ATLANTA — An hour after the game’s conclusion, two men wearing gas-powered leaf blowers on their backs began clearing off the purple-and-gold confetti inside the Georgia Dome.
Earlier, top-ranked Louisiana State University cleaned Georgia off the field, posting 42 unanswered points – 35 in the second half – for a 42-10 win in Saturday’s Southeastern Championship Game.
The Tigers snapped the 12th-ranked Bulldogs’ 10-game winning streak, quashing any chance of an upset after intermission. Despite winning time of possession and the yardage battle, Georgia lost three turnovers – all in the second half – and watched LSU (13-0) claim its 11th conference title.
“Frankly, it was just a matter of time that this team would rebound and this team would get their feet underneath them and play,” said Tigers coach Les Miles, whose team is almost certain to play in the national championship.
Sophomore cornerback Tyrann Mathieu was named the game’s most valuable player after scoring LSU’s first touchdown on a controversial 62-yard punt return – replays appeared to show that Mathieu let go of the ball just prior to crossing the goal line– and setting up another score with a 47-yard punt return in the third quarter. Also in the third quarter, Mathieu recovered an Aaron Murray fumble deep in Georgia territory to set up the Tigers’ go-ahead touchdown.
“When you play as hard as he does, good things happen,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said of Mathieu. “I enjoy watching the guy play football other than when he plays against us.”
Georgia (10-3) overcame two losses at the beginning of the season to reach the SEC Championship contest for the first time since 2005. Playing in its fourth league championship game, Georgia jumped out front early, 10-0, with a Blair Walsh 40-yard field goal and a Murray 12-yard touchdown pass to Aron White. The lead wouldn’t last, as the offense failed to establish a running game and gained just 162 of its 296 total yards the final three quarters.
Georgia rushed for 78 yards on 34 carries, with Ken Malcome leading the way with 37 yards. Bulldogs leading rusher Isaiah Crowell, who said he was 100 percent after being hobbled with an ankle injury in past weeks, mustered just 15 yards on 10 rushes and also drew a personal foul penalty.
Murray went 16 for 40 passing for 163 yards and two interceptions. Murray also watched receivers Tavarres King and Malcolm Mitchell drop touchdown passes on the first two drives of the game.
“I was proud of the way we started,” Richt said. “We probably could have had 21 points in the first half if we just catch the football, but we weren’t able to do that.”
Georgia’s defense shut down LSU the first two quarters, limiting the Tigers to zero first downs and just 12 yards of offense.
LSU’s only points came when Mathieu fielded a punt at the 38, darted past Bulldog defenders and broke free toward the end zone. Television replays showed Mathieu tossing the ball to a referee before he crossed the goal line. Nonetheless, the touchdown stood.
“I could see the referee looking at me kind of strange,” Mathieu said. “I’ll be sure next time to make sure I cross the goal line.”
Georgia’s offense careened off the tracks in the pivotal third quarter, when LSU scored 21 points. Murray’s fumble on the Bulldogs first drive after halftime led to a 15-yard Kenny Hilliard touchdown run.
After another Georgia drive stalled, Mathieu set up another LSU touchdown with a 47-yard punt return, giving the Tigers a first-and-10 at the 17. Four plays later, Hilliard punched it in from the 4. LSU went up 11.
After a Murray interception, The Tigers drove 70 yards in 10 plays, Jordan Jefferson capping the drive with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Hilliard for a back-breaking touchdown and a 28-10 lead.
LSU finished the contest with 13 first downs and 237 total yards, 207 of them on the ground. The Tigers set an SEC Championship record with 42 unanswered points.