SEC championship: Georgia dismantles LSU, prepares for national title defense

ATLANTA — In a game that had no significance for Georgia beyond playoff seeding, the No. 1 Bulldogs shrugged off a few mild challenges from No. 14 LSU to win the SEC championship and cement themselves as the favorites to repeat as national champions in a month.

For a brief moment, three-loss LSU looked slightly competitive against the undefeated Dawgs. But that mirage vanished the moment the Tigers' field goal team vapor-locked late in the first quarter, forgetting that a blocked field goal kick is still a live ball. Georgia's Christopher Smith didn't forget, though, and picked up the still but live ball, ran 96 yards untouched for the game's first score, and Georgia never trailed again to capture its first SEC title since 2017 with a decisive 50-30 victory.

In the space of less than four furious minutes of game clock that began with that blocked field goal, Georgia racked up three touchdowns to LSU's one, and the Tigers never seriously threatened again.

Georgia scored almost every way possible: on the ground, in the air, off field-swapping turnovers, and on special teams. By the time Georgia hit half a hundred, running a trick-play two-point conversion, at least half of the heavily Georgia-tilted stadium had cleared out. A bigger game awaits the Bulldogs in four weeks.

Stetson Bennett erased any lingering doubts about his fitness to lead the Bulldogs on the national stage, finishing with 274 yards on 23-of-29 passing and four touchdowns. He distributed the ball among nearly a dozen receivers, with mainstays Brock Bowers and Ladd McConkey snaring the most receptions. McConkey left the game early with a knee injury suffered late in the first half; his status remains a question mark and was the only real negative on the night for a Bulldog team that's absolutely rolling right now.

LSU, on the other hand, has questions to answer after a season that sputtered to a halt. Quarterback Jayden Daniels had been deemed fit to play following an ankle injury suffered last week against Texas A&M, but he clearly didn't have either the explosiveness or the touch he'd shown all season. Daniels seemed to re-aggravate the ankle injury in the first half, so Garrett Nussmeier replaced him in the second half. Nussmeier immediately led LSU on a three-play, 57-yard touchdown drive. The problem for LSU was that only cut a 25-point deficit to 18 points.

The Tigers exceeded all reasonable expectations for first-year head coach Brian Kelly, winning the SEC West and knocking off Alabama. But a late loss to Texas A&M destroyed LSU's playoff hopes — a loss that stings even more given how other games turned out on Saturday — and Kelly's team learned firsthand just how wide the gap is between Georgia and the rest of the SEC.

At this point last year, Georgia had gone undefeated in the regular season but fell to Alabama in the SEC championship, and critics questioned both the schedule and the toughness of the 2021 Bulldogs. But Georgia rallied to blow out Michigan and throttle Alabama in a rematch for the national title, and the Dawgs haven't lost a game — or left any real doubt about their dominance — since then.

Georgia now awaits the outcome of the Big Ten Championship and the College Football Playoff Committee's final seedings. Based on Saturday night's performance, though, the Bulldogs ought to be able to count on a comfortable No. 1 seed for New Year's Eve.

Stetson Bennett and the Georgia Bulldogs dispatched LSU, and the College Football Playoff is next. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Stetson Bennett and the Georgia Bulldogs dispatched LSU, and the College Football Playoff is next. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)


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