The SEC West is commonly referred to as the toughest division in all of football. Who’s going to argue it’s not? The last two BCS National Champions, as well as three of the last four, are from the SEC West. The SEC West has also recently taken the lead in the SEC as the dominant half of the conference. The last two SEC Championship Games have gone in favor of the West by an average of 29 points. Going into today’s action, the SEC East was 0-10 against all SEC West teams not residing in the state of Mississippi. The SEC West Champion (presumably LSU but Arkansas still has a shot) was expected to run rough-shot over the SEC East representative in the SEC Championship Game. Then Georgia went out and steamrolled Auburn by 38 points and may have put some doubt in peoples’ minds. Most of us should remember that it wasn’t long ago that it was the East that was the dominant division in the SEC. The East won six of the first seven SEC Championship Games and eight of the first eleven. Is Georgia poised to bring the SEC East back to respectability? Can Georgia rise up unexpectedly and upset the SEC West Champion and play spoiler?
Why They Might
Georgia came out against Auburn and executed their game-plan to perfection on the offensive and defensive sides of the football. Both teams opened up the game by scoring on their first drive but then Georgia shifted into fifth gear and left the Tigers in their dust. Auburn gained 76 yards on their first drive but then were held to just 119 yards for the rest of the game. The Georgia defense clicked on all cylinders in this game. Alec Ogletree and Jarvis Jones reeked havoc on the Tigers all day long. Jones came on strong in the Florida game (he is a red-shirt sophomore who transferred from USC and sat out last year after an injury cut his freshman campaign short) and Alec Ogletree just got back into the line-up against Florida after missing the first six and a half games (after Ogletree got hurt against Boise State in the opener it all went downhill for Georgia). Jones leads the SEC in sacks and Ogletree has caused multiple fumbles and solidified the defense since his return. Georgia’s defensive line has been stout against the run this year as their line was giving up just 91 yards rushing per game (compared with 148 last year) and Auburn only netted just 51. Georgia’s secondary has also stepped up this year as Safety Shawn Williams has settled comfortably into the Safety spot and provides big hits and run support and Sanders Commings has become a very effective corner opposite Brandon Boykin. On this Saturday it was Bacarri Rambo who provided the fireworks as he picked off a Clint Moseley pass (it wasn’t a horrible pass but it was a great read by Rambo) and zigzagged his way to a TD. Did I mention that Rambo was tied for second in the Nation in interceptions coming into this game? This Georgia defense is not just playing good defense, they are creating turnovers and becoming play-makers in just their second year under Defensive Coordinator Todd Grantham.
Over the last few games Red-shirt Sophomore QB Aaron Murray has started to gel with his young receivers. Red-shirt Freshman Michael Bennett has developed into a solid possession receiver and a go-to guy when you need to make a play. He caught one of Murray’s 4th down TD passes against Florida and on Saturday may have done one better by making a diving catch in the end zone. As a freshman, Bennett now has 28 catches and 4 TDs. Georgia’s “other” freshman receiver is play-maker Malcolm Mitchell. He missed the last three games with an injury but remained Georgia’s leader in receiving yards. He came back this weekend and made three great plays in route to 85 yards receiving and a TD. Mitchell also has 28 catches and 4 TDs on the season. Speaking of Murray, after a slow start he’s really come on strong. Not only has he thrown 27 TD to 8 INT this year but he also broke Georgia’s All-Time single season TD pass record today. In Murray’s last four games he has thrown 14 TDs to only 2 INTs. The other thing that has happened over the last few weeks is that the Offensive Line seems to be gelling and are now winning battles along the line and creating an advantage on the line of scrimmage for Georgia. They are creating running lanes and doing a better job protecting Murray. In the second half of the Auburn game, Auburn was bringing nine players in the box and Georgia was still overwhelming them on the line of scrimmage. Georgia shifted down to second gear for the second half of this game and simply just slowly rammed the football down Gene Chizik’s throat one run after another after Chizik had called out Auburn’s run defense as it’s one positive from the first half. In the second half Georgia had two drives that totaled 21 plays and took a combined 13:38 off the clock. Both drives ended with TDs, the later of the two drives was all done on the ground.
Why They Might Not
Georgia’s Special Teams has taken a step back this year and is still the achilles heel of this team. Georgia is dead last in kick-off return yardage given up per return, and has also given up the most returns for TD (2), in the SEC. Those two TDs came very recently, versus Vandy and Florida, and almost lost them both games. Georgia did make improvements this week as Auburn averaged only 19.4 yards per return (which would rank third in the SEC if that was Georgia’s yearly output) and true freshman Quintavious Harrow served notice when he flattened Auburn’s Tre Mason on an early return. Georgia’s kicking has also taken a big down-turn this year as Blair Walsh has hit the skids making an SEC worst 56.5% of his FGs this year. Brandon Bogotay has taken over some of the kicking duties but he is untested. All-Conference Punter Drew Butler has also taken a small step back this year and shanked his only punt against Auburn off the side of his foot for 17 yards. A lackluster Special Teams won’t get the job done against LSU (or Arkansas).
The season ending injury to Richard Samuel has left Georgia short on RBs. You wouldn’t have noticed this week as Georgia had two 100 yard rushers for the first time since 2009 as Carlton Thomas had 127 yards and Isaiah Crowell had 132. Crowell has shown flashes of brillance this year but has also been inconsistent. He fumbled twice in the Auburn game and has been saddled all year by nagging injuries. There is doubt that Crowell would be able to sustain the type of punishment that a team like LSU delivers on a consistent basis. Carlton Thomas has played well this year but he is a diminutive back and cannot play every down. There is also the question of the Offensive Line. The OL play has been so bad over the last two years at different points that the recent success makes one wonder if it’s a mirage or if the OL has really turned a corner in new OL coach Will Friend’s first year. Regardless of how much they’ve improved, a date with LSU might be too much for this OL to handle.
If Georgia plays like it did today on both sides of the football then it can beat anybody in the country in a one-game scenario. Georgia came out with a solid game-plan for Auburn, they executed it, made some tweaks early in the first half and never looked back. Georgia is a dangerous team right now because they have momentum, they have learned how to win, they gain confidence every week and the defense is getting it’s swagger back. I don’t know if Georgia has what it takes to line up and play smash mouth football with this years version of LSU but if Georgia wins both of their remaining games and goes into the SEC Championship Game at 10-2 and keeps playing like this then the LSU Tigers better beware because they will be in for one hell of a fight.