BATON ROUGE – The play started off “hauntingly familiar,” as Stevie Nicks sings in “Edge of Seventeen.”
Georgia holder Jake Camarda took the snap for an apparent 31-yard field goal attempt, but he flipped it perfectly over his shoulder to kicker Rodrigo Blankenship. This was right out of the playbook of former LSU coach Les Miles, who had holder Matt Flynn flip it over his shoulder to kicker Colt David against South Carolina in Tiger Stadium on Sept. 22, 2007. David sprinted 15 yards around end for a touchdown and 21-7 lead with 1:10 to go before halftime. LSU had faced a fourth-and-four situation. Then-South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier was so impressed, he acknowledged Miles after the play as if to say he knew he had been beat, and would be in a 28-16 loss. The Tigers went on to win their last national championship.
No. 2 Georgia, which is – or was – expected to contend for this seasons’ national championship after winning the SEC and reaching the national title game last season, faced a fourth-and-nine situation from nearly the exact same spot – the LSU 14-yard line – on Saturday in Tiger Stadium with under four minutes to play in the first quarter while trailing 3-0. Coach Kirby Smart thought he had LSU outsmarted.
“They were like 15 of 17 with a look that it would work on, and it was a look that we wanted,” Smart said. “We thought it was going to be perfect. They had one guy up there that we were going to block. One of their guys ended up not rushing, and he rushed every other time. He fell into the play and made it.”
I wouldn’t say, “fell,” Smarty coach pants.
The “guy” was LSU safety Grant Delpit, who stayed home as they say, which means he didn’t bite. He nailed Blankenship for a 2-yard loss. The Tigers took over at their 16 with a surprising shot of momentum and promptly drove 84 yards in 12 plays to a touchdown and 10-0 lead. The Dogs never really had any bite after that as they were never closer than 19-9 for about six minutes into the fourth quarter before LSU took control at 26-9 and breezed to a 36-16 win.
“Yes, I can definitely see the irony in that situation,” Blankenship said of Georgia’s attempt for momentum that gave LSU momentum. “We had watched a lot of film and seen how they rushed field goals. We thought if they lined up a certain way and brought all their pressure, we were going to go ahead and run it and be aggressive. We wanted to try and do something to get some momentum and take their crowd out of the game.”
That wasn’t going to happen on this day. Tiger Stadium was full at 102,321, and that was an actual crowd as opposed to the tickets sold count.
“When we went out there, they lined up how we hoped they would,” Blankenship said. “And so we decided to call it. It was there. I thought it would be a big moment for us. But they played it differently after the snap, and that’s a credit to them. They were really well prepared for that.”
Apparently, you can’t BS a BS-er.
Even though, LSU coach Ed Orgeron was taken aback by the call, which is usually half the battle in a fake.
“It surprised me,” he said. “There were 10 yards to go. It surprised me. But we always have a guy for the fake.”
So maybe LSU’s film actually faked out Georgia.
“We have eyes,” Orgeron said.
So, regardless of what Smart thinks he saw “like 15 of 17” times, that was only a look.
“And when you’re playing for the field goal block, you still have to have your eyes on your man, not on the field goal kicker,” Orgeron said. “Tremendous discipline.”
Still, Georgia appeared in good shape. It did reach its ill-fated fake by rushing nine times for 69 on 10 carries to get to LSU’s 14-yard line with gashes of 18, 17 and 12 yards by tailbacks D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield.
“I didn’t think that was the end of the momentum for us, just that it hurt us at the time,” Smart said.
LSU, however, adjusted its defense for Georgia’s next drive, which ended with a punt after three passes. LSU went up 13-0 on a 36-yard field goal by Cole Tracy, and Georgia punted on its next possession, too, after two runs for six yards and an incomplete pass. LSU went up 16-0 on a 39-yard field goal by Tracy, and Georgia punted for a third straight time after three plays – two runs for six yards and an incomplete pass. Georgia ended the first half with yet another punt after garnering one first down on a pass and rushing once for minus-two yards.
“We actually went right back to it (the running game), and it didn’t work. They changed some things up, and it wasn’t working as well,” Smart said.
Holyfield had 56 yards by late in the third quarter after his seventh carry, which was a bulldozing 10-yard touchdown run to get Georgia within 19-9 with :07 remaining before the fourth quarter. But Holyfield never touched the ball again.
“I’m not sure. I don’t call the plays,” Holyfield said.
He was as flustered as Smart.
“Offensively, we couldn’t get any rhythm, and it’s frustrating,” Smart said.
Quarterback Jake Fromm came in as the SEC’s No. 3 passer in efficiency at 192.5, but he was just 2 of his first 9 for 20 yards before finishing 16 of 34 for 209 yards and a meaningless, late touchdown with two interceptions and three sacks in the second half. And Smart found himself having to defend him.
“All the struggles weren’t his,” he said. “But he’s got to made a decision to get rid of the ball. But we don’t run the right route on one of the sacks. He’s looking for a route, and they don’t run that route. There’s a miscommunication. There’s a lot of pressures they run that are hard to pick up, and I was very concerned with that coming into the game. There were some times where he was looking for a check-down, and it wasn’t there.”
In the end, Georgia did very little other than a few good drives and setting a record for most visiting fans in Tiger Stadium. Both got swallowed up.
The SEC’s No. 1 total defense allowed a season-high 475 yards to LSU and the SEC’s No. 1 rush offense gained a season-low 113. The Bulldogs also lost the turnover battle with four to zero.
And Georgia was a big 0-for on fakes.
THE GUILBEAU POLL: 1. Alabama (7-0, 4-0). 2. Florida (6-1, 4-1). 3. LSU (6-1, 3-1). 4. Georgia (6-1, 4-1). 5. Texas A&M (5-2, 3-1). 6. Kentucky (5-1, 3-1). 7. Mississippi State (4-2, 1-2) 8. South Carolina (3-3, 2-3). 9. Tennessee (3-3, 1-2). 10. Ole Miss (5-2, 1-2). 11. Auburn (4-3, 1-3). 12. Missouri (3-3, 0-3). 13. Vanderbilt (2-4, 0-3). 14. Arkansas (1-6, 0-4).