Posted by Jerry Hinnen
LSU WON: For 30 minutes, save for one moment of Tyrann Mathieu brilliance, the Tigers barely looked like a team that deserved to be ranked at all, much less No. 1. Becoming the first SEC team in nine years to go the entire first half without a first down will do that. But -- as it usually is -- the second half was all Tigers, with another long Mathieu punt return and a pair of Aaron Murray turnovers yielding a 21-0 third quarter run. Despite a valiant defensive effort (the Tigers finished with just 238 total yards and had one scoring drive longer than 26 yards), the Bulldogs were toast at that point; the Georgia offense totaled just 28 yards across the second and third quarters and had twice as many more turnovers/punts (8 total) than first downs (4). Mathieu took home MVP honors after his two electric punt returns and a fumble recovery.
WHY LSU WON: The same reason it always wins: the big play. Do you know how hard it is to rank 62nd in the nation in total yardage and still score more points than any other SEC team, and more than all but 12 other teams in the country? It takes special teams and defense that aren't just good but flat phenomenal, that time and again hand that offense the shortest of fields to work with.
And so it was yet again in the Georgia Dome. First, there was this:
Seven points. Then, there was Michael Brockers forcing a Murray fumble at the Georgia 27. Seven more points. Then Mathieu's ridiculous second return, which started LSU's next drive at the 17. Seven more. 44 yards ... 21 points.
LSU's offense isn't the best. But the combination of the Tigers' defense and their special teams -- not just Mathieu, but punter Brad Wing, who helped LSU stay withing touching distance in that disastrous first half with a ridiculous 50.8 yard net average on six punts -- isn't just the best; it's so much better than anyone else's it's barely playing the same sport.
WHEN LSU WON: Kenny Hillard's second touchdown, which capped the quick 17-yard touchdown drive after Mathieu's second big return, put LSU up 21-10 with 26 minutes remaining. To overcome a two-possession deficit against that LSU defense would take Georgia much, much, much more time than that.
WHAT LSU WON: An SEC championship, a certain-beyond-every-doubt appearance in the national title game, and -- if the AP voters are feeling feisty following a hypothetical Alabama rematch victory -- possibly a share of the national title already.
WHAT GEORGIA LOST: A shot at the Sugar Bowl and Mark Richt's first conference title since 2005. But after those 10 straight wins and victories over Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech, no one's going to complain too bitterly, we think. Maybe.