SEC Championship Football

LSU head coach Ed Orgeron speaks during news conference ahead of Saturday's SEC Championship NCAA college football game against Georgia Friday, Dec. 6, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

ATLANTA — Jimmy and Robin Burrow couldn't reach their son by phone Thursday night, so they reached out to LSU coach Ed Orgeron.

After a brief investigation, Orgeron found out his star quarterback hadn't gone missing. No, Joe Burrow's cell phone was just broken. Orgeron said the parents offered to buy their son a new one.

Burrow brushed off the issue.

"I don't need a phone," Orgeron said Burrow told them. "I've got a game to play this week."

The only calls Burrow is concerned with making are the plays, the checks, the audibles in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game against Georgia.

Orgeron was pleased to tell the story during the head coaches' press conference Friday, happy to relay his team's laser focus for the program's biggest game in nearly a decade.

When the No. 2 Tigers (12-0, 8-0 SEC) play No. 4 Georgia (11-1, 7-1) in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta at 3 p.m. Saturday, it'll be the first time LSU has played for a conference title since 2011.

A victory will clinch LSU's first berth in the College Football Playoff since the format began in 2014.

LSU's Ja'Marr Chase is chasing greatness; 'I don't think there's another receiver in college football that's better'

Yes, plenty of time has passed since LSU made a significant postseason push. When the Tigers last played for the SEC championship, they played Georgia in the since-demolished Georgia Dome.

The football team entered the new stadium for the first time in a walkthrough practice Friday afternoon.

LSU's leading receiver, Ja'Marr Chase, gazed into the vortex ceiling and brushed the artificial turf with his right hand. Burrow and running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire reclined on the bench, laughing and chatting.

Friday is normally the team's travel day. But Orgeron knew he'd have to leave Thursday for the coaches' press conference, so the whole team packed their bags.

"I was not going to let the team travel today and me not be with them," Orgeron said. "So one team, one heartbeat. We travel together."

LSU vs. Georgia: Who ya got? Advocate experts make their picks, predict score for SEC Championship

The Tigers arrived at the team hotel Thursday night and shared a family meal, Orgeron said. Smothered pork chops. Fried chicken and collard greens. The players went to bed at 11 p.m. and didn't have to wake up until noon.

It's a serene start to what can be perceived as a pressure-packed weekend.

The Tigers are on the cusp of a return to championship contention, what Orgeron called "the standard of performance that you must achieve when you come to LSU."

Orgeron is on the edge of complete validation, atonement for a failed head coaching tenure at Ole Miss and when he was passed over for the full-time job at Southern Cal.

The Larose native reflected on those painful moments after being passed over, how his wife, Kelly, attempted to console him.

"She said, 'God has a better plan,’ ” Orgeron said, "and I looked at her and said, 'It had better be good.' And she was right."

Inside the (betting) line: Most people are wagering LSU wins the SEC Championship Game

You know the rest.

The start at LSU in 2015 as a defensive line coach. The rise to interim coach in 2016, full-time in 2017. The failed offensive revamp, then the successful one, when he hired first-year passing game coordinator Joe Brady to tear up the Tigers playbook with coordinator Steve Ensminger and implement West Coast and run-pass-option schemes.

Those multi-tight end, fullback-oriented packages? Orgeron admitted "in some ways, it was hard to let go." But LSU soared to the No. 2 scoring offense in the nation with a flexible offense that has been able to adjust over the course of four quarters.

"Yeah, they've done well in the first quarters too," Georgia coach Kirby Smart said.

Smart is also on a campaign for legacy, seeking his second SEC title in his fourth year as head coach in Athens.

He reflected on his first full-time coaching job in the SEC, when he was a 28-year-old defensive backs coach at LSU in 2004 under Nick Saban — an experience Smart said "was an awakening in itself."

Smart's Bulldogs reflect the era LSU has departed: a stout team that overpowers opponents with a strong defense and a relentless run game.

Smart was coy with the health report on Georgia's leading rusher, D'Andre Swift (1,203 yards, 7 touchdowns), saying only that "we'll have the expectation that he'll play well" through the shoulder injury Swift suffered against Georgia Tech.

Orgeron has said LSU's defense is expecting Swift to play, factoring him into the game plan for the Tigers' return to SEC sovereignty.

"I grew up watching LSU," Orgeron said. "When I got hired, I said I knew this was the standard, and we wanted to get there. It took us three years to get here ... and I feel like we're on the right track now."

Ed Orgeron shares LSU's 'tremendous meal' before SEC Championship, has '22 gumbos' up next

Email Brooks Kubena at bkubena@theadvocate.com.