ATLANTA - It seemed almost too good to be true.
For a half, 12th-ranked Georgia teased the Bulldog Nation with visions of a Bourbon Street celebration come New Year's in the Crescent City of New Orleans.
Could it be? Not quite. It was only a dream.
Instead, top-ranked LSU used Saturday's SEC Championship as a coronation, bouncing the Bulldogs 42-10 in front of a Georgia Dome crowd of 74, 515.
It was a bitter ending what had been a fabulous run, one that included a 10-game victory streak and the SEC East crown.
Still, the disappointment of not winning the conference title weighed heavy on the Bulldogs' mind.
"I'm proud of the team and I'm proud of the season that we had," head coach Mark Richt said. "The ability to even get to this game was a great accomplishment considering how we started. We wanted to have a lot better show than we ended up showing for the 60 minutes we played football. I don't think anybody quit, although I know it might have looked like it a few times in the second half. We'll have to look at the film and see."
For LSU (13-0), its path is clear.
The Tigers will now move onto the BCS Championship in New Orleans, likely against SEC rival Alabama.
For Georgia (10-3), the Bulldogs' future is not quite as clear.
The Bulldogs know they'll go bowling, but exactly where remained up in the air Saturday night, although indications are it will be either the Capital One in Orlando or the Outback in Tampa.
But for now, the pain remains.
"I think we need some time off to get this bad taste out of our mouth. I know we just want to sulk right now, I know me personally I'm not in the best of moods," quarterback Aaron Murray said. "But it has been a great year. I think we got better all season long, but we've got one more game left. We've got the bowl game and we'll have a chance to finish it off strong."
The Bulldogs started Saturday's contest out that way.
Leading 10-7 at the half, Georgia received the kickoff to start the third quarter but any hopes of tacking on more points soon came to a screeching halt.
After a couple of runs by Carlton Thomas gained nothing, Murray was flushed from the pocket and took off before fumbling at the 27.
To no surprise, it was Tiger cornerback Tyrann (Honey Badger) Mathieu who recovered the fumble, the eighth of the sophomore years.
The mistake proved fatal as following an illegal substitution call on Georgia, it took the Tigers just two plays to score to grab a 14-10 lead on a 15-yard run by Kenny Hilliard.
Georgia would hear from Mathieu - who was named the game's MVP - and Hilliard again.
Following a Georgia punt after failing to move on its next possession, Mathieu burned the Bulldogs for a second time, returning the football 47 yards to the Georgia 17, his second long punt return after brining one back for a 62-yard touchdown for the Tigers' lone score of the first half.
Four plays later, LSU scored again, getting a second touchdown from Hilliard who bulled in from 4-yards out.
The Tigers weren't done.
LSU added a third touchdown in the third, again from Hilliard on an 8-yard pass from Jordan Jefferson to make the score 28-10 before helping the capper on the contest with a 48-yard run by Alfred Blue midway through the fourth.
A 45-yard interception return for a touchdown by Morris Claiborne a few minutes later added further insult to Georgia's injury.
"When they had 10, quite frankly, I thought that was it and we just needed to get started," LSU coach Les Miles said. "We knew the defense would come through, but we still needed to get our offense rolling. It wasn't easy, but we were eventually able to get it going."
Blue finished the game with nine carries for 94 yards will Hilliard rushing eight times for 72 to go along with his three scores.
It was certainly a tale of two halves.
After holding LSU to just 19 total yards and no first downs in the first half, the Tigers roared back I the second, out-gaining the Bulldogs 225 to 161.
Murray accounted for most of the yardage, but it wasn't a good showing as he completed just 16 of 40 passes for 163 yards and two interceptions before giving way to backup Hutson Mason with just over four minutes to go.
Georgia managed just 78 yards on the ground on 34 attempts for the game.
After winning the toss, Georgia deferred to the second and half and promptly stopped the Tigers on three plays, including a third-down sack of Jefferson by Jarvis Jones[/d]b, No. 14.5 of his career, passing David Pollack to set a new Bulldog single-season mark.
The Bulldogs didn't waste any time.
A 44-yard pass from Murray to [db]Tavarres King put Georgia at the Tiger 21.
Following an illegal procedure call on third down, Murray went to the end zone on his next attempt, but the ball was a bit high and glanced just off the finger tips of King forcing Georgia to settle for a 40-yard field goal by Blair Walsh and a quick 3-0 lead.
But the Bulldogs weren't ready to give up the ball just yet.
On the kickoff, the Bulldogs attempted something they have not tried all season - an onside kick - which Walsh executed perfectly with Alec Ogletree going high to recover the football on the Georgia 48.
Once again Georgia's offense was able to grind out some yards, 19 coming on a pass from Murray to Orson Charles put the Bulldogs at the 31.
Three plays later, it looked like Georgia was going to get a quick six as Murray had Malcolm Mitchell wide open at the 5-yard line. The pass was true, but bounced off the hands of the freshman forcing the Bulldogs to reach for another field goal. This time, however, Walsh was off, pushing his kick to right keeping the score at 3-0.
But for a third straight time, Georgia's defense didn't budge, stopping LSU deep in its own territory forcing the Tigers' second punt which Brandon Boykin caught at the 44.
This time, Georgia would strike six, pushing its lead to 10-0 on a 12-yard pass from Murray to Aron White with 42 seconds left in the first.
But momentum can be fleeting, and midway through the second quarter the Tigers yanked it right back after Mathieu returned a punt 62 yards for a score.
Or did he?
Television replays showed Mathieu flipping the ball to the official right as he crossed the goal line.
However, the play was not reviewed and the touchdown stood for the final points of the half as Georgia went into the lock room with a 10-7 lead as the Tigers managed negative six yards rushing.
"We probably could have had 21 points in the first half if we'd just catch the football," Richt said. "We had some early chances. We just didn't score enough points to keep them off."