ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia's players made no secret during the offseason that their 2013 goal was to advance one step past where they ended last year, with a potential game-winning drive dying deep in Alabama territory in the SEC championship game and costing the Bulldogs a chance to play for the BCS title.
The No. 9 Bulldogs (2-1, 1-0 SEC) know they lost any margin for error when they dropped their opener at Clemson, making Saturday's date with No. 6 LSU (4-0, 1-0) nothing less than a must-win game for Georgia.
“This is like an elimination game,” Georgia cornerback Damian Swann said. “To get to that Game 7, you've got to win Game 6 and I think this is a Game 6 for us and that's how we're going to approach it and that's how we're going to take it.”
The Bulldogs focused this week on a number of areas in need of improvement, most notably special teams, where Georgia has committed at least one glaring error in each game. Georgia coach Mark Richt opened the long snapping job for competition and said his coaching staff would re-evaluate the personnel on the various kicking units, potentially utilizing more starters on the coverage teams.
But aside from that department, this week is all about quality control for both teams -- each of which has been plagued by consistency issues. In particular, their young defenses must minimize the mistakes that characterized their play at points in the season's first month, and they must do it against opponents who establish themselves with powerful running games.
Georgia and LSU boast two of the SEC's top tailbacks in Todd Gurley (125.7 ypg, first in the SEC) and Jeremy Hill (117, third), who rushed for 184 yards in LSU's 35-21 win against Auburn last Saturday.
“It will be interesting to see who can run the ball and who can run it well,” Richt said. “Both teams are very capable of it, but on any given Saturday you don't know what's going to happen. We like ours and I'm sure they like theirs, and I like theirs and they probably like ours. They're just great players and it's going to be fun to watch.”
While both teams' main defensive objectives will be to limit the opponent's running games, overemphasizing the run could make them vulnerable to the play-action pass. Georgia's offense is perhaps a bit more potent through the air -- quarterback Aaron Murray leads the SEC with 346.7 ypg . LSU's improved passing game with quarterback Zach Mettenberger and receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry will certainly test Georgia's secondary.
“I feel like we'll see a lot more of the famous play-action play Bama ran against us with Amari Cooper [for the game-winning touchdown last season],” Georgia outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “I feel like if we can stop the run, then we won't be so worried about it and we can run a little bit more pressures and stunts to throw Mettenberger off his passing game. But I feel like our mindset this week is really going to be towards stopping the run and preventing them from getting that asset this game.”
Saturday's winner will likely be the team that minimizes its mistakes most effectively.
Georgia and LSU's respective resumes are among the most impressive in the league over the last few years, and their 2013 iterations appear to be evenly matched on paper. When teams like that meet, the victor is often the team that makes the fewest errors.
“You keep fighting like mad to not give up big plays,” Richt said. “You fight like mad to get turnovers. You fight like mad to find ways to get a big stop and a momentum-changing stop somewhere along the way, and that's what we're trying to do.”