What now appears right and wrong about our preseason look at a critical game.
What's at Stake: Staying afloat. Both of these teams are in division races where they can't afford more than one conference loss. ... A loss could be more dangerous for LSU than Georgia; with the possibility of Florida losing two conference games being closer to none than to slim, the Dawgs probably have to beat the Gators one way or another. LSU, meanwhile, is in a race with two and perhaps three other teams. Tiebreakers in the SEC West will be murkier and best avoided by losing as few league games as possible.
The calculus on this has changed a bit. Florida could lose two SEC games with Tim Tebow banged up or out of the game, but that still seems unlikely. However, Ole Miss' loss to South Carolina might give LSU a little more margin for error than previously thought. But Alabama has looked even more impressive than expected and Auburn could quickly become another team in the race, so that's relative and speculative at best.
What Will Decide the Game This Year: Defense. Last year's game was notable for the lack of any real effort to stop the other side from scoring. In additon to the 90 points, the teams combined for a Big XII-esque 940 yards of offense. It's hard to see that happening again, with Georgia boasting a strong front seven and LSU introducing the John Chavis regime.
Not so much. LSU's offense has been narrowly outgained on the season (1,334-1,240) and the defense allowed more yards that their compatriots gained at Washington and Mississippi State. The 333.5 yards per game might not seem too bad, but when you consider that the Bayou Bengals have already faced the truly awful Vanderbilt offense and Sun Belt team Louisiana-Lafayette, there's reason for a second look. The Tigers gave up an average of 426 yards a game against the various dog-themed teams they have faced. Georgia hasn't done much better. The Dawgs allowed a combined 912 yards in their two SEC games this year, tempering any optimism about their so-so total defense average of 355.8 ypg.
LSU Will Probably Win If ... Jordan Jefferson really is as good as everyone thinks he is and the Tigers don't fall too far behind. LSU's chances are much better if RB Charles Scott can help keep the Bengals in the game than if they have to go to the air too quickly.
Right now, Jefferson -- with a 61.4 percent completion rate and a 7-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio -- has looked better than Scott, who's rushed for 44.8 ypg. Part of that is the increasing importance of Keilland Williams to the running game, but neither was able to put up many yards at Mississippi State.
Georgia Will Probably Win If ... That front seven is really as good as it looks. Just as LSU's shot at winning increases with Scott making his yards, Georgia's odds are more favorable if they can shut the running game down and make Jefferson win the game.
The offense has looked much better for Georgia, making the play of the defense slightly less important. But while the front seven has largely slowed down the run over the last three games, pressure on the quarterback has been disappointing. Georgia has just one quarterback hurry and one sack in the last two games despite a combined 71 pass attempts by Arkansas and Arizona State (72 if you count the sack).
Conclusion: I like Georgia just a little better in this game than LSU; they have a more veteran offensive line and need fewer things to go just right on defense. The wild card is whether Georgia will be able to get through September with its players and attitude intact. If the Dawgs' season gets off to a disastrous 1-3 start or a so-so 2-2 launch, the advantage tilts back to LSU.
Georgia is 3-1, whatever you think about how they got there, and the momentum for the season seems to be positive. I don't have any reason to change this prediction -- Georgia still looks like a good choice to win.