The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference
The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference

The SEC Championship Game Blog: Saturday

214 days ago
By Kevin Scarbinsky
Photo: SEC

Welcome to the 2019 SEC Championship Game Blog, your online home for the big news, behind-the-scenes notes and quotes and special moments that make this annual event at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta the best conference championship game in the nation. Check back for updates each day throughout the week.

Who's No. 1? LSU makes an emphatic case

It's time to salute the LSU Tigers. They're SEC champions and so much more.

You want an eye test? Rerun those highlights of Joe Burrow going full Matrix or, in that voodoo you do so well, throwing to Joe Burrow.

You want a resume? If the Tigers were looking for a job, they'd be juggling offers from Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Google.

They beat Texas in Austin when the Longhorns were a top-10 team and took care of Auburn and Florida in Baton Rouge when the Tigers and Gators were in the top 10 themselves. They beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa when no one else had beaten the Crimson Tide here, there or anywhere.

As lagniappe, with the whole world watching Saturday, they beat Georgia in Atlanta even though the Bulldogs were playing here for the fourth time in the last three years.

The 13-and-Coach O LSU Tigers didn't just complete an undefeated run to their first SEC Championship since 2011 with a 37-10 victory over Georgia. They didn't just record their fifth top-10 win of the season, their second over a top-four opponent. They put a purple-and-gold bow on a Cajun-strong case to be the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoffs when the field is announced Sunday morning.

The record-breaking LSU offense, the engine behind its success, rolled up 481 yards and 37 points on a Georgia defense that hadn't allowed more than 343 yards and 20 points all season.

Burrow delivered another Heisman-worthy performance, completing 28 of 38 passes for 349 yards and four touchdowns, the most in this game since Auburn Heisman winner Cam Newton did the same in 2010. Burrow completed passes to eight different receivers, one of them to himself off a batted ball, turning it into a 16-yard gain toward his 41 rushing yards. Naturally, he was named the game's MVP.

The still-improving LSU defense limited Georgia to one second-quarter field goal and, after the matter was long decided, one fourth-quarter touchdown. Granted, the Bulldogs were short-handed in the playmaker department, but the Tigers never let them breathe in limiting them to a season-low 10 points. Freshman cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. tied the SEC Championship Game record with two interceptions.

For good measure, LSU's Cade York made three field goals in four tries, including a long-distance delivery from 50 yards out, to tie the SEC Championship Game mark for most makes. He also set the SEC Championship Game record for points by a kicker with 13.

Play after play, game after game, record after record, LSU played to a championship standard against a championship schedule like no other team in college football. If they're not the No. 1 team in the nation, that's not a nation any true football fan should want to call home.

In the battle to be DBU, it's advantage LSU

So there's this little game within a game in the SEC, this friendly competition between two cross-division rivals who consider themselves especially elite at one position on the field.

Defensive back.

LSU and Florida like to spar over which of them deserves the mythical title of DBU, or Defensive Back University, and both programs can make a strong case. If what you've done for me lately on the biggest stage matters, it's advantage LSU.

That's because freshman cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. intercepted not one but two passes Saturday in LSU's 37-10 victory. That performance tied Stingley for the SEC Championship Game record for interceptions.

The last player to pick off two passes in this setting: Florida's Lito Sheppard. He had two interceptions in the 2000 title game win over Auburn.

Georgia's George Pickens makes his presence felt

George Pickens has been a highlight waiting to happen all season, and the freshman wide receiver happened in a big way for Georgia again Saturday. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, his big plays proved to be too little and too late.

From hurdling a would-be tackler after a first-down catch to tightroping the sideline to snatch a ball in spectacular fashion, Pickens showed why Georgia's future at that position is bright. He led the Bulldogs with four catches for 54 yards and their only touchdown - in just two quarters.

Georgia will be left to wonder what might have been had Pickens been available to play the entire game. He sat out the first half Saturday as the result of his penalty for fighting in last week's win over Georgia Tech.

Against the explosive LSU offense, which hung more points on Georgia than any other team this season, the Bulldogs were forced to try to win a shootout without all their weapons for all 60 minutes. There were a variety of reasons, injuries primarily.

As good as the LSU offense played, a full deck might not have made a difference, but Kirby Smart sure would've liked to have seen it.

Another Heisman moment for Joe Burrow

As if he hadn't already put together a highlight reel full of them, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow created another Heisman moment late in the third quarter Saturday to help create far too much separation for Georgia to overcome.

On first-and-10 at the LSU 20, Burrow dropped to pass, but the fun had only just begun. Under duress from Georgia lineman Travon Walker, Burrow retreated, then went full back-shoulder spin cycle toward the UGa sideline. Walker staggered but returned in dogged pursuit along with teammate Jordan Davis until Burrow delivered a wicked jagged jump-cut that put Walker on the ground and Davis too far behind.

With room to roam, Burrow spotted Justin Jefferson all by his lonesome downfield and delivered a strike. By the time Georgia ran him down, Jefferson had covered 71 yards for the longest non-touchdown pass play in SEC Championship Game history.

Then Burrow threw a touchdown pass. Then, after an interception by stellar freshman corner Derek Stingley Jr., Burrow threw another. That gave Burrow four TD tosses and LSU a 34-3 lead after three quarters.

It sure looked like time to turn out the lights and start the playoff party.

Injury bug continues to bite the Bulldogs

Veteran wide receiver Lawrence Cager was unavailable Saturday after season-ending surgery. Freshman wideout George Pickens was out for the first half with a suspension for fighting in last week's win over Georgia Tech. Tailback D'Andre Swift was limited to spot duty with a shoulder injury.

As if Georgia needed any more playmakers to go missing, the Bulldogs lost wide receiver Dominick Blaylock for the rest of the game in the first quarter with a reported knee injury. Then came what could have been the most critical injury of all.

With 7:23 left in the second quarter and Georgia trailing 14-3, quarterback Jake Fromm went down and stayed down after getting sacked by LSU safety Grant Delpit. Fromm eventually limped to the sideline, and backup Stetson Bennett took the next snap. His wild overthrow forced the Bulldogs to punt, and Fromm's absence forced Georgia fans to fret over another in an unfortunate series of injuries/incidents with key offensive players.

Fortunately for Georgia, after a visit to the sideline medical tent, Fromm returned to the field and immediately jump-started the offense. He threw the Bulldogs into LSU territory before he was intercepted by Derek Stingley Jr.

But Georgia went to the halftime locker room with hope - and Pickens scheduled to play in the second half - down only 17-3.

LSU quarterback Joe Burrow sets another SEC record

If you were wondering how all the Heisman hype might affect LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, wonder no more. On LSU's first possession, he looked the part of the best player in college football, leading the Tigers on an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to take a 7-0 lead.

But it was no ordinary touchdown drive. It highlighted the many ways Burrow and the LSU offense can beat even the best defense in the SEC.

On one play, the Georgia defense spiked a Burrow pass back in his face. He caught it and ran with it for 16 yards and a first down. "Joe Burrow pass complete to Joe Burrow" read the boxscore.

On third-and-10 at the Georgia 47, Burrow stepped up in the pocket and connected on one of his favorite routes, a deep crossing pattern, for 24 yards and a first down to Terrace Marshall Jr.

On the 23-yard touchdown pass, between the snap and the throw, Burrow had enough time to fly to the Heisman ceremony in New York and back before finding Ja'Marr Chase in the end zone. That beautiful bit of improvisation by Burrow and Chase, with a major assist by the offensive line, demonstrated why LSU led the SEC in scoring and ranked second in the country entering the game.

It also gave Burrow 45 touchdown passes this year, breaking the SEC record of 44 set by former Missouri quarterback Drew Lock in 2017.

Unstoppable force meets immovable object

What do you get when you match the No. 1 scoring offense in the SEC, which is No. 2 in the country, with the No. 1 scoring defense in the SEC, which is No. 2 in the country?

You get the SEC Championship Game between unstoppable force LSU and immovable object Georgia.

As we count down to kickoff, it's instructive to remember the head coaches' praise for their opposite number's proven strengths. Georgia's Kirby Smart couldn't throw enough compliments at the LSU offense, which has blossomed with the addition of passing game coordinator Joe Brady, the stewardship of offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger and the maturation of quarterback Joe Burrow to average 48.7 points a game.

"They've broken about every record there is in the SEC," the Georgia coach said.

"The unique thing now is they're really doing whatever they want to do. Outside of the Auburn game (a 23-20 LSU victory), they've done what they wanted to do."

"It's not a complicated system. It's some tremendous chess pieces that are doing it."

"I know the caliber of defenses they're doing it against."

"They don't beat people with scheme. They run similar plays from different formations. They're highly efficient in doing it."

Meanwhile, Georgia's shutdown defense has gained a no-name reputation without "a dominant personality or dominant player," as Smart said, but it hasn't allowed any opponent to score more than 20 points. Clemson is the only other FBS team that can say the same. Georgia gives up a meager 10.4 points a game.

LSU coach Ed Orgeron sees a no-nonsense bunch of Bulldogs.

"This is the most physical team we've played," Orgeron said. "They're the most complete team on both lines of scrimmage."

Good on good. As usual, it's the story of the SEC Championship Game.

The SEC Legends Dinner shows the tie that binds these 14 schools

It was an especially meaningful highlight on a Friday evening full of them. Dennis Winston went to the podium and took a playful jab at Vince Dooley.

Winston, who terrorized offenses as an Arkansas All-Century linebacker from 1973-76, told the audience at the SEC Legends Dinner that his Razorbacks smoked Dooley's Georgia Bulldogs 31-10 in the 1976 Cotton Bowl.

"He told me not to say that," Winston said through a delicious grin, but he couldn't help himself. Dooley couldn't help but smile then - and when SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey told everyone that Dooley's first season as the Georgia coach was the year Sankey was born.

Good feelings filled the Centennial Ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta for this annual event that takes place the night before the SEC Championship Game. Each of the conference's 14 schools names a football legend from its past, and the conference honors them with a dinner and program that helps you understand why football does mean more here.

Consider. When Winston suited up at Arkansas, the Hogs played in the Southwest Conference. They would join the SEC along with South Carolina in 1992. Yet he felt right at home as an SEC legend, kidding with Dooley, hugging former Florida linebacker Jevon "The Freak" Kearse and paying tribute to former Texas A&M linebacker Ed Simonini, who passed away in October.

Each of those men distinguished himself as a memorable part of college football's 150-year history, as did the other legends honored Friday: Alabama wide receiver and head coach Ray Perkins, Auburn linebacker Karlos Dansby, Kentucky defensive tackle Oliver Barnett, LSU halfback Johnny Robinson, Ole Miss kicker Jonathan Nichols, Mississippi State linebacker Barrin Simpson, Missouri wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, South Carolina flanker Fred Zeigler, Tennessee defensive lineman Darwin Walker and Vanderbilt defensive end Jovan Haye.

There were College and Pro Football Hall of Famers, conference and national champions everywhere you looked. Not all of them played or coached in the SEC, but the conference embraced each of them as if they'd been a part of this family as long as Dooley, who played at Auburn before Sankey was born before becoming a Bulldog for life. And as Winston demonstrated, those players and coaches returned that embrace.

With a dais full of those larger-than-life men, and an audience including the likes of former Georgia star Herschel Walker and former SEC Commissioner Roy Kramer, the father of the SEC Championship Game, the Legends Dinner lived up to its name in every way.