By Matt Smith
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Previewing the 2022 SEC Championship Game between LSU and Georgia.
Rivalry games are awesome, and other conferences deliver great title games, but there’s something special about the SEC Championship Game. Maybe because it was the first. Maybe because it’s the one that has an atmosphere comparable to an on-campus game. Maybe because 1992 Florida-Alabama and 2012 Alabama-Georgia still resonate as some of the best college football games we’ve ever watched.
2022 is Year 31 for the SEC Championship Game. For the fifth time, LSU and Georgia will meet for the conference title, trailing only Alabama-Florida as the most-played matchup in the game. The top-ranked Bulldogs are a heavy favorite, facing an LSU team that has defeated Alabama but also has a pair of losses by 15 points or more.
This game has some similarities to the 2016 game, when No. 1 Alabama faced a three-loss Florida team just hoping to play spoiler and steal a Sugar Bowl berth. That’s all LSU has on the line, as it looks to pull one of the season’s biggest upsets and bookend their season in New Orleans after falling by one point to Florida State in the Superdome on Sept. 4.
Georgia is headed to the College Football Playoff, win or lose. All that will be determined by Saturday’s result is jersey color. In that sense alone, maybe a loss would be better for the ‘Dawgs, who are 3-0 in white jerseys in CFP games and 0-1 in red jerseys.
It’s not one of the monster matchups that this game has had in the past three decades, but the SEC Championship Game is a special brand of its own. Let’s preview Saturday’s title tilt in Atlanta.
(14) LSU (9-3, 6-2) vs. (1) Georgia (12-0, 8-0)
Saturday, 4 p.m. ET
Location: Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta, Georgia)
TV: CBS (Brad Nessler and Gary Danielson)
Line: Georgia -18.5
Most Recent SEC title: Georgia – 2017 (def. Auburn); LSU – 2019 (def. Georgia)
Last Meeting: LSU 39, Georgia 10 (Dec. 7, 2019 in Atlanta)
5 Big Questions
1. Is Jayden Daniels healthy?
The LSU quarterback has been in a walking boot this week after spraining an ankle in last week’s loss to Texas A&M. Daniels’ mobility is vital to his game and the LSU offense, as it’s allowed for big second-half rallies by the Tigers in wins over Auburn, Ole Miss and Alabama. It takes a special quarterback to beat Georgia, who has only lost to Mac Jones, Kyle Trask and Bryce Young over the past three seasons. A less-than-100-percent Daniels would not be in the realm of that terrific trio.
2. Is Georgia complacent or vengeful?
Like last year, Georgia doesn’t have to win the SEC Championship Game to make the College Football Playoff. The Bulldogs jumped out to a 10-0 last year against Alabama, but were blitzed the rest of the way in a 41-24 loss. Will Georgia be prone to resting on its laurels again, or are the memories of last year’s failure in this spot squarely in the front of its mind?
3. Will special teams play a role?
LSU’s failures on special teams have been costly in losses to Florida State and Tennessee. Georgia has been stout in that area, sporting a reliable kicker in Jack Podlesny and a dangerous returner in Ladd McConkey. Kickoff return is the only one of the four return and coverage areas under special teams coach Brian Polian in which LSU ranks in the top half of the SEC. The Tigers have to at minimum be clean on special teams in this game and in all likelihood need to force a mistake from Georgia.
4. Can Kenny McIntosh replicate Devon Achane?
LSU’s run defense has been a rollercoaster. After Tennessee and Florida gashed them at midseason, the Tigers improved tremendously over the next month. Last week at Texas A&M, the unit took a major step backwards, as Devon Achane ran for more than 200 yards in the Aggies upset win. McIntosh leads a deep Georgia running back corps, having run for more than seven yards per carry and a touchdown in each of the last two weeks. The Bulldogs would love to be able to lean on McIntosh, while the Tigers hope they can deliver the performance that Alabama did in this game a year ago in holding Georgia to just 109 yards on the ground.
5. Will Harold Perkins be a game-wrecker?
The freshman phenom linebacker has been quiet the past two weeks after taking over wins against Alabama and Arkansas at the beginning of November with five total sacks. Perkins is simply displaying the natural highs and lows of a freshman season in the SEC, but LSU will be desperate for a return to form from Perkins on Saturday afternoon. One big problem for the Tigers? Of 131 FBS teams, only Oregon has allowed fewer sacks this season than Georgia.
Trivia Time (answers below)
1. Who is the only three-loss team to win the SEC Championship Game?
2. Who is the only head coach in his first year at a school to win the SEC Championship Game?
3. How many head coaches have won multiple SEC Championship Game?
Last season, despite its playoff certainty, Georgia did feel some pressure in this game in trying to knock out Alabama. There will be no such issue this time, as the Bulldogs will be the lone SEC team in the four-team playoff. I expect a looser Bulldogs team, but one hungry to atone for what happened 52 weeks ago.
Stetson Bennett IV won’t be a Heisman finalist when the list of four or five quarterbacks comes out on Monday, but he’ll remind the nation on Saturday that he’s the only quarterback with a national championship and is the favorite to win a second in a month. Expect a big day from tight ends Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington, as their size and speed can expose LSU’s defense.
Daniels’ mobility being neutered is a concern, but the Tigers are still talented, well-coached and accustomed to big-time games. Georgia will play with its food for a while, but this will be an overall sound performance from the Bulldogs. The line seems too high, but Georgia should be able to control the game from start to finish and stamp itself as the favorite to win another national title.
Prediction: Georgia 34, LSU 21
Last Week: 2-3
LSU +17.5 vs Georgia
Troy -8.5 vs. Coastal Carolina
North Carolina +7.5 vs. Clemson
1. LSU (2001)
2. Gus Malzahn, Auburn (2013)
3. Six (Steve Spurrier, Phillip Fulmer, Nick Saban, Mark Richt, Urban Meyer, Les Miles)
Matt Smith – Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.