Coming into the fourth game of the season, the Dawgs will be fresh off of a
bye week game against North Texas, and will be gearing up for a tussle with Les Miles's Tigers. The last time these two teams met in Athens, AJ Green was called for a celebration that wasn't. Here's to hoping this game turns out differently...in the meantime, let's get to the pertinent pieces:
Head Coach: Les Miles
Location: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Last Year: 10-3 (6-2 SEC)
Series Record: 12-16-1
SB Nation Affiliate: And The Valley Shook
The Georgia/LSU series is, in itself, a strange one. Even in just the last decade, it's a series that has been defined by competitive teams, running into each other with SEC implications on the line. The two schools, run by the longest tenured SEC coaches at their respective perches, still seem to enjoy a healthy rivalry (if one can even call it that), with fanbases who, while passionate, are nonetheless cordial to each other. This could be due to the fact that our teams don't meet each other on a yearly basis. It could also be that both fanbases enjoy a good time and good food. In any event, the Classic City will welcome the Tigers from Louisiana State back to our stomping grounds this year with open arms. Now, let's get down to it, shall we?
In 2012, LSU's offense wasn't exactly what we would call a juggernaut. At times, the team seemed to almost call plays to spite itself. Blessed with a stable of runningbacks, while breaking in a new quarterback, one would have thought offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa would've relied on his backs and slowly broken in Mettenberger. However, that was not the case, and the LSU offense showed it. Finishing at 57th in the nation in scoring offense, the Tiger brass decided new blood was needed, and former NFL Head Coach Cam Cameron was brought on to revamp the offensive attack for the team that won five games by a touchdown or less in 2012.
At quarterback, LSU returns Zach Mettenberger, a player with a cannon of an arm, but who has yet to display the consistency to convince me that he can lead a team to victory week to week on the merits of his arm. Bill Connelly, SB Nation's esteemed guru of all things college football statistics, seems to think that Mettenberger's numbers over the last five games point to a level of improvement through the season. Me, I'm a bit more skeptical. In my opinion, an increase of 5% in completion percentage and a half a yard per completion (with roughly equal TD/INT numbers) don't mean much. On the running back front, sophomore Jeremy Hill looks to be the leader of the pack, but it remains to be seen how much he'll actually contribute, given his off-the-field shenanigans. Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue, though, are more than capable backups, so even if Hill is a non-factor, the Dawgs will have their work cut out for them in stopping the Tiger running game.
The Tiger offensive line is likely the biggest question mark, having lost two starters with over 30 starts each. Breaking in a new left tackle and center is no small task - the Dawgs lost Jarvis Jones as a pass rusher, but Jordan Jenkins should have a field day testing out the new left tackle La'el Collins, even if he has had a few games to become accustomed to the position.
From a skill position perspective, the Tiger wide receivers are mostly unchanged from 2012. Overall, the unit was underused last year, but with Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry returning as starters, the young Bulldog secondary will have its work cut out for it, especially if Mettenberger develops any sort of chemistry with his receivers in the first few games of the season. Kadron Boone and James Wright provide decent depth to catch passes when Beckham and Landry are out of action, but the TE position - practically nonexistent in 2012 - still looks to be the face on the milk carton in 2013.
The biggest question for LSU's defense, certainly, is how the defensive line will respond to the loss of pretty much all of its main performers from 2012. Keke Mingo, Sam Montgomery, Bennie Logan, Lavar Edwards, Josh Downs, and Chancey Aghayere are all gone, either due to graduation or early departure - that's 125 tackles. Connelly doesn't seem to be too worried about these losses - his thought is that with LSU's depth in the secondary as well as in the linebacker corps, the inexperience should be overcome with better coverage, resulting in a net equal (or gain). From my perspective, while LSU may perform better against the pass with a more seasoned secondary, there's no question that stronger rushing teams will test the Tigers early and often, particularly in their strength on the line (both in terms of front-line strength, as well as depth as games progress). For a team like Georgia, this sets up very well.
Overall, the matchup between the Dawgs and the Tigers looks to be another one for the ages. The Tigers lines leave much to be desired - on offense, this could be balanced with the Dawgs' equally questionable defensive line, but on defense, the matchup of lines should be decidedly in favor of the home team. The Tigers secondary, while certainly talented, does have to replace a free safety and a cornerback. With the depth available on the Bulldog WR corps, combined with fourth-year starting quarterback Aaron Murray, my money's on the Red and Black to get the better of that matchup. From an intangible perspective, there's also the fact that this will be Zach Mettenberger's return to the Classic City, where he once had the chance to challenge Aaron Murray for the role of starting QB. Considering that Mettenberger grew up a mere fifteen minutes from Athens (and based on his comments from earlier this year indicating that he thinks there's an animosity towards him in Athens - which, frankly, I don't think exists), there's certainly the possibility that outside factors could affect his performance. Ultimately, I predict that the Dawgs end up winning this game, coming out to a final score of...
Georgia - 28, LSU -17
Make sure to stay tuned to the rest of the game-by-game previews here at Dawg Sports, and, as always...