Georgia vs. LSU score takeaway: Dawgs locks in No. 1 playoff seed and wins first SEC title since 2017

Georgia vs. LSU score takeaway: Dawgs locks in No. 1 playoff seed and wins first SEC title since 2017

ATLANTA — No. 1 Georgia pleaded to stay atop the college football playoff standings as the Bulldogs crushed No. 14 LSU 50-30 in the 2022 SEC Championship Game. The Dawgs improved to 13- 0 for the first time in program history before the final CFP rankings were released on Sunday. The defending national champions were never behind as Georgia won the program’s fourth SEC championship and first since 2017.

Even last season’s Georgia team with its historically dominant defense didn’t win the SEC crown. It’s the first time the Dawgs have come out of the SEC title game with an undefeated record; the 2002 and 2017 teams each suffered a regular season loss, while the 2005 team lost twice before winning the conference.

Sixth-year senior quarterback Stetson Bennett IV’s steady hand — coupled with horrific breaks for LSU — helped the Bulldogs open a 35-10 halftime lead. In particular, a 95 yard touchdown return of Christopher Smith on a blocked basket and a interception that deviated from the helmet of an LSU player helped spark Georgia in the first half.

After the break, UGA held off a charge from a resilient LSU team. Tigers QB Jayden Daniels left the game at halftime after appearing to aggravate an ankle injury. With backup Garrett Nussmeier in the game, LSU went 35-17 and threatened to come even closer when the Dawgs made a critical save in the fourth and first to keep LSU out of the end zone midway through the third. trimester.

Georgia closed the door from there with rushing passes for 95 and 75 yards for its 12th double-digit win in 13 games this season heading into the playoffs.

Bad breaks for the Tigers

LSU looked set to score the first points of the game as the Tigers pushed deep into Georgian territory on their second possession. Then came a bizarre play that reversed the momentum and set the tone for the first half. Georgia defensive tackle Nazir Stackhouse blocked a 32-yard field goal attempt by LSU kicker Damian Ramos, sending the ball dribbling toward the goal line. Before the ball stopped moving, Georgia’s Christopher Smith picked it up and ran 95 yards for a stunning touchdown.

Later in the half, Georgia benefited from an equally peculiar interception as linebacker Smael Mondon Jr. offered a pick after the ball deflected off the helmet of LSU wide receiver Jack Bech. On Georgia’s first possession play that followed, Bennett found Ladd McConkey for a 22-yard touchdown that put the Bulldogs up 21-7.

Combined, the two games amounted to crippling blows for an LSU team that entered as a 17.5-point underdog.

Bennett’s Unfinished Business

There’s little Bennett hasn’t accomplished in his storybook career. The former undersized extra can now add an SEC Championship to his roster. Bennett threw four touchdown passes – all in the first half – and spread the football to 10 different targets during the game. In the era of the SEC championship game, quarterbacks such as Eric Zeier, Quincy Carter, David Greene, DJ Shockley, Matthew Stafford, Aaron Murray and Jake Fromm came through Georgia and became picks of NFL draft. Each engineered their share of the team’s success, but none can boast a legacy like Bennett’s in his winding journey to program history.

With an SEC title now on his resume along with last season’s national title and another CFP performance to come, Bennett’s job as a Georgia quarterback compares favorably to any of his predecessors. Even though he went undrafted and never played a down in the NFL, he cemented his place in the history of Georgian football – and SEC football.

Undisputed No. 1?

Tennessee ranked No. 1 and Georgia ranked No. 3 in the first CFP rankings of the season. The Bulldogs quickly changed that with a convincing 27-13 victory over the Volunteers on November 5. Since then, they have ranked No. 1 in every edition of the rankings and have insisted they stay there with their performance against LSU. If Georgia is indeed ranked No. 1 in Sunday’s final version of the CFP rankings, it would be the first time in the CFP era that the Bulldogs have entered the playoffs in first place. The 2017 team was ranked No. 3 and lost a classic national championship game to Alabama, while last year’s team was ranked No. 3 behind Alabama and Michigan before beating the Crimson Tide for the title.

LSU shows promise under Brian Kelly

It was a special first season for LSU coach Brian Kelly. The Tigers started with a loss to Florida State and that was followed by nasty moments, like a 40-13 home loss to Tennessee and a surprise loss to Texas A&M last week. But LSU made clear progress from last season and won what many consider college football’s toughest division. While the final SEC championship game score suggests LSU was outplayed, the Tigers also showed flashes that they may not be far behind in the national draw. If Daniels had been completely healthy, his dual-threat dynamic could have given Georgia headaches, and if the two weird games mentioned above had gone their way, it would have undoubtedly led to more competitive play. . Nonetheless, Nussmeier’s play in the second half and the overall resilience of LSU, which racked up 549 yards against one of the best defenses in the nation. Nussmeier passed 15 of 27 for 294 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.

Georgia’s health progresses

Something to watch going forward will be the status of receiver Ladd McConkey and offensive lineman Warren McClendon. Both are key cogs for the team which missed the second half with knee injuries. McConkey has become Georgia’s top wide receiver, and McClendon has started every game this season at right tackle. Their health will loom large as the Bulldogs enter the college football playoffs.

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