February 3, 2023

Georgia hungers for elusive SEC title

Published 4:18 p.m. Friday, December 2, 2022

ATLANTA (AP) — The No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs are eyeing the biggest prize of them all.

Still, there’s a nagging desire to add another Southeastern Conference title to the trophy case.

Undefeated Georgia goes into Saturday’s SEC championship game against No. 11 LSU after certainly doing enough to earn a berth in the four-team college football playoffs regardless of the outcome against the Tigers.

By all indications, this is a pretty meaningless affair.

Try coaching the Kirby Smart.

“It’s about the next step and the opportunity to put a number on the wall that will stay there forever,” Smart said. “It’s an SEC championship. You don’t belittle them. They’re hard to come by.”

In fact, they have been hard to come by for the Bulldogs (12-0, No. 1 CFP).

Georgia might have won the national title a year ago, but Alabama gave the Bulldogs their only loss of the season to capture the SEC championship. In fact, Smart’s program has only managed three conference crowns in the last four decades – the last being in 2017.

“Especially in this part of the country, the Southeastern Conference is so respected that winning a Southeastern Conference championship is extremely impressive for the quality of football and the number of NFL players that come out of our conference,” Smart said . “I think our players are very proud of it.”

Still, there’s no denying that LSU (9-3, No. 14 CFP) took a lot of the shine off that game with their dismal performance a week ago at Texas A&M.

The Tigers had an outside shot to slip into the playoffs if they could beat the Aggies – who lost six straight SEC games – and then Georgia.

Those hopes were dashed with a 38-23 loss at College Station, sending LSU to Atlanta as an 18 1/2 point underdog against a Georgia team that has lost a game the last two seasons.

“They hit it hard after the game,” said Brian Kelly, the Tigers’ freshman year coach. “They care. They really want to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again. We can be beaten, but we don’t want to be beaten if we don’t do our best. Unfortunately, it’s one of those lessons to learn when it’s about how to prepare each week.”

Still, this was a turning season for an LSU program that won the national title in 2019 and hasn’t set a winning record in the past two years.

Notwithstanding last weekend’s debacle, Kelly has once again guided the Tigers in the right direction. An SEC title would certainly be the most surprising conclusion to a season that has already exceeded expectations.

“We’re not perfect,” said running back Josh Williams. “We know of some games that we just don’t do as well as we expect. But that doesn’t change our process and attitude for the next week. Just because it doesn’t look good for one game doesn’t mean it can’t look good for the next game.”

LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels was battling an ankle injury that involved using a hiking boot earlier in the week.

But Kelly said Thursday that Daniels is good to play against the Bulldogs.

“He’s had a good week of training,” said the coach. “He will play for us on Saturday.”

Georgia’s defense was already set to face Daniels instead of supporting Garrett Nussmeier.

“That was news to me,” lineman Zion Logue said when asked if Daniels was wearing a boot. “We’re really just preparing for it like he’s going to be there.”

SEC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
• No. 1 Georgia (12-0) vs. No. 11 LSU (9-3)
• Saturday, 3 p.m., in Atlanta
• Television: CBS
• Radio: 101.3 FM

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