ATLANTA -- Georgia’s players were apparently content to wait to start worrying about their SEC championship opponent. How so? Several players said they slept through portions of Friday’s LSU-Arkansas game.
“I took a nap,” senior center Ben Jones said. “Because we were focused on (Georgia) Tech. That was the biggest thing for me. I can start watching LSU (now).”
“I watched some of it,” sophomore linebacker Jarvis Jones said. “I think it was kinda close when I was watching it. I didn’t watch the second half. I fell asleep.”
The coaches also said they hadn’t had a chance to study LSU yet. Head coach Mark Richt said he’d seen enough -- by watching LSU against Georgia opponents they were scouting earlier in the season -- to know the Tigers are very impressive.
“Maybe in all the years that I’ve been watching football I don’t know if I’ve seen a team that big and strong and physical,” Richt said. “I’ve seen enough to know that they’re really special. Just from the observance that I had I see nothing as far as any weakness in their game. So hopefully as I study it (Saturday) and (Sunday), we’ll find something that we might could find a little crease here and there.”
This will be the third time Georgia and LSU have matched up for the SEC championship. They split the first two, in 2003 and 2005.
“I know that they’re a talented team,” Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “They’re physical. They’ve got very good athletes. We’re gonna have to play well. I’m excited for the opportunity.
As the tailbacks turn
Star freshman Isaiah Crowell was watched closely as he warmed up Saturday, testing his injured ankle. But he never saw the field.
“Early in the week I was thinking he might make it,” Richt said. “But as he attempted throughout the week, it was pretty evident that he wouldn’t be able to go and be very effective. He has made progress.”
Richt said he had “a feeling” Crowell would be able to play against LSU. But the short-term goal is having him practice Monday.
In the meantime, Georgia largely abandoned the traditional running game in the first half.
Receiver Malcolm Mitchell gained 20 yards on an end-around, and Branden Smith -- normally a key cornerback -- played almost entirely on offense.
Smith had five rushes for 20 yards and two catches for 13 yards. He has played offense before, but this week he didn’t play defense at all.
Grantham decided early in the week he was going to use bigger, more physical defensive backs to try to stop Georgia Tech’s triple-option. So he told the offensive coaches they could use Smith all they wanted.
“We gave him a bigger package than he’s had before. Which hopefully will maybe pay dividends down the road,” Richt said.
Ken Malcome, making his first career start, got the carry on the offense’s first play but lost 3 yards. But as Georgia moved into clock-killing mode, Malcome managed to have more of an impact.
The longest run by a back ended up being from Zander Ogletree -- a sophomore who went 21 yards, down to the Georgia Tech 4-yard line.
That was the first carry by a Bulldogs fullback this season.
“Was that the first carry by a fullback?” Richt said, smiling. “Caught them off guard, didn’t it. Well that’s good maybe we’ll do it some more. I guarantee you (former Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden) is happy. Not to have a fullback run in your offense all year I’m sure he was upset with me all year. That was for you Coach Bowden.”
Tyson hurt, Smith stars
Georgia lost one of its most experienced players on the first drive. Senior end DeAngelo Tyson suffered an ankle injury and was quickly ruled out for the rest of the game.
But sophomore Garrison Smith stepped in and had a sterling game, finishing with seven tackles, four of them solo. And the biggest one, on third down near the goal-line, forced Georgia Tech to settle for a field goal to make it 7-3.
“He’s really played like that all year,” Grantham said. “That’s a little bit of our team on defense, meaning we’ve had linebackers get hurt, they’ve stepped up and played. That was what we felt like we needed to do. Garrison came in and played.”
Richt thought Smith had added motivation, since his older brother played at Georgia Tech.
“When you get a house divided there’s always a little rivalry there,” Richt said. “When he made his choice for Georgia I knew this game was gonna mean a lot to him. I’m glad he made a big play.”
Georgia chose several ways to honor legendary broadcaster Larry Munson, who passed away Sunday at age 89.
Players wore wearing a helmet decal that read “Hunker Down One More Time.”
And at halftime, the Georgia Redcoat Band spelled out “MUNSON” while playing the school song.