Baton Rouge, La.—You gotta give this to Ed Orgeron and the LSU Tigers: Every time somebody tries to write them off, to suggest they are done, they pick themselves off the turf and find a way to stay alive.
LSU was the No. 5 team in the nation last week when the Tigers lost at Florida 27-19. And thus the narrative going into Saturday’s showdown with No. 2 Georgia was simple: At sundown on Saturday LSU would no longer be a team with national championship or SEC championship aspirations.
Well, not so fast my friend. For on a sun-splashed Saturday at Tiger Stadium, LSU stayed alive to fight another day, winning 36-16.
“It is our goal to lead LSU to a championship,” Orgeron. “Where this leads us we don’t know. Hopefully it will give us some confidence."
This game had huge implications for both teams. Let’s start with LSU:
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**--The SEC West is race is still alive: Understand that if LSU (6-1, 3-1) had lost to Georgia, the race in the SEC West would have been all but over. Every team in the West with the exception of Alabama and Texas A&M would have two losses. Because Alabama already holds the tiebreaker over Texas A&M, that means the only way LSU would have mathematically been able to win the SEC West after a loss Saturday would have been for Alabama to lose twice. And friends, that ain’t happening.
**--Nov. 3 is still relevant: LSU hosts Mississippi State next week and then takes a week off. Then No. 1 Alabama will come here. If LSU takes care of business against Mississippi State, this place will be rocking like it was on Saturday. LSU was a seven-point underdog to Georgia and will probably be a double-digit underdog to Alabama. But LSU just wants to get to the Alabama game with a chance. Saturday's win gives LSU that chance.
**--Tiger Stadium still has its magic: The truth is that coming into this game, LSU had lost five straight home games to teams ranked No. 1 or No. 2. There was a lot of red, at least 20,000 fans representing Georgia. But LSU was clearly energized by its surroundings and Georgia’s offense seemed uncomfortable and off its rhythm. Georgia had won a couple of SEC road games at South Carolina and Missouri this season. Those places ain’t nothing like this.
**--Joe Burrow keeps making plays: Burrow, the transfer quarterback from Ohio State, is never going to blow you away with his stats. But he makes big throws, moves the chains and runs just enough to keep defenses honest. He completed 15 of 30 passes for 200 yards and when LSU was trying to run clock and put the game away, he took off on a 59-yard run to set up a touchdown which slammed the final door. LSU hasn’t had quarterback play this reliable since Matt Flynn led the Tigers to the national championship in 2007.
Now, here is what Saturday’s game meant to Georgia:
**--Despite the loss, all of Georgia’s goals are still possible: If Georgia runs the table—and that’s a big if—the Bulldogs will play in the SEC championship game, probably against Alabama. Win there and finish 12-1 and Georgia makes the College Football Playoffs. The schedule is difficult with Florida on Oct. 27 in Jacksonville, at Kentucky on Nov. 3 and home to Auburn on Nov. 10. It’s not going to be easy but it is still possible. That’s the message Georgia took back to Athens Saturday night.
**--But Georgia did lose this: Before Saturday’s loss, there was a scenario where Georgia could go undefeated, lose a close SEC championship game to Alabama and still get into the playoffs at 12-1. Now that option is almost certainly off the table.
**--Like it or not, Georgia has a quarterback controversy: Sophomore Jake Fromm, who led Georgia to the national championship game last season, easily played the worst game of his career. He completed 16 of 34 passes and threw two interceptions. Georgia fans will be clamoring for freshman Justin Fields, who went into the game for a handful of plays. Fromm is going to stay the starter but Georgia fans will want to know why, with Fromm struggling, Fields did not play more.
**--Quarterback play is not the only thing Coach Kirby Smart is going to get second-guessed about: Trailing 3-0, Georgia took its second possession of the game and moved it down to the LSU 14-yard line. But instead of taking the sure three points, Georgia faked the field goal and put it in the hands of kicker Rodrigo Blankenship, who didn’t come close to making the first down. Georgia looked a bit disjointed after that and LSU led 16-0 at halftime.