Fan bases need fuel to keep going, and nothing fuels a fan base like a blogger trashing an average player or spoon-feeding faint praise to a Heisman candidate. Not that my predictions are the most widely-read on the handicapping web, but I’m sure at least a few Louisiana State supporters have gotten a kick out of QB Joe Burrow lighting the SEC on fire following my analysis from earlier in 2019 that the senior is not a “Heisman-favorite” type of athlete.
Make no mistake, Burrow *is* a Heisman favorite as far as the national media is concerned, and has a great shot at the award. I won’t necessarily focus on my criticism of the QB as a pigskin-eater when under heavy pressure in the pocket. Nor will I treat Burrow like a superhero who can’t have a bad game. We’ve gotten used to seeing fast, electric play-makers winning the Heisman trophy. This year’s prospective winner is a different animal, a pure passer who can hoof up-field at average speed when flushed into yawning daylight.
But the #1-ranked LSU Tigers have won so many games in a row that it’s time to look at the upside.
When Alabama got around the edge on Burrow last season, he “burrowed” a hole in the turf and crawled into it. (Prior to 1 of the Tide’s 97 sacks in that game, I yelled “GET RID OF IT!” so loud that my cat jumped 5 feet.) But eating the ball can keep a quarterback healthier than trying to scramble out of a collapsed pocket, and by hook or crook Ed Orgeron has developed and groomed Burrow for just this moment in time. That’s good news for LSU fans because the SEC Championship Game on Saturday could be the most challenging scenario of all.
Las Vegas bookmakers are nearly as impressed with Georgia as LSU. Gamblers are not, moving the Tigers from a FG to a TD-favorite on the point spread in just 3 days of betting action.
Who: LSU Tigers vs Georgia Bulldogs
When: Saturday, December 7th, 4 PM EST
Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA
Lines: LSU (-7.5) vs UGA (+7.5) / O/U Total: (54.5)
Burrow is hot, and so is the Louisiana State offense. In a recent 56-20 victory over pitiful Arkansas, all the QB had to do was hand-off to Clyde Edwards-Helaire and throw the occasional pitch-and-catch pass downfield. But the LSU attack has been spectacular throughout November’s other battles, flying past Alabama on the road and scoring a combined 106 points vs Texas A&M and Ole Miss. ‘Bama is now ranked #12 – but 2 sets of “Tigers” have a lot to do with that.
LSU’s offensive line is big, strong, and mobile, opening holes for Edwards-Helaire and other rushers that serve to discourage opposing DEs from teeing-off. What’s even more impressive is that the unit has put on 1 dominant performance after another without all of its pieces. Injuries in the trenches can kill a championship run but haven’t appeared to hurt the Tigers yet. The OL is looking pretty healthy now – another dose of great news.
The Georgia Bulldogs have not lost in regulation in 2019 and are coming off a terrific 5-game run in which the “Dawgs” defeated Florida, Missouri, Auburn, and A&M before destroying rival Georgia Tech in Clean Old Fashioned Hate last weekend. Jake Fromm was frustrated a few times by the GT secondary but did not need 30 pass attempts to toss 4 touchdowns. Meanwhile, RB D’Andre Swift continued to flourish behind an OL that’s pretty good in its own right, but took limited touches as Kirby Smart played it smart with his best cogs headed into the SEC title scrum.
Georgia’s dealing with a few more injuries than LSU, but the names of the wounded are scattered among units and positions. No single aspect of the team’s performance has been suffering, save for an offense that appears – as Ohio State’s had in 2017 and 2018 – to feast on poor defenses better than it conquers tough teams. UGA can be forgiven for not scoring a bundle o’ points vs Florida, Missouri, or Auburn – after all the Bulldogs led the Tigers 21-0 after 3 quarters. But a 7-4 Texas A&M squad was able to cause yet another sub-50% passing day from the veteran Fromm while limiting Swift to just over 100 yards between the hedges at Sanford Stadium.
WR Lawrence Cager is out for the year and another UGA receiver, George Pickens, must sit-out the 1st half of the title game due to egregious conduct vs Georgia Tech – a sad, conventional version of GT that LSU needed not intimidate in order to beat. That hurts the Georgia offense, and could be responsible for the line-movement in LSU’s direction.
I don’t see the Georgia pass rush making life all that miserable for Burrow, but I also doubt that the Bulldogs will allow the star QB to scramble for a bunch of 1st-down conversions.
UGA’s defense hasn’t really been beaten all year – talented kicker Rodrigo Blankenship went 4-for-4 to essentially win the Texas A&M game 19-13, but the D wasn’t the reason it was close in the last quarter. Georgia’s linebackers and DBs are too disciplined to allow gratuitous QB runs or RAC yards in the short-passing game. It’s on Burrow to hit Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson on aggressive downfield throws if Louisiana State is to cover the spread.
Georgia’s outcomes have gone under the O/U in 5 of the last 6 games. It’s no accident. Notre Dame was the 2019 regular-season opponent with an almost NFL-level deep passing game, and Ian Book was intercepted twice by the Dawgs in a Georgia victory. Yes, Book attempted nearly 50 passes while Brian Kelly only gave a token nod to his vaunted ground game. But Georgia didn’t boast a murderous pass-rush against Notre Dame – it was a speedy and smart defensive backfield that saved the day for UGA.
Finally, unless Louisiana State is crushed on Saturday, the Tigers can expect to play in the College Football Playoff. It’s Georgia which absolutely must win the contest to receive an invitation. That’s not a motivational downer for LSU, but it’s a big motivational upper for the Dawgs.
LSU has the ability to get ahead and stay ahead, but only if Orgeron chooses to pound the rock and allow Burrow to pick his spots downfield. I’m liking the Under (54.5) and Georgia to cover any line wider than 7 points.