September 27, 2013

Georgia-LSU preview


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All-Time Meetings: 30th meeting (LSU leads 16-12-1)

Mark Richt: 120-41, 13th year

Les Miles 89-21, ninth year; 117-42 overall

When: Saturday, September 28

Where: Sanford Stadium

When: 3:30 p.m.

TV: CBS (Verne Lundquist, Gary Danielson, Tracy Wolfson)

Record: Georgia 2-1, 1-0. LSU 4-0, 1-0

Latest Line: Georgia by 3

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Quarterback

Unless you've been living under a rock, then you know one of the big storylines for Saturday's game is the fact former Bulldog quarterback Zach Mettenberger will be making his return to Sanford Stadium to face his old team.

How will the Oconee County native respond? That appears to be the million dollar question as how he holds his emotions could well have a determining factor in the outcome of the game. So far, Mettenberger is on a record-breaking pace. His 10 touchdown passes are the most by a quarterback in the first four games in LSU history, as are the 1,026 passing yards through the first four contests. Dating back to last year, he has thrown for 250 or more yards in six of LSU's nine games and owns a 14-3 mark as a starter. He current ranks second in the SEC (behind Aaron Murray) in pass efficiency (193.6 and is fourth nationally in passing yards per completion with 17.4.

Meanwhile, Bulldog quarterback Aaron Murray continues to play extremely well. After throwing his 100th career touchdown pass last week against North Texas, Murray now stands just 398 yards away from breaking Davis Greene's SEC-record for career passing yards, which currently stands at 11,528. But stats aren't what's on Murray's minds right now. Three weeks ago, Murray was able to get one monkey off his back after leading Georgia to its win over South Carolina, which was previously ranked No. 6. A victory over the nation's current 6th-ranked team - LSU - will further quash the notion that the senior can't come up big in big games. Coming into play, Murray has completed 59-of-82 passes for 1,040 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions.

Running Back

Georgia faces arguably its biggest challenge to date in 235-pound running back Jeremy Hill. Hill's off-the-field issues have been well-documented, but so are his exploits on it as the human battering ram, who last week rushed 25 times for a career-high 184 yards and three touchdowns in LSU's 35-21 win over Auburn. The 184-yard effort was the most by an LSU back since 2004 when Alley Broussard ran for a school-record 250 against Ole Miss. Despite only having played in 14 career games, Hill is already tied for ninth in LSU history with six 100-yard games. For his career, he has 1,106 yards on 184 carries with 18 touchdowns and 0 fumbles heading into the Georgia game. Also watch out for fullback J.C. Copeland, who at 6-foot and 270-pounds, is considered the premiere performer at his position in the SEC.

Like the Bulldogs, LSU defenders will face their toughest running back challenge to date trying to slow down Bulldog backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. Gurley has gone over 100 yards twice this year and has hit the century mark 11 times in his career, the fourth-most in school history. He also had his first career touchdown catch against South Carolina. Marshall, meanwhile, has totaled 117 rushing yards and also has seven catches for 111 yards and a touchdown. For the year, Gurley has 63 carries for 377 yards and four touchdowns.

Wide Receiver

Through four games, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry have combined for 44 receptions for 753 yards and 10 touchdowns, the latter of whom leads the SEC in receiving touchdowns with six, while Beckham is second with four. Landry's six scores are the most by an LSU player through the first six games since Carlos Carson had six in 1977. Meanwhile, two of Beckham's games have resulted in 100-yard games. Both wideouts are on the Watch List for the Biletnikoff Award which goes annually to the nation's top receiver. But while Landry and Beckham have 44 catches between, LSU's third-leading receiver has only three.

For Georgia, Justin Scott-Wesley has been limited this week with a shoulder strain, although he is expected to play for a unit that despite the absence of big-name start continues to produce across the board. As long as he's able to go, look for Georgia to try and stretch the field with Scott-Wesley, who leads the Bulldogs with 10 catches for 234 yards and a touchdown. Junior Michael Bennett has been solid, with 10 catches for 124 yards, along with junior Chris Conley who also has 10 grabs for 142 yards and a touchdown. Rantavious Wooten remains a part of the rotation, which introduced a new member last week in freshman Reggie Davis who burst on the scene by making his first-career catch a 98-yard touchdown from Murray against North Texas. Not only was the score the 100th-touchdown pass of Murray's career, but the 98-yarder was also the longest in Bulldog history. Meanwhile, tight end Arthur Lynch is coming off a career day which saw him grab four balls for 85 yards and a touchdown against the Mean Green.

Offensive Line

Big, physical and strong. Those three words probably best describe the offensive line for LSU, which figures to try and lean heavy on the Bulldogs' defensive front in attempt to run the ball down Georgia's throat with Hill and set up the play-action pass by Mettenberger. The group is also a nasty one for LSU, one that includes 6-foot-5, 315-pound left tackle La'el Collins and former Buford High standout Vadal Alexander (6-6, 342) at left guard. How impressive have the Tigers been? The 30-plus points scored by LSU in its first four games is the first time that's happened in the SEC era for the Tigers. Prior to joining the SEC, LSU did it in 1911 and 1928.

Georgia, meanwhile, will be looking for a effort similar to what they saw against South Carolina, which through three games has been the most consistent performance by the Bulldog offensive line. Last week, the Bulldogs once against started Kenarious Gates at left tackle, Dallas Lee at left guard, David Andrews at center, Chris Burnette at right guard and Kolton Houston at right tackle after playing left guard against the Gamecocks. At least for the time being, it appears right tackle will be the permanent home for Houston, who is expected to continue to rotate with sophomore John Theus. According to position coach Will Friend, his days of rotating his linemen to different spots are over as he's now comfortable with the backups currently in place, a group that includes Mark Beard at left tackle, freshman Brandon Kublanow at left guard, Hunter Long at center and Watts Dantzler at right guard.

Defensive Line

Although the Tigers may not have the depth that they've enjoyed in past years, there is talent to be had on the defensive front, Ego Ferguson, the team's starting defensive tackle. The former Hargrave standout was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week after he shattered his career high with a team-best eight tackles against Kent State, including his first sack for a 15-yard loss.


LSU's 4-3 front also includes defensive tackle Anthony Johnson (6-3, 294), defensive end Danielle Hunter (6-6, 241) and defensive end Jermauria Rasco (6-3, 262). One item of note, three of the top four backups are either freshmen or sophomores.

Georgia continues to mix and match on the defensive line, a unit that continues to be led by senior Garrison Smith, who has started the last three games at nose. Sterling Bailey and Ray Drew continues to see the majority of the work at end, although it appears that position coach Chris Wilson is starting to more and more employ a rotation that also includes John Taylor, Mike Thornton, Toby Johnson and Chris Mayes. Taylor received over 20 reps last week, as did Mayes who was seeing his first action of the year after the missing Georgia's first two contests due to a concussion.

Linebacker

Senior Lamin Barrow is the heart and soul of the Tiger defense, as evidenced by the fact he wears the No. 18 jersey for the 2013 season. Barrow was given the jersey by Miles following a vote by the coaching staff, which at LSU is synonymous with success, on and off the field. After collecting 104 tackles last year, Barrow recorded a season-best 11 tackles and a fumble recovery in the win over Auburn. Barrow is one of the senior linebackers or the Tigers, along with Sam Tahj Jones and junior D.J. Welter at Mike.

For Georgia, Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera continue to rank among the leading tacklers in the SEC. Wilson is second with 31, followed by Herrera with 30, which ties him for fourth. Both figure to get the majority of the work at inside linebacker against the Tigers. On the outside, sophomore Jordan Jenkins is still looking for his first sack of 2013, but has been battling consistent double-teams, which have left freshman Leonard Floyd with some one-on-one opportunities. Floyd took advantage of that situation last week against North Texas and responded with the first two sacks of his career.

Defensive Backs

LSU boasts two of the league's better safeties in Craig Loston and Ronald Martin, both of whom have returned interceptions for touchdowns over their careers. Last year, Loston set a school record with a 100-yarder against Mississippi State while Martin brought one back 45 yards in a 63-14 win against Idaho. Cornerbacks Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins are both 6-foot-1 and like to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage in an attempt to disrupt receivers from their routes.

Georgia's young secondary faces another stern test trying to contain Landry and Beckham Jr., who leads the SEC in all-purpose yards. The Bulldogs continue to lean on junior Damian Swann and freshman Brendan Langley at corner, while both freshman safety Tray Matthews was solid against North Texas and picked off his first career pass. Josh Harvey-Clemons, meanwhile, is coming off a seven-tackle effort against North Texas, including a tackle for loss, while Corey Moore started last week and will likely start assuming the Bulldogs open the game in their base 3-4.

Special Teams

Freshman Colby Delahoussaye takes over the place-kicking duties for LSU and immediately made an impact when he kicked three fields and hit all four of his extra points. His three field goals were the most by a Tiger kicker in his debut since Andre LaFleur was 3-of-4 against Mississippi State in 1993. For the year, Delahoussaye has made all four of his field goals and all 23 extra points.

Georgia had some big-time issues on special teams against North Texas, allowing a 99-yard kickoff return and a blocked punt that the Mean Green recovered for a touchdown. Coaches will decide whether Nathan Theus or Trent Frix will handle the long-snapping, which has been someone of an issue due to high snaps in two of the first two games.

Injury Update

Backup Sam linebacker James DeLoach appears doubtful after suffering a concussion against North Texas, along with wide receiver Jonathon Rumph, who according to Richt is doubtful as he continues his recovery from a hamstring injury. Keith Marshall appears fine after suffering a knee contusion against North Texas while tight end Jay Rome is expected to play after tweaking the same ankle that's plagued him for much of the past month.

Projected Starting Lineup

Georgia

Offense

QB Aaron Murray (6-1, 208, Sr.)

RB Todd Gurley (6-1, 232, Soph.)

FB Quayvon Hicks (6-2, 265, Soph.)

LT Kenarious Gates (6-5,327, Sr.)

LG Dallas Lee (6-4, 295, Sr.)

C David Andrews (6-2, 295. Jr.)

RG Chris Burnette (6-2, 314, Sr.)

RT Kolton Houston (6-5, 280, Jr.)

TE Arthur Lynch (6-5, 254, Sr.)

WR Michael Bennett (6-3, 205, Jr.)

WR Chris Conley (6-3, 206, Jr.)

Defense

DE Ray Drew (6-5, 276, Jr.)

N Garrison Smith (6-3, 299, Sr.)

DE Sterling Bailey (6-3, 282, RSoph.)

Sam Leonard Floyd (6-4, 235, Fr.)

Will Jordan Jenkins (6-3, 246, Soph.)

MIKE Ramik Wilson (6-3, 232, Jr.)

MOE Amarlo Herrera (6-2, 244, Jr.)

CB Brendan Langley (6-1, 181, Fr.)

CB Damian Swann (5-11, 178, Jr.)

SS Corey Moore (6-2, 214,Jr.)

FS Tray Matthews (6-0, 214, Fr.)

LSU

Offense

QB Zach Mettenberger (6-5, 235, Jr.)

RB Jeremy Hill (6-2,235, So.)

FB J.C. Copeland (6-0, 270, Sr.)

LT La'el Collins (6-5, 315, Jr.)

LG Vadal Alexander (6-6, 342, So.)

C Elliott Porter (6-4, 300, Jr.)

RG Trai Turner (6-3, 316, So.)

RT Jerald Hawkins (6-6, 301, RFR.)

TE Dillon Gordon (6-5, 286, So.)

WR Odell Beckham Jr. (6-0, 193, Jr.)

WR Jarvis Landry (6-1, 195, Jr.)

Defense

DE Jermauria Rasco (6-3, 262, Jr.)

DT Anthony Johnson (6-3, 294, Jr.)

DT Ego Ferguson (6-3, 309, Jr.)

DE Danielle Hunter (6-6, 241, So.)

Sam Tahj Jones (6-2, 205, Sr.)

Mike D.J. Welter (6-1, 226, Jr.)

Will Lamin Barrow (6-2, 232, Sr.)

CB Jalen Mills (6-1, 189, So.)

S Craig Loston (6-2, 209, Sr.)

S Ronald Martin (6-1, 218, Jr.)

CB Jalen Collins (6-2, 195, So.)

Did you know?

• Under Mark Richt, Georgia is 3-4 against LSU

• The Bulldogs are 31-45-2 all-time against ranked opponents in Sanford Stadium

• Georgia has played 14 true freshman, the same number as LSU

• LSU has won 29 straight games during the month of December.

• The Tigers have won 34 straight games when scoring 30 or more points.

Overview-Projection

From a national championship, this is an elimination game, especially as far as the Bulldogs are concerned. Win, and the Bulldogs are alive. Lose, well, maybe next year. But there is some good news. Even should Georgia drop Saturday's contest, the Bulldogs would still control their own destiny as far as winning the SEC East is concerned - just as long as Georgia wins its remaining conference games. So what about it? To me, this game is all about the quarterbacks. Yes, Jeremy Hill and Todd Gurley are going to have their say. But in games of this magnitude, it's typically the team whose quarterback plays the best that will determine the outcome. Aaron Murray proved in the win over South Carolina that he can play well against a ranked team. Meanwhile, the big mystery surrounding Zach Mettenberger is how well he will be able to control his emotions coming back to play against his former team and a program he grew up idolizing growing up in nearby Watkinsville.

Predictions:

Jake Rowe - Georgia 31, LSU 21 (Record 2-1)

Anthony Dasher - Georgia 38, LSU 31 (Record 2-1)

Steve Patterson - LSU 31, Georgia 13

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