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LSU Out Georgia-ed Georgia

By Jim Johnson
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From turnovers to efficiency and explosiveness to field position and ball control to third and fourth down conversions, the Tigers took everything that makes Georgia successful and flipped it on its head.

LSU just out-Georgia’d Georgia.

From turnovers to efficiency and explosiveness to field position and ball control to third and fourth down conversions, the Tigers took everything that makes Georgia successful and flipped it on its head.

Coaches talk all the time about all those things, and it can start to sound a bit rote, a bit platitudinal, a bit cliche -- but oftentimes these things become cliche for a reason: because they’re important. Because they’re true.

Using data from the 2013 college football season, the team that wins the explosiveness battle wins the game 86% of the time. Same goes for the efficiency battle 83% of the time. 75% in the drive finishing battle, 72% in the field position battle, and 73% in the turnover battle. These numbers don’t vary much from year to year. This encompasses many of the most basic tenets of football, and accounts for the “five factors” of S&P+.

I can’t say for sure, but one must imagine that winning all of those battles would result in a pretty darn high win expectancy. Now, win expectancy isn’t everything. LSU only had 17% expectancy in their win over Auburn, but it isn’t nothing, either.

From a pure talent perspective, there wasn’t much to separate these teams going into the matchup. The biggest disparities, and the reasons that Georgia were justifiably favored, would have had to have been the quarterbacks and the offensive line. Instead, just like LSU out-Georgia’d Georgia, Joe Burrow out Fromm-ed Jake Fromm.

Fromm entered the game with the fourth highest pass efficiency rating in the country. Joe Burrow, uh, didn’t.

Fromm looked lost, and this wasn’t the first time that he’s seemed out of sorts against a good defense in a hostile environment. In fact, if we want to keep it all the way funky, he’s probably 0-2 now in his career under such circumstances.

He lost at Auburn last year, and all the other worthwhile defenses he faced in 2017 were either at home, a neutral site, or that one time when South Bend turned into Athens. The closest he’s come to beating a good defense on the road is earlier this season at South Carolina, but to call that defense “good” is a stretch. Fine, sure, but not good.

He completed less than half of his attempts for the first time since the aforementioned Auburn game last year at a clip of just over six yards per throw, his worst average since the Tennessee game in 2017, with just one score and two picks. This was also only the second time he’d tossed more than one interception in a single game, with the other being in the National Championship, and it was the first time his passer rating had ever finished below 100.

In fairness, his pass catchers didn’t do him any favors, dropping multiple balls throughout the contest, but more than anything it was the suffocating coverage and picture perfect gameplan from Dave Aranda that had the ‘Dawgs chasing their tails.

It was also bizzare to see Jim Chaney abandon the run as quickly as he did. D’Andre Swift was averaged six yards a pop and Elijah Holyfield earned eight per attempt, but the pair combined for less than 20 rushes on the day. It’s usually not a good idea to bail on the idea of running behind what to that point had looked like best offensive line in the country before it’s absolutely necessary.

On the flipside, LSU managed 6.7 yards per pass and 5.4 yards per rush, to Georgia’s overall 3.8 yards per carry. Efficiency battle? Check.

What was really extraordinary, though, was how explosive LSU’s offense was. Ahead of the ball game, LSU ranked 68th in percentage of 20+ yard plays, and 40th in percentage of 20+ yard plays allowed. Georgia ranked 18th and 3rd, respectively.

Contrary to what that should indicate, LSU broke four such plays against Georgia’s bend-don’t-break defense, and allowed just three, even though Georgia spent much of the second half in comeback mode, while LSU went more conservative. Explosiveness battle? Check.

And not only did the turnover battle favor LSU 4-0, but two of them resulted in excellent starting field position for the Tigers’ offense -- a Fromm pick that started LSU’s subsequent drive at the 23-yard line and a Mecole Hardman fumble on a kick return that gave the Bayou Bengals the ball (and by then, the game) at the 14.

All in all, LSU’s average starting field position was their 32.5 yard line. Georgia’s was the 26.4. Field position battle? Check.

With that field position, and some aggressive fourth down calls of which they converted all four, LSU travelled inside Georgia’s 40-yard line seven times, scored on all seven trips, and averaged 5.14 points per opportunity. Conversely, LSU allowed Georgia inside its own 40 only five times and let them score just thrice, for an average of 3.2 points per trip inside the 40. Drive finishing battle? Check.

The other big key that I wrote about in my preview of the game, outside of the five factors, was the third down battle. Georgia had been one of the best teams in the country at avoiding them on offense, getting manageable ones when they didn’t and converting those manageable third downs. LSU, on the other hand, struggled most of the year on third down, save third and short scenarios, where they were among the nation’s elite. Georgia’s defense, too, had done a good job of not only forcing a high percentage of third downs, but forcing a high percentage of uncomfortable third downs. LSU’s defense, for as good as it had been otherwise, was only average to above average in that respect.

And while, superficially, Georgia converted a higher percentage of its third downs, UGA’s average third down distance was about a yard further than LSU’s, and while only two of LSU’s 19 third downs were nine yards or more, six of Georgia’s 14 were. Factor in those fourth and short conversions, and LSU was more effective here too.

LSU didn’t steal this win like it did at Auburn. This was a start to finish beat down in all three phases, and every facet of the game.

There’s already a precedent for two SEC teams making the playoff in the same season. And though LSU does have a loss, factoring in the rest of their resume, even if they lose to Alabama, maybe it’s time to start considering whether or not two teams from the same division deserve to be in.

Both of these teams still control their own destiny, and Georgia’s path to the SEC Championship is still, arguably, easier than LSU’s, but this win matters.

LSU had beaten good teams, but not resoundingly. LSU had won in dominant fashion, but not against good teams. Now they’ve done both to one of the perceived top four teams in the country.

LSU’s not just winning anymore. LSU is winning like Georgia did last year, LSU is out-Georgia-ing Georgia.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP