ATLANTA -- For much of the first half, LSU’s defense wasn’t living up to its reputation.
Georgia moved the ball, and played with complete confidence.
Then came the second half.
LSU held Georgia to 35 yards in the third quarter and started taking over the game on the way to a 42-10 win in the SEC championship game.
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The Bulldogs can only cringe at what could have been more than a 10-7 halftime lead.
They settled for a field goal on their first drive, recovered a pooch kick on their 49 and moved to the LSU 21 before going backward.
Then Malcolm Mitchell dropped a certain touchdown pass, and out came kicker Blair Walsh for a 45-yard field goal.
Bruce Figgins (Shaw High) dropped a pass on the next series, but then the Bulldogs punched it in on Aaron Murray’s bullet to Aron White late in the first quarter.
The phrase “missed opportunities” was used plenty afterward.
“With a team like that, you have to get points when you can,” Murray said after going 16-for-40 with two interceptions and a lost fumble. “We definitely had opportunities to put points on the board early on.”
Murray and his receivers had several miscommunications. One pass hit Michael Bennett in the back, and it was hard to tell who the intended receiver was on a few others. Still, the Bulldogs were holding their own against an elite defense.
“I felt we had the most talented offensive line in the country,” Georgia guard Chris Burnette said. “I think the biggest challenge was their resilience. They just keep coming. The talent drop-off, there was never a talent drop-off, no matter who was in the game.”
Georgia’s defense was making a name for itself as well.
“Our defense was playing lights out,” Burnette said. “We were just, ‘We’ve got to take care of the next opportunities that we have.’”
The opportunities dwindled to all but nothing.
“It’s frustrating when you walk away ...,” Murray said. “I missed a couple passes. We were knocking on the door, I can tell you that. We were driving.”
Sparked by special teams success, LSU’s defense came out seemingly energized in the second half, making up for a feeble offense.
“They made adjustments,” Figgins said. “We were moving the ball well on offense the first half, the defense was making big stops and big plays.”
The first half had the Georgia contingent energized.
“The first half, we showed them we’re a heck of a team,” center Ben Jones said. “I think LSU knows that, ‘Hey, these boys are ready to play and gave us everything (they) had. They hit us in the mouth.’”
Things changed in the second half.
Murray fumbled on the third play of the third quarter, and LSU scored three plays later. The Bulldogs went three-and-out, and the Tigers punched it in four plays later for a 21-10 lead.
“We let them get aggressive,” Jones said. “We turned the ball over, and that turns a lot of excitement to their defense. They scored off of that, and that’s what makes them a good team. They caused four turnovers, three or four turnovers, and that was the difference of this game.”
Georgia walked away as frustrated at its mistakes as it was complimentary of LSU’s defense.
“We’ll probably go back and watch the film and be kicking ourselves for the amount of plays we missed here or there,” Murray said. “You’ve got to give credit to them, they played an awesome game. They made the plays.
“We knew we had a huge challenge offensively. We had opportunities, we didn’t execute and they played a heck of a ballgame.”