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December 2, 2005
SEC Championship Preview
ATLANTA - Georgia is back in Atlanta for the second time in two weeks. If the Bulldogs have their way, they'll be back for a lucrative payday in January.
The 13th-ranked Bulldogs take on No. 3 Louisiana State in the Southeastern Conference championship game at the Georgia Dome on Saturday with a trip to the Sugar Bowl on the line.
Picked to finish behind Tennessee and Florida in the SEC East, Georgia (9-2) went 6-2 in conference play and may have been a sprained knee away from an undefeated season.
Quarterback D.J. Shockley, who more than adequately replaced David Greene this season, hurt his knee in a victory over Arkansas on October 22. He missed the Florida game the following week as Georgia absorbed its first loss, 14-10, after a 7-0 start.
With Shockley back one week later but not quite 100 percent, the Bulldogs lost to Auburn, 31-30, but rebounded to clinch a spot in the title game with a blowout of Kentucky. Last week, they defeated intrastate rival Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
The top-rated passer in the SEC, Shockley has thrown for 2,199 yards and 19 touchdowns with just five interceptions. He'll have to contend with one of the nation's top-rated defenses if he is to lead the Bulldogs to their first SEC title since 2002 and avenge a loss to the Tigers in the 2003 championship game.
LSU (10-1, 7-1 West) ranks fourth in the nation in scoring defense (13.5) and fifth in total defense (278.7). Georgia is no slouch defensively, either, ranking fifth (14.6) and 15th (303.9), respectively.
LSU has won nine straight since an overtime loss to Tennessee on September 26 but has had its share of close calls. The Tigers edged Florida by four points, needed overtime to top Auburn by a field goal, won by the same margin at Alabama in overtime and went to the wire last week against Arkansas in a 19-17 victory to clinch the SEC West title.
The defense lived up to its billing Friday against the Razorbacks, allowing only 35 yards rushing to the conference's top ground team. However, JaMarcus Russell completed just 13-of-29 passes and threw two interceptions for the Tigers, who have been plagued by turnovers all season but have managed to win anyway.
LSU ranks 98th in the country in turnover margin, having forced only 13 while committing 21. Georgia has valued the ball much better and ranks ninth at plus-12.
Currently fourth in the BCS standings, LSU also holds out hope for a shot at the national championship, but would need at least a loss by No. 1 USC or No. 2 Texas and other things to break its way.
But first the Tigers will have to take care of the Bulldogs, who posted a convincing 45-16 win last season.
"I consider it a great pleasure to take this team on the road to meet a very quality opponent in Georgia," LSU coach Les Miles said. "I think they are as talented of a team as we have seen. They are very competitive. We understand that they are tremendously talented."