Athens, GA - Following a 45-21 non-conference victory over the North Texas Mean Green on Saturday afternoon at Sanford Stadium, the No. 9 Georgia Bulldogs are now fully focused on the task at hand for next Saturday: hosting the No. 6 LSU Tigers from the SEC’s Western Division.
ESPN’s College GameDay will travel to Athens for the matchup ‘Between the Hedges,’ marking the show’s third visit to Athens and first since 2008.
LSU enters the game with a perfect 4-0 record, including a season-opening 37-27 victory at No. 20 TCU and most recently a 35-21 win against Auburn on Saturday evening. The Bulldogs currently stand at 2-1 on the season, having won two in a row after dropping their season opener 38-35 at Clemson.
“There’s no doubt about it that they look great,” said Georgia head coach Mark Richt on Sunday evening when describing the challenges that LSU presents with their balanced offensive attack. “They’re not going to try to trick you. They’ll just line up and maul you. That’s their goal, and then they’ll be able to create some matchups with great receivers and a quarterback who can sling it. They are very balanced in what they do.”
Richt also touched on the strength of the LSU defense, noting that, “it’s mandatory to have a great defense, and (LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis) is a good teacher of it.”
LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger originally began his college career at Georgia before transferring to the Tigers, and Richt spoke highly of Mettenberger and his play thus far at LSU.
“There are a lot of things that are similar (from when he was at Georgia), as far as his physical size and his ability to throw the ball,” said Richt. “Before he was barely out of high school, we knew he was going to have a brilliant big league arm, and he still has it. Obviously he’s gotten better over time. He seems very confident right now, and he’s playing on a great team.”
“(Mettenberger) has some great backs and receivers, and he has some big, strong linemen up front,” added Richt. “I’m sure he’s benefitting from his new coordinator and a great defense. They’re winning, and they’re excited. He’s one of the top-rated passers in America right now.”
The Bulldogs will be squaring off in their third top-10 matchup of the season, but Richt feels the experience from the team’s two previous games against then-No. 8 Clemson and No. 6 South Carolina will only benefit Georgia this Saturday.
“I think being through it before is probably going to be helpful,” said Richt. “Three out of four games (this season) have been that way. We’ve had success in that we won one, and we didn’t have so much success in the one that we lost. Hopefully we’ll understand how important every single detail of the game is going to be, and we’ll practice with that kind of purpose and hopefully see those results.”
Richt briefly touched on the importance of strong play from the special teams unit, noting that the Bulldogs have covered kicks well this season, prior to a blocked punt by North Texas in Saturday’s game.
“We’ve really covered kicks extremely well all year long, and then you get one like that,” said Richt. “You might think it’s broken, but it’s not. We just have to go back to doing what we’ve been doing all year long. That’s placing the ball where we want it and getting guys in the right spot and making the play when they get there. We have to be able to do that, and we have to get our protection solid on the punt team.”
Richt remained complimentary of the Mean Green’s play on both sides of the ball, particularly highlighting the effectiveness of North Texas’ ability to limit Georgia’s rushing attack.
“I think North Texas just played outstanding run defense,” said Richt. “We had to earn every inch we got. They tackled extremely well, and we didn’t get a ton of yards after contact whether we were running or throwing the ball and getting yards after contact with the receivers.”
“I just saw a team that was really excited about playing the game and played with a lot of emotion,” added Richt. “It was what we had seen on film for two weeks. It’s just a defense that flies to the ball and tackles well. They played with a lot of heart and a lot of fire, and they did a really good job.”
As Georgia now prepares for a full week of practice with all efforts focused towards the Tigers, Richt noted that tight end Jay Rome may be limited in practice time due to an ankle injury.
“He basically got hit on the ankle that was already sore (in yesterday’s game),” said Richt. “I don’t even know if he rolled it again. I think it just got hit. We’ll just see how he does tomorrow. We’re not counting him out for the game, but I just don’t know how effective he’ll be tomorrow. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
The Bulldogs are 12-16-1 all-time against the Tigers, with the most recent meeting coming at the 2011 SEC Championship game where LSU claimed a 42-10 victory.
Saturday’s game is set for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff and will be broadcast on CBS.