Originally created 09/21/03

Dogs take offense



BATON ROUGE, La. - To Georgia fans, Saturday's 17-10 loss at Louisiana State will probably be remembered for a prayer that was answered and one that was not.

Tyson Browning's miraculous 93-yard touchdown reception off a screen pass got the No. 7 Bulldogs back into the game, and a last-gasp drive that ended with David Greene throwing an interception took them out of it.

But Georgia's players - particularly its offensive players - probably weren't replaying the final moments on their flight home Saturday night. They seemed convinced that, if not for a first half that produced plenty of yardage but precious few points, they wouldn't have needed anyone's heroics at the end.

"It was us killing us in the first half," said Browning, whose team was in LSU territory for much of the first 30 minutes, yet still trailed 7-3. "We were put in position to make the plays, and we just never executed very well."

Six of the Bulldogs' eight first-half drives penetrated the Tigers' 39-yard line, and Georgia was inside the LSU 20 three times before intermission. Place-kicker Billy Bennett got much of the blame after missing a career-high three field goals, but the offense said it was the ultimate culprit after bogging down time and again in the shadow of LSU's goal posts.

Up 3-0, Georgia seemed poised to punish the Tigers after Sean Jones intercepted Matt Mauck to give the Bulldogs possession at LSU's 40-yard line. Three runs by tailback Michael Cooper put Georgia at the 17, but Greene fumbled on a run inside the 10 after being hit by defensive end Marcus Spears and Marquise Hill recovered to end the threat.

"Anytime you play a good team like LSU, you can't fall short - especially in the red zone," said Greene, who threw two interceptions after going 176 pass attempts without a pick. "We shot ourselves in the foot early, and it came back to haunt us."

Georgia's next drive summed up the day. With a first down at LSU's 29, a Greene pass was tipped by linebacker Eric Alexander and fell incomplete. Two plays later, on third-and-8 from the 27, Greene threw for Reggie Brown, who dropped the ball.

They were part of an agonizingly familiar theme: The Bulldogs dropped at least five passes, and LSU defensive linemen and linebackers deflected 10 Georgia throws - most of them at the line of scrimmage.

Bulldogs coach Mark Richt had no explanation for the drops.

"It was unheard of for our group of receivers," he said. "This season, in practice and in games, they've caught the ball well."

Greene said the Tigers managed to deflect his passes by showing the Bulldogs' offense something it hadn't previously seen or expected. Whenever they thought Georgia would pass, the defensive linemen simply dropped back and put their hands up instead of making an attempt to rush.

"On some of the schemes we were running, we would act like we would blitz and he would check off to other plays," said LSU linebacker Lionel Turner, whose defense still managed to sack Greene four times. "He played a great game, but we just did a little extra thinking on defense to end up making some big plays."

Georgia made several big plays in the first half, but none of them reached LSU's end zone. Red-zone scoring had beenan issue for the Bulldogs until last week's 31-7 win over South Carolina, when they were 4-for-4 inside the 20 with three touchdowns and a field goal.

They were 1-for-3 in the first half Saturday, with Bennett's 33-yard field goal on the second drive representing the lone point production.

"We had so many opportunities to capitalize in the red zone, but we never did," said Brown, who finished with seven catches for 78 yards. "We should have been ahead at halftime."

The offense stopped moving the ball once the second half began, mustering just 35 yards in the third quarter after amassing 225 in the first half.

The Tigers' defensive front began wear down Georgia's line and harassed Greene, giving him little time to spot his receivers. There was an undeniable feeling that the Bulldogs had squandered their biggest and best opportunities earlier.

"You never want to stall out," said center Russ Tanner. "We had all the opportunities, and we just didn't take advantage of them. Every time we needed a play, they stopped us."

Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or larry.williams@augustachronicle.com