By DEITRA P. JOHNSON (ADW Sports Editor)
Simply put, the University of Georgia Bulldogs ran out of momentum, stalling on offense while allowing LSU to capitalize on big plays to gain the 2011 SEC Championship crown on Dec. 3 at the Georgia Dome.
After a 10-0 start by the Bulldogs, LSU scored 42 unanswered points, beginning late in the second quarter. Led by cornerback and punt returner Tyrann Mathieu, who was all over the field during a stunning MVP performance, the Tigers allowed Georgia to make the mistakes only to clean up afterward.
The difference between Georgia’s first half and its second was like watching the release of a helium-filled balloon. Following an impressive first quarter, the air went out of a team that clearly had the momentum since choosing to defer the opening kickoff to the Tigers.
After winning the opening coin toss, UGA Coach Mark Richt made a gutsy call by electing to kickoff to undefeated LSU, the nation’s No. 1 rated team. The Bulldogs entered the game touting a 10-game win streak, but the Tigers stood at 12-0.
Defensively, the Bulldogs began in impressive form, smothering a LSU offense that could only manage 12 yards the entire first half and not a single first down.
Statistically, Georgia should have won this game.
Georgia’s offense had possession of the ball for over 10 minutes in the first quarter, opposed to just 4:39 for the Tigers. In the opening period, the Bulldogs gained 100 yards in passing while LSU had none.
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray also connected on 7-of-15 passes in the first quarter, while his counterpart, Jordan Jefferson, went 0-for-4 during the same span. UGA also converted 2-of-5 third downs compared to 0-of-3 for the Tigers.
The Bulldogs went up 10-0 when Blair Walsh kicked a 40-yard field goal after a stalled UGA drive, followed by a touchdown by tight end Aron White on a 12-yard pass from Murray.
However, UGA missed several scoring opportunities early on. Malcolm Mitchell dropped an on-point pass at the LSU 5-yard line with no one around, and Walsh missed a 45-yard field goal a few plays later.
And then came the second quarter – and more importantly, the second half.
Mathieu turned the tide for LSU by scoring on a 62-yard punt return at the 5:48 mark in the second quarter. That made the score 10-7.
Mathieu also recovered a fumble in the third quarter on Georgia’s 26-yard line to set up a 15-yard touchdown run by Kenny Hilliard to give the Tigers their first lead of the game, 14-10. The 5-9, 175-pound sophomore also returned another punt in the third, down to Georgia’s 17 yard line, that led to a 4-yard TD by Hilliard with 10:37 left in the period.
The Tigers then struck hard and fast.
Hilliard, a freshman who was undoubtedly the first-runner up for the game’s MVP award, also caught an 8-yard touchdown pass and Alfred Blue ran for a 48-yard touchdown to put the game out of reach.
Morris Claiborne added insult to injury when he returned an interception 45 yards to give the Tigers 42 points despite only gaining 236 yards all day. Jefferson completed just five passes for the winners.