With victories over Georgia Southern,
South Carolina, and Marshall under their belts already in 2004, the Bulldogs
are riding high atop the SEC East at 3-0, while the Tigers used a dominating
51-0 shutout victory over Mississippi State on September 25 to run their record
But the impressive records are
misleading, as the two teams, the most dominant in their divisions over the last
few seasons, will meet in Athens, Ga.,
with neither firing on all cylinders.
The Bulldogs struggled early
against Division I-AA opponent Georgia Southern before beating them 48-28, and
trailed both South Carolina and Marshall before winning
20-16 and 13-3 respectively.
LSU opened its season with a sloppy
22-21 overtime victory over Oregon
State in the rain before blowing out
Arkansas State 53-3, then lost 10-9 at Auburn before returning home to claim Mississippi State’s
Both teams are capable of much
better performances than they have been giving so far this year, and both may
well be eyeing the clash between the hedges as a chance to make a statement
about their chances at another SEC title – although they will both have to
answer plenty of questions in order to ensure the message gets
Under center, while the Tigers
continue to juggle fifth-year senior Marcus Randall and redshirt freshman
JaMarcus Russell, the Bulldogs trot out decorated senior David Greene,
considered by many before the season started to be among the best in the nation.
But while Greene (6-3, 230) ranks
fourth in the conference in yards per game with 194.3, he is only completing
54.9 percent of his passes, and has thrown a mere three touchdowns. His two main
targets thus far have been Fred Gibson (6-4, 196) and Reggie Brown (6-1, 195),
who have hauled in 14 and 12 receptions each to rank among the top ten in the
conference. Brown, despite having two fewer receptions, has been the more
productive, gaining 198 yards and two touchdowns with his catches, while Gibson
has 192 yards but is yet to find his way into the end
The passing game has its work cut
out against an LSU defense that once again ranks among the best in the
conference, especially because the ground game has been anemic at best. With
projected started Danny Ware (6-1, 225) missing time with a bruised lung,
backups Michael Cooper (5-11, 225) and Thomas Brown (5-8, 185) have helped
Georgia struggle to a 163.7 yards per game average, seventh best in the SEC.
Cooper has been the best of the two with 115 yards and one touchdown, but
neither is making opposing defenses forget Ware, who rushed for 180 yards and
three touchdowns through the first two games before missing the Marshall game
with the lung injury.
However, the bye week has given
Ware time to heal, and he should be back in the lineup when the Tigers roll into
town – as will linebacker Odell Thurman (6-1, 230), who will be returning from a
three-game suspension for violating team rules.
Without Thurman, the Bulldogs have
not exactly struggled, and rank first in the conference and sixth in the nation
in pass defense, and second in the conference and twelfth in the nation in total
defense, giving up a mere 125.7 yards and 260.3 yards per game respectively. The
red and black also lead the conference in punt returns, behind the work of
September 4-5 SEC Special Teams Player of the Week Tyson Browning, who leads the
SEC by a wide margin with 127 punt return yards through three games.
Browning, along with punter Gordon
Ely-Kelso – who was named Special Teams Player of the Week the week after
Browning – have ensured that the Bulldogs have claimed the battle of field
position in every game, and have ensured that Greene has not had to do too much
to compensate for the running game troubles.
But with Ware back in the lineup,
and Greene throwing to Gibson and Brown on a short field, Georgia is a much
different machine and should not experience the same problems moving the ball
they had against Marshall and South Carolina.
LSU, on the other hand, also had a
running back return to the lineup when Shyrone Carey made his first appearance
of the season against Mississippi State after finishing a four-game
suspension that dated back to the 2004 Sugar Bowl.
With Carey back in the lineup, the
Tigers have a weapon on kick returns they have only been able to dream about
through the first four games, as backup return man Skyler Green has been hobbled
by an ankle injury.
The senior’s return, however, is
tempered by the news that linebacker Mario Stevenson will be out for several
weeks with an injury to his right leg. Stevenson’s absence was not missed
against Mississippi State, however, as the LSU defensive unit
registered three sacks and four interceptions against the maroon and white
Bulldog offense, while his replacement, Ali Highsmith, registered one sack and
led the team with four total tackles.
But the red and black Bulldogs will
look to give the Tigers many more looks and offensive formations than their
maroon namesakes, and Highsmith will be called upon early and often if LSU wants
to keep Ware and company in check.
The Tiger defensive backs, called
in for criticism often during the early part of the season, began to look like
the championship unit they were touted as before the season started against
Mississippi State, holding quarterbacks Kyle York and Omarr Connor to a paltry
90 yards passing – which was still an improvement from the Bulldog ground game,
that managed to pick up only 40 yards in the loss.
LSU, who boasted the best defense
in the nation in 2003, is once again among the top in Division I-A, and with the
momentum gained from the Mississippi State victory will be traveling to the
Peach State ready to aim for a third straight victory over the 2002 SEC
Before the season started, the LSU
vs. Georgia matchup was touted by many as
the best in the nation in 2004.
Three weeks into the nation, it
looked as if the prediction could not be any less
But five weeks in, with Ware,
Thurman, and Carey back?
The game is once again a