COLLEGE STATION, Texas – LSU will play football in the SEC Championship Game next weekend.
That’s an odd sentence after what happened at College Station on Saturday night. No. 5 LSU (9-3, 6-2 SEC) suffered its most embarrassing loss of the Brian Kelly era, losing 38-23 to the lowly Texas A&M.
The Tigers were hit by Aggie’s rushing attack led by star running back Devon Achane, handing big plays down the stretch to wide receiver Moose Muhammad. Offense was better than defense, but a critical fumble by Jayden Daniels with a 17-tie in the third quarter was recovered by Texas A&M (5-7, 2-6) and returned for a touchdown.
If an alien saw Saturday’s game, they would have thought Texas A&M was the team traveling to Atlanta to play No. 1 Georgia in the SEC championship game. Not LSU.
“We just weren’t our best today,” said LSU coach Brian Kelly. “I’d like to give you one reason why we weren’t, but we just weren’t our best today.”
Saturday’s loss, bad as it was, doesn’t change the reality that LSU is unlikely to beat Georgia for the SEC championship. The loss may weaken those chances, but a win wouldn’t have increased them either.
But they are not zero either.
The Bulldogs are the nation’s No. 1 team for a reason. Georgia was the nation’s No. 4 in offense and No. 1 in defense that week, according to ESPN’s College Football Power Index. It is the only school in the country to place in the top five in both categories.
Georgia’s offense has no obvious weaknesses with a proven quarterback, the best tight end in the nation, and arguably the best offensive line in the country. The defense, while not quite as dominant as last year, has former five-star recruits up and down the depth chart and two of the nation’s top five defenders: Nolan Smith and Jalen Carter.
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They are the defending champions and by far the favorites for the title this year. The Bulldogs are inevitable despite losing 15 players from last year’s national championship team to the NFL.
So how can LSU pull off one of the biggest upsets in recent college football history? Especially after that loss to Texas A&M?
For one, Georgia could rest the majority of its starters and save itself for the college football playoffs. Even if the Bulldogs lose to LSU, they will almost certainly make the playoffs with no worries. That’s especially true after the Tigers blew their own chances with a loss, No. 2 Ohio State was beaten at home by No. 3 Michigan, and Clemson fell in a loss to South Carolina.
But even if the Bulldogs challenge their best players in Atlanta, there’s still a way for LSU to win their third SEC title in 11 years.
It’s about Daniels playing the game of his life, using his legs as a weapon whenever the Tigers are inevitably faced with third and long scenarios. LSU receivers need to play well against Georgia’s young secondary, and the Tigers need to get something out of their non-quarterback rushing attack.
On the other side of the ball, LSU needs to be stingy in the red zone. If Georgia has struggled this season, it has had trouble scoring touchdowns in that area. The Bulldogs scored just one touchdown in five trips to the red zone against Kentucky and couldn’t find the end zone until the fourth quarter in Missouri, settling for three field goals in their three previous trips to the red zone.
Georgia only defeated Missouri 26-22 and Kentucky 16-6, proving that worse teams than LSU almost defeated the Bulldogs.
LSU’s chances of pulling off an all-time upset in Atlanta next Saturday may not be realistic. But they’re not much worse than the Aggies’ odds of winning this week.
Koki Riley covers LSU sports for The Daily Advertiser and the USA TODAY Sports South region. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @KokiRiley.