ATLANTA — How do you win a Southeastern Conference championship when your offense manages only 12 yards in one half of football? When your quarterback walks off the field after four quarters having completed just five of 13 passes for 30 yards?
If you’ve watched LSU play much this season, you know exactly how.
The Tigers were at it again in Saturday’s 42-10 blowout of Georgia in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, riding big plays on special teams and defense to another double-digit victory. It seemed fitting given the route LSU often took throughout the regular season.
“Football is a team game,” LSU linebacker Ryan Baker said. “We don’t look it as a situation where the offense is struggling, but as another opportunity for us to go out and make plays.”
No one made more plays for the Tigers than Tyrann Mathieu, who has been a bundle of highlight-reel momentum shifts throughout the year.
Mathieu gave LSU its first touchdown on an electrifying, 62-yard punt return in the second quarter. He set up the third on a tackle-breaking, ground-shaking return of 47 yards in the third quarter, giving the Tigers possession at the Georgia 17-yard line.
In between, Mathieu recovered an Aaron Murray fumble at the start of the third quarter, leaving LSU to go only 26 yards for its first offensive score.
But the Tigers got a lift from more than Mathieu as they turned a 10-0 deficit into their latest runaway win.
Brad Wing launched a championship-game record 67-yard punt in the second quarter, part of a night when the freshman from Australia averaged 50.4 yards on eight punts.
Tharold Simon made a leaping interception of Aaron Murray in the third quarter, a turnover LSU’s offense converted into an LSU touchdown 70 yards later.
Morris Claiborne picked off a pass late in the fourth quarter, then raced 45 yards for the final margin.
“We lived out a lot of the things that other people have been living out playing those guys,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “Their ability to get stronger as the game goes on was very evident. Of course, turnovers and momentum swings certainly didn’t help us in the second half.”
The quick turnover to start the third quarter gave LSU’s struggling offense an opportunity to put behind a first half in which the Tigers failed to convert a first down and to cash in on favorable field position.
Two plays later, Kenny Hilliard ripped off a 15-yard touchdown run.
The Tigers were soon on a roll, using their running game to wear down the Georgia defense.
Quarterback Jordan Jefferson finished with just 30 yards passing, but the LSU offense sent Wing out to punt only once in the 35-point second half.
“We weren’t just going to lay down,” Claiborne said of the Tigers after the first half. “We came out and played.”