BATON ROUGE, La. — Have you ever seen Mardi Gras? Ah, but have you ever seen it in October?
LSU thumped Georgia 36–16 on Saturday in an electric day game at Tiger Stadium, stunning the Bulldogs with a vicious defensive performance and a big-play offense. Here are four thoughts on a game that may change the complexion of both halves of the SEC.
A banner day for riverboat gambler Ed Orgeron
There was some gamblin’ going on in Tiger Stadium on Saturday, about two miles from the Mississippi River and its riverboat casinos. In the second quarter alone, Ed Orgeron directed his team to go for it on three fourth downs, and the Tigers converted all of them. They scored a touchdown on a Joe Burrow sneak from the one-yard line, picked up a first down on Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s 16-yard run and on that same drive got the yard they needed on another Burrow sneak from LSU’s own 38. Orgeron attempted a fourth fourth-down conversion later in the third quarter, passing on what would have been a 31-yard field goal.
Riverboat Ed has a nice ring to it, no? Last week Orgeron kicked a field goal on fourth-and-inches in an eventual 27–19 loss to Florida, after which he admitted his regret that he did not use a timeout to give officials a chance to review a close third-down play. Two of LSU’s three fourth-down conversions Saturday against Georgia came with help from the hurry-up offense. The Tigers rushed to the line for the Burrow sneak on the 38 and Edwards-Helaire’s run.
A critical gamble on the opposite sideline didn’t pay off: UGA coach Kirby Smart’s fake field goal attempt on fourth-and-nine late in the first quarter was snuffed out by LSU safety Grant Delpit.
Current players and program alums like to tout LSU as “the real Defensive Back University,” citing the safety and cornerback stars the school has sent to the NFL over the years. The 2018 group showed up Saturday. Delpit snuffed out a UGA fake field goal in the first quarter, cornerback Kary Vincent batted away a would-be touchdown pass, cornerback Kristian Fulton made an incredible interception in the third and cornerback John Battle picked off Fromm with 3:17 left to ice the game.
UGA quarterback Jake Fromm finished with paltry numbers—he started 11-of-27—in part because of the Tigers’ buzzing DBs. His receivers didn’t help him either. They had at least four drops, and Mecole Hardman spoiled a potential big gain on an underthrown flea flicker by not keeping his feet in bounds. It was an all-around whipping from LSU’s secondary against Georgia’s passing game.
The wacky SEC
It’s Alabama and everyone else. We’ve known that for quite some time, but the SEC standings should reflect it Saturday night, as long as the Crimson Tide take care of Missouri at home. Alabama would remain the only unbeaten in the league, leading one-loss LSU, Georgia, Florida and Kentucky. The Bulldogs play Florida in two weeks and travel to Lexington on Nov. 3, which could be for the SEC East crown. On that same day, the Tigers host Alabama for what could very well be a top-five showdown in Tiger Stadium.
LSU showed Saturday that it will be Alabama’s stiffest challenge (especially with Auburn losing at home to Tennessee). The Tigers were walloping the Bulldogs 16–0 and 19–3 before a late rally from UGA. As midseason arrives, the cream has risen to the top of the SEC.
We don’t usually use one of these notes on fan attendance, but credit must be given to Georgia and its traveling caravan. Remember when the Bulldogs nearly out-numbered Notre Dame fans for last season’s game in South Bend? It wasn’t quite like that Saturday, but Georgia brought more fans to Tiger Stadium than any team in at least the last five years. Swaths of UGA red covered Death Valley, enough to make one reporter (me!) believe that at least 15,000 were in red Saturday and potentially as many as 20,000. That’s about 20% of the 102,321-seat building.
One of the most anticipated day games at Tiger Stadium lived up to the hype. The atmosphere rocked. Fans traded chants—“L-S-U” and “U-G-A”—well before kickoff, and ear-piercing roars thundered through the venue that must have reminded some of that memorable UGA-LSU game in 2003.