SEC football championship game: No. 1 LSU Tigers prove too much for Georgia Bulldogs

semerson@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 4, 2011 

ATLANTA -- Aaron Murray sat on a chair in a hallway at the Georgia Dome. There was a cut on the Georgia quarterback’s lip. He was asked to assess his reaction to what had just happened.

Murray shook his head.

“I know I’m shocked,” he said. “I know the team’s kind of shocked, especially the way the team started the game.”

For 25 minutes, Georgia had LSU -- and the college football world -- upside down. It was leading in the SEC championship game, and looked like the better team.

Then unbeaten and top-ranked LSU showed why it is the nation’s consensus No. 1 team. It used big plays to flip the score and then turn the game into a runaway, 42-10.

“It was a snowball effect,” Murray said. “Once they got going, there’s a reason they’re the No. 1 team in the nation. They make plays, and they’re talented.”

Hutson Mason, who replaced Murray in the fourth quarter when the game was no longer in doubt, put it in more blunt terms.

“I think we kind of gave in a little bit. I don’t think we handled adversity as well as we wish we could have,” Mason said. “It looks like they blew us out, but I guarantee you if you go ask them and they give you an honest answer, they’ll say ‘That team is a whole lot better than us beating them 42-10.’ ”

Georgia (10-3) saw its 10-game winning streak end, and it is now likely to finish its season in the Outback Bowl against a team from the Big Ten.

And LSU (13-0) is on its way to the BCS championship game, and showed Georgia why on Saturday at the Georgia Dome. It got one big play, then another, and the rout was on.

The big one was a 62-yard punt return touchdown from Tyrann Matheiu. Georgia’s 10-7 halftime lead was a 28-10 deficit by the time it could regroup.

“They didn’t outplay us,” safety Bacarri Rambo said. “But momentum, they got the momentum, that’s all. It was just a momentum swing.”

It was the second time the Bulldogs had lost in the Georgia Dome this season. The first time left the team knowing it had a long way go, defeated soundly and wire-to-wire by Boise State.

Even though the final score of this one was worse, this one left them feeling they were closer. It had a 10-0 lead on LSU, and should have been leading by more: Malcolm Mitchell dropped a sure touchdown pass, and Blair Walsh followed by missing a field goal. Tavarres King also couldn’t haul in a high pass from Murray, and Georgia settled for the Walsh field goal.

Then it turned on Mathieu’s 62-yard punt return for a touchdown.

“There’s something about him that he seems to find a way to do something special just about every game, and he did it again,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said.

When the second half began, LSU took advantage of a fumble by Murray, using the short field to finally get its offense going and take the lead.

Then Mathieu struck again, returning a punt deep into Georgia territory. That set up LSU’s third score. Soon the life seemed gone from the Bulldogs.

Georgia’s defense had spent the week proclaiming that it was better than LSU’s higher-ranked defense, and the bravado seemed accurate for the first half.

“The first half is probably as good as we’ve played all year,” Grantham said. “The second half we didn’t play the hand that was dealt to us. We’ve got to find ways to stop them in short fields. When you get those kinds of turnovers, you’ve got to get them to kick a field goal, and if you do that you’re still in the game.”

As for the Georgia offense, it didn’t get much help from the running game, and Murray’s passing wilted once LSU got more pressure on him. Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said LSU didn’t change much of its strategy, sticking with a one-safety approach and relying on pressure.

“They stuck to their gameplan because they were playing pretty good in the first half too,” Bob said. “They were having to deal with a short field and were able to hold us to only 10 points, so I think they pretty much felt confident in what they were doing defensively.”

If nothing else, Georgia could at least let the game serve as a barometer for where it needs to go. Namely, a team capable of playing closer in the SEC championship game, and even winning it.

“We want to be that elite team,” Murray said. “I think we’re a very young team still, and I think our guys maybe use this to fuel the fire for this offseason, and this bowl practice, to really continue working hard and understand that we still have some work to do.”

Richt said he didn’t think his team was “that far off” from where it needs to be.

“I’m proud of our team,” Richt said. “I’m proud of the season that we’ve had, the regular season, of course, and the ability to even get to this game was a great accomplishment considering how we started.”

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