ATLANTA — In the first quarter, it looked as if Georgia had the Southeastern Conference championship in its hands. But then, the Bulldogs dropped it.
The Bulldogs had their opportunities to upset the top-ranked team in the nation and clinch a berth in a BCS bowl game, but all hope slipped away as quickly as Tyrann Mathieu slipped away from the Bulldogs’ special teams unit.
LSU scored 42 consecutive points, erasing a 10-point deficit, to claim the conference title and secure a spot in the BCS National Championship Game.
Georgia’s missed opportunities came in many forms. From dropped touchdown passes, to a key lost fumble, to shoddy special teams play against one of the nation’s best return-men, the Bulldogs were unable to take advantage of their chances.
The Bulldogs began hurting themselves on their first possession. Two plays after a 44-yard completion to Tavarris King, quarterback Aaron Murray targeted King again.
Looking for the end zone, Murray placed the ball between two Tigers defenders and right into his receiver’s arms, but King was unable to haul it in as the ball fell to the ground and set up a Blair Walsh 40-yard field goal.
On the ensuing kickoff, Georgia recovered a surprise onside kick, but was unable to cash in.
Once again, on third down and driving inside the LSU 30-yard line, Murray found a wide-open Malcolm Mitchell at the 5-yard line along the Georgia sideline with more than enough space to walk into the end zone.
But for the second consecutive drive, Murray’s pass sailed right through his receiver’s hands and resulted in a missed field goal to keep the Bulldogs’ lead at 3-0.
“Playing a defense like that, you are only going to get so many opportunities to put points on the board,” Murray said. “I definitely think we had the opportunity to capitalize. We just didn’t execute.”
In a first quarter in which Georgia absolutely dominated the Tigers on both sides of the ball, the Bulldogs finished with a Murray touchdown pass and entered the second quarter with a 10-0 lead rather than one that easily could have been 21-0.
“The bottom line … it wasn’t 21-nothing,” Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “We had some opportunities, but we didn’t hit on all of them. That’s football.”
Despite not executing, the Bulldogs outgained LSU 134-10 in the first quarter and only allowed one yard in the second quarter.
But the Tigers still managed to take over the momentum late in the first half on Mathieu’s second punt return for a touchdown in as many games — this one for 62 yards — to cut the deficit to 10-7. That score stood going into halftime.
Georgia’s three-point lead barely made it into the second half after Murray lost a fumble in his own territory on the third play of the half, giving the Tigers their best field position of the game.
“That hurt,” cornerback Brandon Boykin said. “Whenever you have to protect a short field against a great team like this, it’s tough.”
The Georgia defense, which held its ground until the fumble, allowed only 11 yards in the first half but could not hold on any longer as the Tigers tripled their yard total in two plays.
The drive was capped by a Kenny Hilliard 15-yard touchdown, giving LSU a 14-10 lead it would not give up.
Following a three-and-out on Georgia’s next possession, Mathieu made another spectacular punt return to set up another short field for the Tigers, which they eventually capitalized on with a touchdown.
Once Georgia got behind, it was unable to come back and reach the level of play that a pro-Georgia crowd saw early on.
“That was a big swing,” linebacker Jarvis Jones said. “It definitely gave them life.”
But unlike Georgia, when the Tigers got life, they didn’t drop it.