By the end of the game, there was no doubt of that, as the No. 13 Bulldogs’ footprints were all over No. 3 LSU. Georgia dominated the Tigers 34-14 in front of 73,717 fans in the Georgia Dome to capture the school’s 12th conference title.
“I can’t describe the feeling I’m feeling right now,” said defensive coordinator Willie Martinez, whose unit held LSU to 151 yards until the Tigers’ final drive of the game. “I’m sitting here looking at the scoreboard, and I can’t believe we’re SEC Champions.”
The Bulldogs, picked to finish third in the Eastern Division, now will come back to the Georgia Dome to play Big East champion West Virginia in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2. The Sugar Bowl was moved from its usual location in New Orleans this season due to damage suffered by the SuperDome during Hurricane Katrina and that storm’s aftermath.
“We were supposed to be third in the East right now, and we’re No. 1,” safety Kelin Johnson said. “That’s top shelf stuff right there.”
The way they got to the Sugar Bowl surprised even the Bulldogs.
“I knew we were going to come out real intense and wanting to dominate, but being able to do it in a game like this is really special and shows what kind of team we have,” said senior receiver Bryan McClendon, who blocked a punt in the second quarter to set up a 15-yard Georgia touchdown drive.
The Bulldogs (10-2) got sterling performances from every part of their team, and the game felt a lot like it was over when Brandon Coutu tied the SEC Championship Game record with 51-yard field goal to give the Bulldogs a 27-7 lead with 14:40 left.
“During the week, that’s what we envisioned, having a game like that where every cylinder was clicking, offense, defense and special teams,” offensive lineman Dennis Roland said.
Georgia’s offense scored more points than any Tiger opponent since the Bulldogs beat LSU 45-16 last season in Athens. The last time a team other than Georgia scored more than 31 against the Tigers was during the 2001 season.
Twenty-two minutes into the game, the Bulldogs had become the first team to score more than 20 against LSU since Tennessee in the second game of the season. LSU entered the game allowing 14.2 points per game, the fourth fewest in the nation.
Senior quarterback D.J. Shockley won the conference title in his only year as a starter while completing just six passes for 112 yards and rushing for 10 yards. Two of Shockley’s first three completions were touchdowns to junior Sean Bailey, a 45-yarder and a 29-yarder that gave the Bulldogs a 14-0 lead after the first quarter.
Georgia’s defense knocked LSU starter JaMarcus Russell all over the place and eventually out of the game with a shoulder injury. Georgia sacked Russell three times and got backup Matt Flynn two more times despite not blitzing more than five times in the game. Northside graduate Will Thompson had two sacks.
“We were having success getting pressure with four (rushers) so we decided to go with that,” defensive line coach Rodney Garner said. “We challenged our guys to win the game up front. Throughout the week, everybody was talking about LSU’s defensive line. Everybody had kind of forgotten about us. We just challenged our guys about respect. Sometimes you just have to go out and take it.”
The Tigers’ 230 yards was their lowest output of the season, and Georgia had 11 tackles for loss against the SEC’s fifth-best offense.
“They just seemed to want it more than we did, and they showed it,” LSU senior offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “We’ve got to get back to the drawing board. Take nothing away from Georgia, they played a great game.”
Georgia’s special teams’ domination capped the night. LSU’s Skyler Green, who was 15th in the nation in return yards, never got to return one kick Saturday, and LSU’s average starting field position was its own 19. Georgia’s average starting field position was its own 40.
“We played a complete game, and that’s what we’ve been looking for all year,” senior defensive tackle Kedric Golston said. “It came at the right time. The only people who said it was a rebuilding year were the people outside this football team.”
The game’s outcome became inevitable when senior cornerback Tim Jennings picked off LSU backup quarterback Matt Flynn and returned the interception 15 yards for a touchdown two plays after Coutu’s field goal. The extra point gave the Bulldogs a 34-7 lead and left the mostly pro-Georgia crowd 14 minutes and 18 seconds to celebrate.
Georgia avenged the 34-13 whipping it took at the hands of LSU in the 2003 title game and advanced to the Sugar Bowl for the second time in Richt’s five seasons. With its 12 conference titles, Georgia remained third in the conference for overall crowns but moved to within one of Tennessee’s second-place total of 13.
“We’re better than we played tonight,” LSU coach Les Miles said, “however Georgia played like champions.”