final minutes of the game. Georgia actually outgained LSU 411 yards to 285, but tipped passes, LSU pressure, and two uncharacteristic missed field goals by Billy Bennett kept Georgia from putting more points on the board. With under five minute remaining and not much working on offense, David Greene executed a perfect screen pass to scatback Tyson Browning. Browning raced down the sideline, got a devastating block from Damien Gary, and evened the score 93 yards later.

Of course we know that the tie didn’t last long. LSU returned the ensuing kickoff to midfield and began running the ball to drain clock and set up the winning score. Facing third down with 90 seconds left, Matt Mauck rolled left looking for a short pass to move the chains. But LSU speedster Skyler Green got behind the Georgia secondary and was wide open for the touchdown reception that won the game. It was Georgia’s first road loss in three seasons under Mark Richt, but as soon as this game ended fans of both teams began looking forward to the rematch for the SEC title.

2003 (SEC Champ. LSU 34-13): We got our rematch, though Georgia had to sweat a three-way SEC East tiebreaker to get there. LSU also won a tiebreaker over Ole Miss to win the SEC West. The rematch wasn’t nearly as competitive as the first meeting. LSU ambushed Georgia for a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter. David Greene was picked off three times including a pick-six that all but buried Georgia’s comeback hopes. Losses elsewhere around the nation opened the door for LSU to play for the national title in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, and the Tigers beat Oklahoma for Saban’s first national championship. Georgia finished the year 11-3 with a top ten ranking and an overtime win over Purdue in the Capital One Bowl.

2004 (Georgia 45-16): Another competitive game was expected when LSU returned to Athens in 2004, but no one foresaw the beating that was coming. David Greene was only 10-19 for 172 yards, but half of his completions went for touchdowns. He worked the sidelines perfectly, and Georgia’s receivers beat man coverage left isolated by LSU’s aggressive pass rush. Georgia led 24-0 before LSU got on the board and put the game away in the third quarter. The Dawgs took advantage of three LSU turnovers and added 221 yards on the ground to control the clock. Unfortunately Georgia followed up this offensive explosion with a weak 14-point effort against Tennessee that cost Georgia its third straight SEC East title.

2005 (SEC Champ. Georgia 34-14): The Dawgs returned to the SEC Championship for the third time in four seasons, but they were underdogs against #3 LSU. D.J. Shockley took over the reins of the Georgia offense and led the team to an undefeated record before an injury knocked him out of the Arkansas game. The Bulldogs fell to Florida and Auburn before clinching the division. Shockley wasn’t spectacular against LSU (6-12, 112 yards), but he made his completions count. Two deep touchdown strikes to Sean Bailey saw the Dawgs jump out 14-0 and forced LSU to play from behind the entire game. The Bulldog defense knocked LSU starter Jamarcus Russell out of the game, and backup Matt Flynn was held to just 3-11 and 36 yards passing. In a mirror image of the 2003 title game, Tim Jennings returned a Flynn interception for a touchdown to lock up Georgia’s second SEC crown of the decade.

2008 (Georgia 52-38): Georgia began the 2008 season ranked as high as #1, but a humiliating loss to Alabama brought championship dreams crashing down to earth. Still, Georgia’s late October trip to Baton Rouge showed why so many were high on this team and its potential to score points. Georgia and LSU entered the game ranked within a few spots of each other around the top ten, and LSU of course were defending their second national title of the decade. Each had a single loss, but those losses were blowout defeats to Alabama and Florida – the two SEC teams that would emerge as national contenders. This 2008 game, Georgia’s most recent visit to Death Valley, turned into a wild shootout that didn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things but was sure fun to watch.

Linebacker Darryl Gamble began Georgia’s scoring right away with a pick-six on the first play of the game. LSU answered, but Georgia built a 21-7 lead before the Tigers answered with ten more points of their own. A 50-yard Blair Walsh field goal gave Georgia a touchdown lead at halftime. The Dawgs used a pair of explosive plays to separate themselves from LSU int the third quarter. Matthew Stafford found A.J. Green for a 49-yard touchdown pass midway through the quarter. That was followed by a 68-yard Knowshon Moreno sprint, and Georgia led 38-17. The teams traded scores the rest of the way, and Georgia’s scoring was capped off by Gamble’s second pick-six of the day.

2009 (LSU 20-13): This game was nearly the polar opposite of the 2008 shootout. LSU came in undefeated and ranked #4 while Georgia was just hanging on in the polls at 3-2. Neither team could muster much on offense, but LSU was able to eek out a field goal in the first and second quarters. That 6-0 LSU lead stood for three quarters until the teams exploded to combine for 27 points in the final 15 minutes. Georgia capped off an 18-play drive with a touchdown pass to fullback Shaun Chapas and clung to a 7-6 lead. Late in the quarter LSU put together a methodical 13-play scoring drive of their own to retake the lead. Georgia flew back down the field in under two minutes in six plays, and A.J. Green plucked a desperate Joe Cox pass out of the air with just over a minute left. Green though drew an egregious flag for excessive celebration, and the penalty enforced on the kickoff gave LSU great field position. It took just two plays for Charles Scott to rumble for the winning score.

2011 (SEC Champ. LSU 42-10): Georgia and LSU met in 2011 for the SEC Championship for the second time. LSU had rolled through an undefeated regular season and had been ranked #1 since the beginning of October. Georgia dropped their first two games of the season but put together ten straight wins to win the SEC East and enter the postseason on a roll. Still, the Tigers were the decisive favorites. The Dawgs came out swinging and jumped out to a 10-0 lead, but they missed some good opportunites to build a larger advantage, and that would come back to haunt them. Tyrann Mathieu got LSU on the board with a punt return in the second quarter. Though Georgia’s defense held LSU without a first down in the first half, they led just 10-7 at halftime. LSU’s offense came to life in the second half, and the floodgates opened. Three Georgia turnovers gave LSU outstanding field position, and that wasn’t survivable against the nation’s #1 team. The Tigers dominated the second half and won the SEC crown 42-10, but they’d drop a rematch against Alabama for the national title.

2013 (Georgia 44-41): The most recent game in the series might have topped the 2008 game for sheer entertainment value. It was a perfect Chamber of Commerce late September day in Athens. College Gameday made their first visit to Athens since the 1998 Tennessee debacle. LSU came to town ranked #6 with an undefeated record. Georgia dropped a thriller at Clemson in the opener, but they rebounded with a win over then-#6 South Carolina. The big storyline in the game was the return of former Georgia quarterback and Athens-area native Zach Mettenberger. Mettenberger of course still had close ties with many on the Georgia team and coaching staff, and this game was his one opportunity to take the field at Sanford Stadium.

The game turned into an exhilarating and exhausting back-and-forth thriller. Neither team led by more than a touchdown. Georgia opened the scoring, but LSU posted consecutive touchdowns to take their first lead. The Dawgs answered and surged back out in front for a 24-17 halftime lead. The teams began to trade scores, and LSU evened things up at 34 early in the fourth quarter. It felt as if LSU broke Georgia’s serve when the Dawgs were forced to kick a field goal with eight minutes remaining, and sure enough LSU punched in a go-ahead touchdown four minutes later. Aaron Murray drove Georgia down the field in six plays, and he found an open Justin Scott-Wesley for a 25-yard touchdown pass as the Dawgs retook the lead. LSU had one final possession, but Georgia’s pass rush forced errant Mettenberger throws on third and fourth downs, and Georgia was able to end the game in the victory formation.

It was for sure an emotional win, and nothing demonstrated that more than Mark Richt’s postgame comments. Georgia had faced three top 10 teams in September and had emerged from the month at 3-1 and as favorites in the SEC East. The Sanford Stadium crowd was as loud and involved as it had been in years, and a sense of optimism was justified. That all came crashing down in the next game as a slew of injuries began to topple the season. Georgia hung on for an overtime win at Tennessee but then dropped consecutive games to Missouri and Vanderbilt that cost them the division.

Georgia 41-Vanderbilt 13: The last tune-up

This win didn’t seem to move the needle very much going by some of the postgame reaction I’ve seen. Homecoming, and especially a Vandy Homecoming, has a special importance to me, so I was a little more invested in this outcome. I saw the same concerns everyone else did – first half run defense, penalties, and another slow start – but I came out of this game a little more confident about the team than I was after Missouri or Tennessee.

The offense had to punt on its first and third possessions, but it wasn’t necessarily a lethargic start. Vanderbilt challenged Georgia to pass more, and any incompletion is likely to put an offense behind schedule. Georgia’s third possession lasted eight plays and set up a third-and-one at the Vandy 31 before consecutive penalties killed the scoring opportunity. Those penalties, especially when taken with the others committed throughout the game, were individual mistakes that need to be cleaned up, but they weren’t a sign of a dysfunctional offense. But when the offense did get going in the second quarter, what a treat. We know that the up-tempo series that led to a score right before halftime isn’t how Kirby Smart prefers to manage a game, but it was breathtaking to see Fromm and a dangerous assortment of receivers and tight ends carve up a defense in six plays.

With a comfortable lead, the offense was able to use the run in the third quarter to wear down the Vanderbilt defense. Four of the first five plays on Georgia’s opening drive of the second half were runs, and that softened up the defense for long pass plays to Hardman and Swift to finish off the drive. You could see the Vanderbilt defense begin to break down on Georgia’s next possession. It didn’t result in a touchdown, but the pounding of a 14-play, five-minute drive served its purpose. Vanderbilt offered token resistance on the next Georgia drive capped off by Herrien and the offensive line dragging the defense into the endzone.

Another reason why we might say the Georgia offense had a slow start was because the defense had problems getting off the field. From late in the first quarter until Georgia’s hurry-up series near halftime, Vanderbilt had two possessions that totaled over 13 minutes of game time. Vandy only got three points from those two long drives, but it kept the ball away from Georgia’s offense and kept Georgia fans impatient with a narrow lead well into the second quarter. Georgia allowed long gains on both interior and exterior runs, and Vanderbilt was even able to complete some passes as Georgia’s zone coverage was slow to close on the receiver. The Bulldog defense, as they had so often, tightened up at halftime. Vanderbilt’s first three drives of the second half went for 4, 3, and 3 plays, and by that point the game was over.

Depth is something that’s talked a lot about with regards to this Georgia team. That’s fine, and we’ve seen it in action. During the first six games, every member of the starting offensive line has come out of a game. That’s ranged from the substitution of Wilson in the Tennessee game to more longer-term injuries like Cleveland’s. It’s not accurate to say that the line didn’t feel those absences, but so far there has been enough depth to piece together mostly functional lines and allow the offense to operate without major changes to the gameplan.

But while depth has its place, it’s no substitute for having the best players available. Terry Godwin and D’Andre Swift have been working their way back from nagging injuries since the spring. The injury is bad enough, but the recovery can have a player fall behind in conditioning and repetitions with their respective unit. I thought Swift showed some flashes late in the Tennessee game (his fourth quarter touchdown was vintage Swift), and Godwin against the Vols also had his first game of 2018 with multiple receptions. The Vanderbilt game was the first in which we might say that these two important offensive weapons might be rounding back into form.

Godwin made an immediate impact with his touchdown reception, showing first speed to separate from the coverage and then strength to shed two defenders en route to the score. Godwin later pulled in a difficult catch of a Fields pass along the sideline, reminding us of the agility and focus he made famous at Notre Dame. Swift had 99 all-purpose yards, but it was the yards after catch on a single scoring play in the third quarter that has fans excited about Swift at full strength. It was fitting that Swift’s touchdown was aided by Godwin blocking his man into the Redcoat Band. These two stars in good health and back at the top of Georgia’s depth chart will make the offense more consistent and that much more potent.

  • After taking some heat over the past couple of games, Georgia’s pass protection was as good as it’s been…all season? That’s especially impressive considering the shuffling that had to go on with Kindley and Gaillard both banged up during the game.
  • Perhaps not coincidently, Fromm avoided the few first half mistakes that had cropped up in many of the first five games. The touchdown pass to Godwin showed that he was confident and focused early on – rather than take an easy moderate gain to Ridley on a crossing route, Fromm trusted his arm, his protection, and Godwin’s ability to separate. Fromm was patient and allowed Godwin’s route to develop and placed the ball right in stride, and he continued to play well from there. Again, that sequence right before halftime was mouth-watering.
  • Fields also had a strong performance and was given a little more to do. I was surprised that the staff put him in after Vanderbilt had punted inside the Georgia 10, but Fields was composed and effective punching Georgia out of their own end.
  • Holyfield’s acrobatic touchdown run doesn’t happen without Fields in the game. With Fields a threat to run (not to mention a tight end in motion in the direction Fields would have run), the Vanderbilt defense flowed to the right leaving only the backside end for Holyfield to evade. We saw that Fields is much more than “the running quarterback”, but that element of his game has to be respected, and it opens up so many other possibilities.
  • Even six games into the season, we’re still seeing new elements of Georgia’s depth contribute. Welcome Jordan Davis!
  • He’s still primarily a reserve, but Adam Anderson stands out almost every time he enters the game. If Georgia is still looking for answers in the pass rush, a few more snaps for #56 might be in order.
  • How close did Georgia come to losing a key defensive back for the first half of the LSU game? The reversal of the targeting call was correct, but it was a tense minute or two to leave something that important in the hands of a replay ref. Ray Drew and Ramik Wilson weren’t so lucky.
  • Is it fair play to insert a back like James Cook against a beaten-down defense?
  • Two years ago we were hardly settled into our seats when Vanderbilt returned the opening kickoff inside the Georgia 5. Blankenship’s 53-yard field goal was fantastic, and the consecutive extra point record is commendable, but all but removing the kickoff return as a weapon for the other team makes upsetting a more talented team like Georgia extremely difficult. There aren’t many hidden yards to be had against this team. The ovation for Blankenship in the third quarter was a great moment, and it was deserved. He ate it up, too.
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