ATHENS, Ga. — Louisiana State’s future NFL quarterback passed for a career-high 372 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday, and the Tigers seemed to have an answer for each of Georgia’s dramatic scoring drives.
And yet the Bulldogs still walked away winners.
It marked a curious case of contrasting defenses, both on the same team.
There was the Georgia defensive front that held LSU to 13 yards rushing in the first half and let the Tigers net less than 100. There were Georgia pass rushers sacking quarterback Zach Mettenberger four times for a loss of 26 yards and pressuring him into quick decisions.
And then there was the defense that allowed him to have the most prolific passing day of his career and to make an otherwise solid game a little more frightening for Georgia than it probably should have been considering the way the Bulldogs’ offense posted points.
The good news for Georgia – and you’ve heard this – is it only gets better.
The Bulldogs’ secondary may still be young, but it’s hardly untested now after facing three powerful offenses in Clemson, South Carolina and LSU in less than a month.
“They’ve been thrown in that fire, and they’ve got to grow up fast,” senior defensive lineman Garrison Smith said. “This isn’t high school any more. They’re playing with the big boys and they have to bring their A-game. But guys like Shaq Wiggins and Brendan Langley, they’ve been making plays out there. I’m proud of them, but we do have a lot of work to do. We can’t give up these big third downs. Today wasn’t good enough. We’re going back to the drawing board.”
Nowhere was the need to fix some issues more evident than late in the fourth quarter with LSU facing a third-and-22 at the LSU 13 when Georgia’s prevent defense allowed Mettenberger to find Odell Beckham for a 25-yard gain and keep alive a scoring drive that gave LSU a 41-37 lead.
“(Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham) said we didn’t get any reroutes,” freshman safety Tray Matthews said of the play. “We were just like a second from making the play.”
Grantham chalked it up to inexperience. No one jammed a receiver, giving LSU a chance to make a clean play. It was just one misstep, but that’s one more than any team needs in a one-score game.
“(Mettenberger) drills one in there because we didn’t do the things we needed to do in that situation because of youth,” Grantham said. “And in the combination of youth not playing the situation right along with (LSU) being good and them making plays kind of makes it the way it happens. That’s why you’ve got to coach resiliency and keep playing. And if guys believe in you and your system and keep playing, they’ve got a chance to win at the end.”
Fortunately for Grantham, his squad has come out on top in most of those chances this season. It’s been a bumpy ride for the secondary, but not one that hasn’t come with its own reward. At 3-1 through what is likely the toughest opening stretch in the country, Georgia’s defense has already cleared its biggest hurdles with its Southeastern Conference and national title aspirations still intact.
“It’s a lot of ups and downs,” Matthew said. “We’re feeling more and more confident every game.”