It’s SEC Championship week. The Dawgs are looking for their first conference crown since 2017. Will they get it? Like always, I dug into the tape and advanced metrics to see how Saturday’s game should play out on the field…
LSU Offense vs UGA Defense
- LSU will spread it out some, but they actually have a pretty physical identity. They play with TE’s often and use a lot of tight formations. They will try to hit plays in the run game to stay on schedule and they are going to line up and play a smash mouth style on the ground.
- QB Jayden Daniels is coming into this game hobbled after hurting his ankle against Texas A&M. He was in a walking boot this week so I think it’s safe to assume he will be at least somewhat limited in his movements. That’s a big deal as he leads LSU in rushing with 1,007 YDS and averages 7.2 YPA. Daniels is averaging 4.41 Yards After Contact per a rush this year. He is slippery and has impressive lateral quickness that allows him to avoid sacks and make guys miss at the second level. UGA will play him like he’s healthy and the Dawgs have been great defending dual-threat QB’s so far this year, but Georgia needs to get pressure early and find out how mobile he’s going to be in this game.
- Daniels isn’t strictly a scrambling threat. LSU uses him on designed runs frequently. 646 of his rushing yards have come on scrambles, but he had had 53 designed runs this year for 6.7 YPA. LSU runs some nice QB Power and QB Sweep concepts with him where the TE’s get downfield and block for him.
- How important is that ankle? Daniels leads the SEC in QB Allowed Pressures with 113 (for reference Stetson Bennett has 50). That means he often takes a long time to pick out a receiver and scrambles around to create plays and give his WR’s time to get open. He doesn’t get the ball out quickly on a regular basis. To his credit, only 10 of those 113 QB Allowed Pressures have resulted in sacks, but that was when he was fully healthy.
- This is a solid LSU rushing attack, which is not something I usually find myself typing about teams who have a QB for their leading rusher. They run A TON of Inside Zone Read. So far this season they have 182 Attempts (23.1% of all plays) on Inside Zone Read with a 55.5% Success Rate. LSU’s second most run concept is Inside Power with 82 Attempts (10.4% of all plays) and the Tigers have a 58.6% Success Rate on Inside Power. The point? LSU is going to run the ball up the middle. That’s what they do… A LOT.
- LSU has 3 RB’s who see regular touches and average more than 4.8 YPC in #27 Josh Williams, #17 Noah Cain & #4 John Emery. They are pretty interchangeable to be honest. All 3 average between 3-3.5 Yards After Contact per an attempt, which is solid. Of the trio, I think Emery is the best receiving back on tape… But he only has 11 REC/14 TGT for 123 YDS. That’s the most receiving yards of the RB’s. Of the 3 RB’s, Cain is the only one who isn’t a liability as a pass blocker. Emery and Williams are flat out poor in pass protection. That’s probably a tendency to watch when it comes to standard downs where LSU could pass or run. If Cain is in the game there’s a better chance of LSU throwing.
- The good news for UGA? They probably won’t see LSU hunt the edges as much as many teams would. That could limit the problems that have come lately when Chaz Chambliss is in the game. Florida, Kentucky and Georgia Tech had success running at Chambliss. LSU may break tendencies to test him if/when he is in the game on Saturday.
- In order to force Daniels into those tough spots UGA needs to cover LSU’s pass catchers. They have 3 really impressive talents- #8 Nabers (58 REC/80 TGT & 726 YDS), #7 Boutte (62 TGT/42 REC & 431 YDS) and the tight-end #86 Mason Taylor (41 TGT/27 REC & 263 YDS). Taylor works between the hashes a lot and UGA will match up with him well with Starks and Mondon. Boutte and Bullard will line up across from each other a lot in the slot with the safeties also likely drawing him depending on the formation/defensive call. Nabers lines up outside 61.7% of the time. The guy who is on the boundary the most for LSU is #10 Jaray Jenkins (37 TGT/24 REC & 332 YDS).
- This is a very good receiving corps, and Daniels has completed 68% of his passes this season. However when you turn on the tape you see a lot of throws where he is a half-second late. He doesn’t look comfortable making tight window throws and he often has to see it before he releases it. There aren’t many instances of him throwing guys open. That completion percentage is high because Daniels runs so much. He usually only throws when he really likes the look.
- With big bodies like Boutte, Jenkins & Nabers I felt LSU’s gameplan against UGA would be to take downfield shots on the boundaries and try to work Ringo often. Then I looked at the downfield passing stats that Daniels has put up this season. 63.3% of his attempts have come on throws of less than 9 YDS. On those passes he has hit 82.7% of his passes for 1,486 YDS and 6.8 Yards Per Attempy. When you get to 10-19 YDS throws he has hit 54.1% for just 7.4 Yards Per Attempt. His QB Rating drops from 108.6 at 0-9 YDS to 85.6 on 10-19 YDS. On 20+ YDS throws he hits just 41% of attempts and is 16/39 for 517 YDS. He has a Big Time Throw Percentage of 22.9% on those balls, which is really good but he is very boom or bust.
- On throws of 20+ YDS Daniels is just 6/20 when throwing down the left sideline. He is 5/11 when throwing 20+ YDS attempts down the right sideline, which is a better ratio. Down the middle he is 5 of 8. The middle is patrolled by Starks and Smith and not often hit for big plays on this UGA defense. That means Daniels will need to test the boundaries where he is just 11/31 this year.
- RT #50 Emery Jones (31 Pressures allowed) and RG #75 Anthony Bradford (12 Pressures allowed) both struggle in pass protection. Watch for UGA to have success rushing off the right side of LSU’s offensive line.
LSU Defense vs UGA Offense
- #11 Ali Gaye and #18 BJ Ojulari are LSU’s two Edge players. Ojulari is better at playing the run than Gaye, but he isn’t great. Both players had a ton of trouble setting edges against Texas A&M last week. When running off the Right Edge with an inline TE, A&M had 6 carries for 73 YDS (12.2 YPA). When running to the Left Edge with an inline TE blocking the Aggies had 12 carries for 77 YDS. Out of those 12 carries the longest was 17 YDS. 5 of those 12 carries went for 1st downs and 3 of the 12 went for 10+ YDS… UGA should have big opportunities running the ball with Washington and Bowers blocking down on those DE’s.
- Need more evidence that LSU could be vulnerable to the outside runs? The Aggies had 10 carries for 62 YDS when running off of Left Tackle against LSU last week. I am sure LSU will have an emphasis on setting edges this week, but UGA’s OL has been clicking lately. Expect Georgia to test those outside runs early.
- A lot of that A&M success on the ground (45 ATT’s, 276 YDS, 6.1 YPA, 2 TD’s) came on Zone Scheme plays. The Aggies called 28 Zone and 16 Gap Scheme runs in their game against LSU last week. I think that’s a good sign for a UGA team that has been inconsistent at times when running Zone Scheme this year.
- LSU’s defense has been really good at rushing the passer this year… Except in their losses. The Tigers have had 0 sacks in the 3 games they lost during the 2022 regular season.
- LB #40 Harold Perkins is the guy to watchout for the most on passing downs. He has 36 Pressures and 9 Sacks this year on just 130 Pass Rush snaps. That’s unreal. Georgia needs a plan for him off the edge. The next most productive pass rusher on this LSU team is Edge #18 BJ Ojulari. He is the younger brother of former UGA great Azeez Ojulari. He has 46 Pressures this year on 317 Pass Rush snaps, and he is decent enough against the run to leave on the field on standard downs.
- Guys I think UGA can pick on in the pass game…
Safety #5 Jay Ward - 34 TGT/23 REC, 237 YDS, 94.9 QB Rating allowed
CB #24 Jerrick Bernard-Converse - 37 TGT/21 REC, 237 YDS, 97.4 QB Rating
LB #30 Greg Penn III - 22 TGT/19 REC, 229 YDS, 110.0 QB Rating
LB #40 Harold Perkins - 19 TGT/16 REC, 129 YDS, 73.0 QB Rating
Safety #13 Joe Foucha - 15 TGT/9 REC, 99 YDS, 2 TD, 91.4 QB Rating
CB #15 Sage Ryan - 22 TGT/14 REC, 241 YDS, 2 TD, 131.1 QB Rating
Final Analysis & Prediction
LSU is a physical football team that really needs to run the ball well and with consistency to get its offensive attack going. I just don’t think you can run up the middle all day on this UGA defense and expect to have consistent success. Jalen Carter and Stackhouse have been too good for that and the LB’s behind them crash too quickly.
When looking at Jayden Daniels, I think his feet are what makes him special. He’s slippery and yet also physical when he runs. I think last week’s ankle injury will likely limit his ability to do what he does so well. That brings us to his arm, which is a big one. He can make all the throws physically, fobut too often the ball gets out late and he doesn’t look comfortable when his first read is covered. Georgia is a team that will cover your wideouts on the back end and force you into making tight throws. I think that could end with a lot of UGA sacks on Saturday and perhaps an INT or two if he’s really limited in his mobility.
This LSU offense has hit a freeze point of sorts a couple times this year. It happened against Auburn when Daniels was 8/20 for 80 YDS and LSU was held under 300 total yards. It also happened against Arkansas when he was 8/15 passing for 86 YDS and an INT. I think it happens again on Saturday against a Georgia defense that forces you to be perfect. The moment you get behind the sticks it is trouble. Georgia should be able to create pressure with some consistency against the right side of this LSU offensive line. I expect a big game from Mykel Williams. This might be his breakout performance. Robert Beal and Jalen Carter could find themselves at the QB a good bit as well.
On offense, I think Georgia can run the ball on this LSU defense. I do not think they are going to play as conservatively as they have the last couple weeks. I expect them to establish the run early but also throw enough to keep the Tigers off balance. McConkey and the TE’s should have plenty of opportunity to make plays and if AD Mitchell does play I like how he matches up against LSU’s boundary CB’s.
This LSU defense is good and they have only allowed over 30 in regulation to Tennessee and Texas A&M. Despite that, I think the Aggies exposed some things on the line of scrimmage that Georgia can take advantage of. UGA has more horses up front than LSU and that will be the difference in the end.
I expect a game that is open early where Georgia shows a bit more of the playbook as they build a lead. By the time this game enters its last third it will be decided and UGA will go into run mode. This UGA team still has a bitter taste from its loss to Alabama in ATL last December and it wants to finish this thing the right way.
Kenny McIntosh will have another big day on the ground and Stetson Bennett will be efficient. Watch for UGA to pick on LSU’s Sage Ryan with its slot receivers and Bowers and do not be surprised if we see more of Arian Smith and Kearis Jackson as Georgia tries to get out in front through the air to leave things open on the ground for later. I like the Dawgs to cover the 17.
Georgia 34 - LSU 13