In an early gamble Saturday at Tiger Stadium, Georgia holder Jake Comarda flipped the ball over his shoulder to kicker Rodrigo Blankenship on a fake field goal.
The play flopped, and so did just about everything else the second-ranked Bulldogs tried in a stunning 36-16 loss at Tiger Stadium.
After trailing only once in its first six games — 3-0 to Vanderbilt in the first quarter of its opener — Georgia had to play catch-up all day and never got any traction. Meanwhile, the Tigers dominated.
It all started with the special teams gamble in the first quarter, when the coaches asked Blankenship, an preseason All-America selection, to run for a first down on fourth-and-9 from the LSU 14.
Safety Grant Delpit met Blankenship near the line of scrimmage, preventing the Bulldogs from tying the score at 3 after an 11-play drive that featured nine consecutive runs for 71 yards.
It was reminiscent of the plays former LSU coach Les Miles used to call — except Miles’ risks usually worked. The Tigers stopped this one cold.
“I felt like we were moving the ball good, and we wanted to be aggressive,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “It was a look that we wanted. We thought it was going to be perfect. They had one guy out there, and we were going to block him. But one of their guys ended up not rushing and fell into the play and made it. He’d rushed every other time.
“If it doesn’t work, it was a bad call.”
Almost everything stayed bad from there. The Bulldogs failed to pick up a first down on their next three series, trailed 16-0 at halftime and never came closer than 10 the rest of the way.
Sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm, whose 72.8 completion percentage through the first six games put him on pace to break the Southeastern Conference single-season record, went 5 of 16 in the first half and appeared rattled throughout, missing his targets badly while having a hard time finding anyone open.
Fromm finished 16 of 34 for 209 yards and one late touchdown, completing fewer than half of his passes for only the second time in his career while matching his season total of two interceptions.
“They did a good job on third down, but we got ourselves in a mess with third-and-longs,” he said. “I don’t know. We made some plays, but they made more plays and we just really couldn’t string them together.”
Even when he began finding his range in the second half, Fromm was not sharp. With the Bulldogs behind 19-9 early in the fourth quarter, he took a third-down sack that knocked Georgia back 9 yards to the LSU 43, forcing a punt instead of a Blankenship field goal.
“I can’t do that,” Fromm said. “I definitely should have thrown the ball away. I don’t think any of the sacks today were on the offensive line. That’s all on me.”
LSU responded with a six-play, 87-yard touchdown drive to put the game away.
Smart refused to label the failed fake field goal or Fromm’s struggles as difference-makers, pointing instead to LSU’s rushing advantage of 275-113 as the real answer.
“At the end of the day, if you don’t win the line of scrimmage in this league, you will not win the game,” Smart said. “They played more physical than us.”
Mentally, though, the point of no return appeared to be that fake field goal.
“When I got the ball, I felt something’s not right,” Blankenship said. “We saw the look we had practiced during the week, so we tried to make something happen. They defended it well. Hats off to them. In a venue like this with their incredible fans, it certainly didn’t help our cause.”