by Chris Macaluso
Special to LSUsports.net
ATLANTA -- Saturday's LSU-Georgia match-up in the Southeastern Conference Championship game was a rematch of a 2003 contest that propelled the Tigers to national glory.
LSU dominated that contest and won 31-13. This time, Georgia exacted its revenge in heaps, sending the once third-ranked Tigers back to Baton Rouge to ponder their bowl game fate with a demoralizing 34-14 loss in front of 73,717 mostly Bulldog black-and-red clad fans in the Georgia Dome.
The Tigers' chance to win their third league championship game in the last five years evaporated quickly in cloud of interceptions, blocked punts, sacks and penalties that helped stake Georgia to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and a 21-7 halftime advantage.
The Bulldogs (10-2) will most likely advance to the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2 and face Big East champion West Virginia.
The Tigers (10-2) await a bowl bid from one of the following: the Capital One Bowl (Jan. 2 at noon CST) in Orlando, the AT&T Cotton Bowl (Jan. 2 at 10 a.m.) in Dallas, the Outback Bowl (Jan. 2 at 10 a.m.) in Tampa, the Peach Bowl (Dec. 30 at 6:30 p.m.) in Atlanta or the Independence Bowl (Dec. 30 at 2:30 p.m.) in Shreveport.
Should a bowl bid be granted to LSU on Sunday, a press conference will be held to announce the Tigers plans.
Bulldog quarterback D.J. Shockley was not particularly proficient but was accurate enough to complete two long touchdown passes to receiver Sean Bailey in the game's first 10:00. From there, the Bulldogs essentially cruised to victory, with a minor hick-up caused by a LSU touchdown on a 1-yard JaMarcus Russell dive with 13:53 to play in the first half.
Shockley completed only 6-12 passes for 112 and the two touchdowns yards before coasting through the second half by handing the ball off to a couple of Georgia running backs. The Bulldogs gained just enough yards per play in the second half to keep the LSU offense off the field. Shockley was named the Most Valuable Player of the game.
Tiger quarterback JaMarcus Russell, on the other hand, struggled as his team made irreparable mistakes around him. Russell managed to complete 11-19 passes for 120 yards and one interception.
The Bulldogs managed only 250 yards of total offense, but played most of the first half and some of the second half in LSU's territory. LSU managed a measly 230 yards of total offense, just 74 of those on the ground against a Georgia team that entered the contest surrendering on average 128 rushing yards per game.
Russell left the game for good after a late-third quarter sack resulted in a shoulder injury. Matt Flynn took the reigns and fared worse, giving the Bulldogs their second-to-last score with an interception toss that was returned for a 15-yard touchdown by Tim Jennings with 14:18 to play. Flynn made up for the mistake with a 19-yard touchdown toss to Dwayne Bowe with 5:38 remaining but the touchdown was of little consequence.
LSU claimed the following onsides kick, but the chance to cut the lead further ended on 4th-down when Jennings sacked Flynn deep behind the line of scrimmage.
Georgia nearly handed the opening kick back to LSU after kick returner Ramarcus Brown fumbled at his 26. But a pack of Bulldogs pounced on the loose ball giving Georgia a chance to test the Tiger run defense. LSU passed the test and forced a Bulldog punt after just three plays.
But, LSU's offense failed with their chance to move the ball on the ensuing possession when Russell lost 14 yards on a first down sack at his 8-yard line. LSU never moved past the shadow of the goal line and punted back to the Bulldogs, who took possession at the Tiger 45.
The Bulldogs took advantage of the kind field position by scoring on the drive's first play. Shockley connected with Bailey in stride at the LSU 10 and Bailey hopped over the goal line untouched to give the Bulldogs a 7-0 advantage with 10:19 to play in the first quarter after the 45-yard bomb.
LSU moved the ball 16 yards on the first play of the ensuing drive on a first-down pass to Early Doucet. But, after Justin Vincent lost yards on a toss sweep on the next play, Russell handed the Bulldogs another chance to score when he launched an interception to DeMario Minter at the Georgia 49. Six plays later, Shockley spotted a Bailey wide open again, this time running behind the Tiger defense in the endzone. The 29-yard throw and catch capped a six-play drive and staked the Bulldogs to a 14-0 lead with 6:12 remaining in the first quarter.
The Tigers had little choice but to respond to the two early scores. LSU methodically mixed passes to Bowe and rushes by Shyrone Carey for the next 14 plays, taking 7:19 off the clock. Russell ended the 80-yard advance with a 1-yard plunge behind left guard Herman Johnson to give the Tigers their first points of the game with 13:53 left in the first half. Colt David's extra point cut the Georgia lead in half at 14-7.
Georgia managed one first down on the ensuing drive but stalled at the 24 when LSU linebacker E.J. Kuale pulled Shockley to the turf on a 3rd-down sack. A 36-yard punt by Georgia's Gordon Ely-Kelso gave LSU a first down at its 40-yard line, its best field position to that point.
But, the Tigers were unable to take advantage of the advantageous position, losing a combined five yards on the first two plays of the drive. Russell and Doucet were unable to connect on 3rd-and-15 and Chris Jackson was forced into the game to punt from his 35.
That punt, however, never left Jackson's foot as Bulldog back-up receiver and kick-block practitioner Bryan McClendon knifed through Tiger blockers and snuffed the punt. The ball was recovered by Jackson, but he was smothered by a host of Bulldogs at his 15-yard line.
Shockley needed just three plays to take back Georgia's two-touchdown advantage. He capped the brief drive with a 7-yard scramble into the endzone on third down to give the Bulldogs a 21-7 lead with 8:23 to play in the half.
LSU ran just three plays in a crucial possession to open the first half and punted the ball back to Georgia who advanced quickly to midfield thanks to a pass interference penalty on second down. The Tigers gave Georgia 12 more yards on a late hit out of bounds four plays later, setting the Bulldogs with a first down at the LSU 12. Place kicker Brandon Coutu entered the game on the drive's 11th play to extend the Georgia lead to 24-7 on a 22-yard field goal with 9:52 remaining in the third quarter after the Bulldog advance stalled at the Tiger 5-yard line.
The Tigers continued to add to their own woes with penalties and sacks on the next drive. Holding penalty negated what could have been a 53-yard touchdown pass to Bennie Brazell and a sack of Russell three plays later knocked him out of the game and knocked LSU's chances of making a come back further down the ladder. Jackson punted back to Georgia who claimed control at its 27.
Coutu returned to the contest with 14:40 to play in the contest to extend the Bulldog lead to 27-7 on a 51-yard field goal.
LSU vs. Georgia
Dec. 3, 2005 - Georgia Dome (SEC Championship Game)
1. LSU's game captains are 5 Skyler Green, 25 Justin Vincent, 41 Chris Jackson, 46 Cameron Vaughn, 76 Andrew Whitworth, 90 Melvin Oliver and 95 Kyle Williams.
2. LSU won the toss and deferred to the second half. Georgia received the opening kickoff.
3. Tigers extending their consecutive starts' streak today were: OT Andrew Whitworth (51), FS LaRon Landry (32), DT Kyle Williams (32) and LB Cameron Vaughn (23).
4. With two red zone conversions tonight, LSU has now been successful on 20 straight trips in the red zone dating back to the Auburn game (17 touchdowns and three field goals).
5. Georgia snapped LSU's winning streak at nine games. It ended the longest winning stretch by an LSU team in a season since the 1973 team won nine straight games.
a. The loss also ended LSU's 10-game winning streak in domed stadiums. It's the first loss by the Tigers in a dome since losing the 1987 Sugar Bowl to Nebraska, 30-15, in the Louisiana Superdome.
b. LSU was previously 4-0 in the Georgia Dome before tonight's contest.
6. The Tigers dropped their first SEC title game after previously owning a 2-0 mark in the contests.
7. LSU's onside kick recovery with 5:31 left in the fourth quarter was the first by the Tigers since collecting one to start the game versus Auburn on Dec. 1, 2001.
8. The Tigers lost only their fourth game in 38 tries since 2000 when holding an opponent to less than 300 yards of offense. Georgia managed 250 total yards this evening.
9. LSU was held to its lowest point total of the season (14). It's the lowest total since managing nine points at Auburn on Sept. 18, 2004.
10. OT Andrew Whitworth broke LSU's career record for starts, starting his 51st straight game.
11. RB Justin Vincent made his first start since Sept. 25, 2004 against Mississippi State.
12. QB JaMarcus Russell collected his second rushing touchdown of the season and third of his career on a one-yard run with 13:53 left in the second quarter. His other rushing TD this season came against Tennessee.
a. For the first time in nine games, Russell did not throw a touchdown pass.
b. Russell suffered just the second loss of his career as a starting QB in the season. He entered the game with a 14-1 career mark in two seasons with the only other loss coming to Tennessee earlier this season.
13. LB E.J. Kuale's 6-yard sack of Georgia QB D.J. Shockley early in the second quarter was his first of the season and third of his career. The sack was Kuale's first since the game against Arkansas State in 2004.
14. With a tackle in the first quarter, FS LaRon Landry extended his tackles in consecutive games streak to 37 straight games.
15. WR Craig Davis pulled in a 12-yard reception with 5:37 left in the second quarter to extend his consecutive games with a reception streak to 22 (games in which he has played).
16. With a tackle in the second quarter, DT Kyle Williams extended his tackles in consecutive games streak to 37 straight games.
17. QB Matt Flynn tossed his fifth touchdown of the season and sixth of his career on a 19-yard strike to Dwayne Bowe with 5:38 remaining in the fourth quarter.
18. WR Dwayne Bowe moved into a tie for sixth place on LSU's touchdown receptions in a season list with his 19-yard reception from Flynn. Bowe's TD grab was his ninth of the season and 14th of his career. He is two away from tying the school record of 11 set by Devery Henderson and Wendell Davis.
COACH LES MILES, KYLE WILLIAMS & ANDREW WHITWORTH
MIKE NEMETH: We'll go ahead and get started with LSU at this time. Same protocol as yesterday. We'll ask each of the individuals to provide an opening statement before we go to questions and answers. We will start with the student-athletes so that they can return to the locker room, and then finish up with Coach miles.
Kyle, if you would, go ahead and start us off with your thoughts on the game. Then we'll move to Andrew.
KYLE WILLIAMS: I think it's just something we're all very disappointed in. It just doesn't seem like we had our best effort out there tonight. It was something that, you know, we had expected to give. When we went out as a team, it just didn't
feel like we played that way.
It's disappointing to do that in a championship game. We expected to give our all effort and play our best game of the year and we weren't able to do that. That's pretty much why we lost the game. I mean, taking nothing away from Georgia, they played a great football game. But it's just disappointing not to have your best effort out there in a championship game, your last game of the year.
MIKE NEMETH: Andrew?
ANDREW WHITWORTH: I think like he said. I don't think that it was necessarily all the guys didn't go out there and play, but I think a lot of us went out there with the intention to play. Just as a team, we didn't get it done. Any time you do that, we're not going to win. Especially with the start we had, either side not doing the job they needed to do.
It's disappointing. We thought we were playing well, and we thought we were ready to play. It's a disappointing loss but it's one I think guys got to be ready to learn from, you got to be ready to play. It's something that finally bit us. We've kind of had some bad starts and this one definitely got us.
MIKE NEMETH: Questions for the student-athletes.
Q. Kyle, were they more physical than maybe you expected?
KYLE WILLIAMS: We knew they were going to be a physical team coming in. I think that we allowed them to run the ball a little bit more than we wanted to. But, you know, that's not what killed us. I think the big plays are what killed us. We weren't able to limit their big plays. We knew they were a physical football team coming in, loved to run the ball. They were what we expected.
Q. For both of you guys, a lot of games this year there have been penalties, turnovers, those kind of mistakes. Was this just a team that was too good to do that against, to get away with it?
ANDREW WHITWORTH: I think yeah. I think like I said, we've had a couple games there where we've stumbled at the start or, you know, just periodically throughout the game we've had some crucial penalties. I think this team was ready to play, and it was a team that was going to take all its advantages that we gave them and miscues. It's gonna hurt you when you continue to do that. It's just something we got to work on. It's something that you have to go back and just really just, you know, try and get it done and get rid of it. It's something tough. Like I said, it's disappointing to do in a championship ballgame.
KYLE WILLIAMS: I agree with him. I think that it's something that we've noticed, that we've always gotten off to slow starts it seemed a few times this year. When you're coming in this game - they're a good football team - they're gonna be ready. They always play us well. I think we just shot ourselves one too many times in the foot and against a really good football team. I think we ran that well dry during the year, falling behind and then coming back. Against this team, tonight, they weren't going to allow us to do that.
Q. Kyle, how shocking was it to be down 14-0 right off and then give up as many points as you did at the end?
KYLE WILLIAMS: Well, we've been there before. I think it was shocking they hit those two big passes on us. We weren't expecting those. I think going into the plays we thought they might take a shot, but we didn't think they would complete them that far for touchdown. I think our confidence was high. You know, even after they kicked the field goal after halftime. You know, we felt like we'd been in that position before. And, you know, it just slipped away from that point and got out of hand.
Q. Did the running backs wear the defense down, also the lack of rushing yards from LSU?
KYLE WILLIAMS: No, I don't think so. We knew that they were going to play all those guys and all those guys play well. You know, I don't think it wore us down. I just think they made good runs. Physical runners, got behind their pads. We knew that they were gonna do that. You know, we were prepared to do it. We just had times we weren't able to stop it.
ANDREW WHITWORTH: Yeah, I think, you know, as far as the rush part, we definitely put a burden on the defense. I think we've done that in a couple big games, that we haven't run the ball as well as we'd like. You know, same thing as the miscues and the penalties. Eventually it's gonna bite us. We got to be better for the defense and better for ourselves as a team.
Q. Kyle, I know you're considered one of the real leaders of this team. How much did you miss Jessie?
KYLE WILLIAMS: I think we missed him a good bit. I think when you have a guy who's experienced as he is back there, you know, kind of directing traffic for our guys, you know, could have made a difference in those two long plays; you never know. But the guys who were playing back there, they were prepared. They knew what to do. You just never know how it turns out if our number one guy is in there. I think it hurt a little bit. You know, he can direct traffic for us pretty well. You know, it's just, you know, would have, could have, should have. But those guys who were in there were prepared to play. Georgia just made good plays on the ball.
MIKE NEMETH: Any other questions for the student-athletes?
Q. Andrew, can you just discuss the struggles you guys had mounting a rushing game?
ANDREW WHITWORTH: You know, I think it was something that we were confident about coming in the game. I thought we had a good plan and, you know, all of us believed in the plan but didn't execute it. You know, didn't finish it off. Big key we talked about is finishing things. It didn't seem to happen for us tonight. You know, like I said, it's something, until we watch the film and get a chance to correct things, we don't really know. All we know is that we've got to be able to run the ball better and get some pressure off the defense at times and just execute overall, period.
Q. Kyle, you have any idea what Bowl you might go to? Have you heard any of that? I know you hadn't focused on it.
KYLE WILLIAMS: I have no idea. I have no idea.
Q. For both of you, I guess along those lines, it's going to be a long three weeks until you actually do play that Bowl game. Talk about letting this one sit in and soak in and moving on.
ANDREW WHITWORTH: I think it's key. I think it's key to get in there and correct it and move on and know that that's not the way LSU is going to play and to show how LSU plays football and how we want to be represented and seen. You know, when you see our helmet, what you know about us. I think it's going to be key for the guys to get some rest and, you know, get ready, get their mind focused for this next game and let's finish out this season and show the team that we should have been tonight and that we meant to be.
KYLE WILLIAMS: I just think that it's tough because it's not a normal week when we can turn around and play another football game. It's something that's going to sit in there for a while. So during Bowl practice, I think we definitely need to come out and step it up in Bowl practice and come out in the Bowl and play well, you know, for the pride of our football team, you know, because it is very disappointing tonight.
MIKE NEMETH: Thank you, Andrew. Thank you, Kyle. Appreciate it. Coach, if you would, go ahead and give us your thoughts on the game.
COACH LES MILES: First of all, I'd like to congratulate Georgia, the SEC champions. They certainly deserve the championship. Our start was not what we wanted. I agree and echo the sentiments of our players. Any time that you come into a championship game, you certainly want to play your best. None of us expected the way this one turned out, but the opening kick-off, fumbled, they get it. Our first drive, our first play, we get sacked. We operated and they operated with a short field. We turned it over to a pass interception to start. They had a long pass, and it's 14-0 so fast. We never got into the rhythm offensively that we needed to. We sustained some injury, but that's not -- that's certainly not the reason offensively we didn't play well. We should run the football better than we did. I think that we probably ran the football fairly efficiently; we just didn't get into a position where we could use those rushes to our advantage.
Defensively, except for some big plays, I thought the defense would have played well all night. I think they wanted to -- they needed to stop the run a little bit better. But they bled yards against our defense, which is not common. And then in special teams, the battle between the punt returners really didn't show, but they get a big block, it leads to a touchdown on a punt, which is, again, uncharacteristic of us. So we didn't play our best. This football team certainly did achieve West Division championship. Started the season in a very difficult situation, and each scenario changed with each week. I'm probably saddest for our 21 seniors who are quality men, who have moxie and toughness and care about their school, and it's sad for them. They certainly didn't come into this game to finish second, or to play as poorly as we did as a team.
I think individually, I think you can look at some of the play of some of our key players and understand that they did, in fact, come to play. Again, this team achieves. We didn't get the championship that we wanted, but it's been a darn good year and I'm proud of this football team. I'm proud of the guys that we were fortunate enough to coach.
So any questions?
Q. Coach, it appeared the two long touchdowns early were blown coverages. What was supposed to happen on those two plays?
COACH LES MILES: Well, the first one certainly was man coverage, and, you know, we were -- the corner just misplayed the ball and misplayed the route and was wide open. It was a like scenario with the second one.
Q. Coach, neither one of your lines, offense nor defense, really had their best game tonight. You said you weren't expecting that. Were they just out-toughed, physical?
COACH LES MILES: The first play, for instance, the sack on JaMarcus, he steps up, we may get that ball off. It put us in a hole. Just never seemed that we were operating in a normal distance. And penalties also. Penalties just keep snapping us, and we get something going and, you know, guys you would never think come up with penalties. I think the officiating overall was fair. I took exception to two calls, I promise. But we can't have penalties. One drive was sustained by penalties, and if you look at, you know, early, early going, two long passes, a blocked punt and a drive sustained by penalties, I mean, you can't do that in a good game, against a good team. Well, you know, the tough thing is, it's three weeks until we play again. I firmly believe that our football team will really want to play well in the Bowl game. I can't imagine that we won't want to correct some of these mistakes and play like we play, like the LSU football team that has played all year long to get to this game.
So it's a bad taste in our mouth certainly, but I think we'll look forward to the opportunity to play like we're used to playing next month.
Q. Could you just talk about your thinking and Skip's thinking of flying to Dallas to talk to the Cotton Bowl people Thursday.
COACH LES MILES: You know, it's -- Thursday night is my night off, and I know those people, I've played there -- was there with another club and felt like rather than get to bed early, I might accompany him along those lines with the idea that this is a great team. My question, whether or not I would go, is based on the fact that I had 21 seniors that deserve a great Bowl experience, a great group of guys. So I took the night away from my family and went. I certainly don't regret spending time for my football team. Until which time, championship game, the players -- the two teams that play are protected by a Bowl, a spot. Until that happens, I think you'll find that coaches, athletic directors, administrators, the like, when you have a great football team, senior-laden football team, they deserve a great Bowl experience. I promise you I'll do it again. Had nothing to do with game plan, had nothing to do with expectations of this football game. We certainly came in here with the idea that we would win.
Q. Can you talk about the performance Georgia had. Was that you all or was that more of them?
COACH LES MILES: I think they played well. I think they came in and played the game they were supposed to play. Shockley had a nice night, run and throw, really functions the offense well, very comfortable, cool guy under the heat. Run the football well with, you know -- they bled yards in there. I think their offensive line played well against a quality LSU defensive front. Their defense was always stingy. It was stingy tonight. Their teams came off the corner and got us. It was a pretty relatively simple assignment that cost the blocked punt. But they deserved to win, certainly.
Q. Coach, couple of questions. After your first season in the SEC, how do you evaluate it against what you were expecting? And, second, what is the extent of Russell's injury?
COACH LES MILES: The SEC, you know, from top to bottom, in my opinion, is the most competitive, most athletic league that I've been at, been through. I can tell you that our better teams in the SEC would compare and play with any teams in the country. I feel very comfortable there. The extent of Russell's injury, it's a left shoulder. I don't know to what extent it will keep him out, but certainly it's something that we're concerned about and we'll have to look into very quickly.
Q. How disappointed will you be if you don't get to go to that Cotton Bowl?
COACH LES MILES: You know what, it's a scenario that -- it's an "if come." At this point, I'm disappointed with this game. This football team will look forward to playing in the next contest, wherever that contest is.
Q. You mentioned JaMarcus. Could you just tell us about the other injuries sustained in the game, what you would know about them.
COACH LES MILES: Well, I think Early has got an ankle. He came out early on. Jessie Daniels got hurt last week, you know, after the game at Arkansas. We expect him to be back really when we start practice. I don't think there's -- I think Will Arnold will be back. I think the health of our team, you know, with exceptions probably would return for the Bowl game.
MIKE NEMETH: Coach, thank you very much.
COACH MARK RICHT, D.J. SHOCKLEY, SEAN BAILEY & QUENTIN MOSES
MIKE NEMETH: We'll start with the student athletes with a short review of the game, and then we'll open it to questions. D.J., if you would, get us started.
D.J. SHOCKLEY: Just, I guess, the biggest thing I feel right now is excitement, and thrilled for the chance to be a part of this team. Especially the chance to play well, help my team win.
At the start of the game, we wanted to start fast and use our momentum to gain on that. I think it kind of carried over throughout the whole game. Our defense picked up and, you know, played extremely well.
I think that was pretty much really the key to the whole game, our defense stopping their offense.
SEAN BAILEY: I think all season we've had great leadership from our seniors, and we wanted to come out and play for them, win them a championship. People like D.J., who sat back in the wings, it's their moment to shine. We wanted to make sure they go out on top. They led us great. They put us in great situations, and we made the best of them.
QUENTIN MOSES: Yes, I have to agree with Sean. Speaking from an underclassman perspective, we come out here and we fight with these seniors. They lead us all season. You establish relationships with them so strong, you grow to love them.
You know, just to see somebody like Shock and Kedric Golston, and all those guys, you know, fight so hard for all those years, and to be able to help them leave with an SEC Championship, it's a wonderful feeling. You feel good for yourself, but you also feel good for guys like that who worked so hard and who are such magnificent leaders.
Q. D.J., talk about the two quick touchdown passes. Do you feel it put LSU back on its heels?
D.J. SHOCKLEY: The first touchdown pass to Sean was just a straight go route. You
know, Sean made a good move off the line. Really man to man coverage. With our receivers, you know, we tell them when we have man coverage and the ball's in the air, you know, they should come down with it.
You know, Sean made a, like I said, he made a great move off the line. He kind of ran by the guy and, you know, the rest of it was pretty easy for me. Just lay out there and he made the play.
The second play was something that we seen on film where, you know, they're kind of their defensive backs, they kind of knew some of our routes, they knew what we were doing. It was just simple. We ran an in route, out route by one of the inside guys. He jumped it. Sean was over the top for another touchdown.
Q. D.J., describe your touchdown that you made going around the left side there. It looked like it was going to be a play that developed to the right side. You took it the other way.
D.J. SHOCKLEY: Yeah, it was. It was a play actually to the right side. We had some crossing routes and a flag route. Some of the stuff going to the right side.
When I came off, everything seemed kind of jumbled up. There was a lot of stuff going on over there. One of the biggest thing Coach Richt always tells me, don't force anything, don't turn a bad play into a catastrophe. That's one thing that I was thinking at that moment.
I guess when things like that happen, your instincts take over. I just figured I need to make a play, and I took off.
Q. D.J., back to that second touchdown, how important was the pump on that TD? Did you see that on film, that the opportunity would be there one way or the other?
D.J. SHOCKLEY: Yeah, it was more of a check kind of. We knew if there was a soft corner, we would give the pump. A lot of times when we do check plays, a lot of our plays are quick game and stuff that happens real fast. We knew if we had a soft corner and I gave a pump, he would probably go for the pump and try to go for the interception or the big play.
You know, just film work. We seen a lot of stuff on film, and we figured it would work.
Q. D.J., how does it feel to be part of a group of seniors that are going to close out their careers four 10 plus win seasons in a row, second time in school history that's happened? Second SEC Championship. I think what's neatest probably for you guys is to see the seniors make big plays tonight. Jennings, McClendon, you, Minter. The whole team played great, but the seniors really, really made plays tonight.
D.J. SHOCKLEY: Yeah, you know, our coaches do a good job of preparing us each week. We have a great group of seniors on our team, you know, including myself and a lot of other guys, like you said, Jennings and McClendon. Guys just making plays.
Coach Richt always tells the seniors, Don't let them think down on your clock. That was the biggest thing, that we came into this year and also this game, you know, want to just keep a couple streaks going. Just go out and make plays and lead the team.
With us having so many seniors, we knew, you know, this team would follow the seniors and our leadership.
Q. Coach, defensively this week in practice, how much did you work on not getting beat by the long ball?
MIKE NEMETH: We're asking student athlete questions right now. We'll get to Coach Richt in a second.
COACH MARK RICHT: Sorry. I wasn't even listening (smiling).
Q. Can you talk about making the most of your one year as a starter. You're one point from being undefeated as a starter.
D.J. SHOCKLEY: You know, coming into the year, you think about just wanting to play good, you think about wanting to be successful. I think it all goes back to the people I have around me. I have a lot of great guys, a lot of great teammates around me, a lot of people around me who are making a lot of plays. It kind of takes a lot off of me when I go out and play when I have guys around me I know are going to make great plays.
You look at our defense. Our defense really kept us in a lot of games this year. They played extremely well. I think that's what makes especially a good offense, is a good defense that can control a team's offense.
Just from a personal standpoint, I came into the year not really wanting to let my teammates down. There was a lot of different kind of hype about, you know, could I get it done or, you know, if I could or not. But the bottom line was I just wanted to come out and play as well as I could all year long and not really let my teammates down and make sure they know that I'm always there for them.
Q. Sean, can you talk about what this year's been like for you. You had the two big touchdown catches in the Boise State game. Then some tough breaks and some tough drops for you. But to come back like this when you heard all year that other receivers should be getting more of a chance, can you talk about what this means for you tonight, to top it off like this?
SEAN BAILEY: Yeah, I'm just thankful for all the support I'm receiving from my teammates, my coaches, my parents. They've always taught me to just trust in the Lord and things will work their way out.
You just go out there just knowing that you're gonna catch a break sooner or later if you just keep working to fix the mistakes. Tonight was a night that I caught some breaks and made some big plays.
Q. For Quentin, can you talk about your first defensive series, your first play, you sacked Russell. It seemed to send a message to him. He seemed pretty rattled the rest of the night.
QUENTIN MOSES: Well, you know, once again, what that play was, senior leadership again. We came out, you know, you go out there not really knowing what to expect. You know, nervous, jittery.
We were talking, just set the tempo early on. They was talking, you know, the seniors him, Kedric, Gerald, Blue they were talking about how we had to go out, get the job done.
For Will to come up first series, first drive, first play, and make a big time play like that, it pretty much set the tempo and established the way for the rest of the game.
Q. D.J., when things were difficult for you and you weren't getting on the field and thought about leaving, how much was a night like tonight in the back of your mind?
D.J. SHOCKLEY: You know, just tonight was a true test of, you know, what Georgia meant to me. Over the last three, four years, there's always that frustration because you want to play more. Any kind of competitor always wants to play.
But, you know, just being at the University of Georgia, with all my teammates and, you know, just loving the environment, you know, always had great coaches around me, always been honest with me, you know, never shoot me any kind of other way.
But, you know, just this whole year has been, you know, reassuring that, you know, I did the right thing by staying here and persevering through all the hard times. You know, I wouldn't trade anything in the world for, you know, what we did this year.
COACH MARK RICHT: I was hoping you could say that (smiling).
MIKE NEMETH: All right, Coach, if you would, just a short review on the game.
COACH MARK RICHT: Okay. What can I say other than I'm just excited as I could be? I'm very thankful for what happened tonight, in this season. I'm so proud of the seniors especially. Guys like D.J. make this coaching business worthwhile. Guys like Kedric Golston and Joel Anderson and McClendon, all of them, Will Thompson. Just the whole senior group.
I asked them early in the year to take control of the team. I convinced them, I think. I tried to convince them that they would follow this group if they led in the right way. Throughout mad drills, spring ball, off season, two a days, even the two game losing streak, maybe especially the two game losing streak, you talk about how strong your leadership when you go up against adversity and how are you going to handle it when things don't go your way, and they handled it beautifully. There was never a time I felt like we needed to call the group together, the team together and try to regroup.
They never seemed to have a time when things began to fray or fall apart. It's because of the seniors and the great job they did. Just real happy for them.
MIKE NEMETH: Questions.
Q. Mark, where do you go next for your next offensive coordinator?
COACH MARK RICHT: (Laughing). I know I need help but, you know, you can't please everybody all the time.
But I'm sure there's a lot more a lot of people out there that can do a better job than I can, but I'm just thankful things went well tonight.
Q. This was not an easy win, but were you surprised that you dominated LSU so much?
COACH MARK RICHT: I don't think we dominated them. I think maybe the score, you know, was a big margin, but we made plays, we made a few big plays. The first two touchdowns were big plays. The blocked punt, a big play. Momentum getters.
Statistically, I don't think we dominated them at all. We just made the big plays when they needed to be made. We grabbed the momentum, and we were able to hold on to it.
Q. After last season, everybody was talking about the big losses you had, SEC caliber players. Now you're going to have a lot of losses from this team. Do you think you have the players coming back to sustain this and keep this growing?
COACH MARK RICHT: I don't know. Of the two seasons we're talking about, this season to me would be the one to have a little bit more concern about what next year would bring. We did have some marquee names, you know, Pollack, Greene, Brown, Gibson, Davis, you know, Thomas Davis, Thurman. Those kind of names catch everybody's attention and they caught attention for a long time at Georgia.
And when you lose them, people wonder how in the world are you going to be able to replace them. But I knew we had a lot of strong seniors. I knew we had leadership up front on both sides of the ball. I knew our defensive back field, we had three senior starters. I knew I was I was very confident that D.J. Shockley was going to play well. I never doubted that he'd play well. I just didn't know if he'd stay healthy, you know, the whole season. I didn't know if he would try to do more than he should do. Beginning of the year, I said, "Just respect the ball and just play your game. If you don't throw the ball up for grabs or if you don't fumble the ball when you get hit, if you just take care of that football, you're going to have a good year. Then if you get hot, you might have a great year." I'm thankful of that.
I don't know what next year brings. I want to celebrate this now. But we still have a few pretty good seniors coming back next year.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about being picked third in preseason, even after coming off three straight years of Top 10 finishes. Does this feel like a little more respect for the program of the team, or doesn't that matter?
COACH MARK RICHT: Oh, I don't know. I didn't worry too much about it. I just had to look within our team and what I thought we had. All I said before the season was I thought we had as good a chance this season as any other season since I been to Georgia. I wasn't predicting that we'd win the SEC at all. I said if we win enough close games, then we might find ourselves back in the championship game.
But I did I believed we had the makings of a pretty good team.
Q. In this area of me first athletes, what does it say about D.J. Shockley, that he would stay behind David Green that long and persevere, and what did you do to guide him along?
COACH MARK RICHT: Well, D.J., I'm just really thrilled for D.J. He's a kid I've known a long time. I knew him when he was just a little whipper snapper. I think he was an eighth or ninth grader in a football camp at Florida State. I spent a lot of time with his father talking ball, over the years when I was at Florida State. Then of course the first guy that committed to Georgia after I became head coach was D.J. Shockley. I didn't know who David Green was. I mean, I didn't know he was going to be a pretty good ballplayer. I really believed D.J. was going to be the guy.
But I didn't foresee what was going happen. But the main thing and he mentioned it a little bit. We've always had a real straight up relationship. We were never going to try to feed him some kind of baloney, even when he was thinking about leaving. We just talked about the pros and cons of it. I did tell him, you know, I said, "I really believe in the end you'll leave this place with a big smile on your face, you know."
I hoped for that. I prayed for that. And it worked out great for him. I mean, I am happy for him because he's a you know, he knows he grew as a man. When things don't go your it's hard to grow in character and mature as a man if everything goes your way. When things don't go your way, how are you going to handle them? And he handled adversity very, very well.
By the way, David Green did a pretty good job of not letting that controversy become divisive on that team. There's the relationship that they had that kept us from breaking apart, because everybody wanted to make a big deal about it but they wouldn't let it happen.
I know it's a long answer, but I just think that D.J. is he needs to be commended because he is a loyal man, he's a man of character, he understands that the whole world doesn't revolve around him, and I'm just glad he was blessed by staying; I really am. I'm just really thankful.
Q. Were you surprised by the special teams in this game? LSU wasn't quite as productive as expected. Georgia had the blocked punt for Marcus Browne's returns.
COACH MARK RICHT: They were a very special football team. They statistically were as good as anybody in the league. We knew it was going to be a great challenge. We knew that was going to be one of the biggest challenges of the game, was to try to win the special teams area.
It took everybody, really, but that blocked punt certainly became a big momentum getter. We get Marcus Browne in there, you know, we let him return kicks and be the guy to go in there and make that play. I was just really pleased for him.
But Jon Fabris, in my opinion, the best special teams coach I've ever seen. Probably one of the best, if not the best, in America.
But Dave Johnson did a beautiful job. Kirby Smart did a good job. All of our coaches that were involved in the special teams did a great job. And our players were geeked up to get it done.
We work hard and long on those special teams, and it paid off.
Q. What was the last thing you said to those guys before they came out on the field, the last official go get 'em?
COACH MARK RICHT: The last thing I said was make sure they know we're here tonight. I said, "Make sure they know we're here."
The first kick, the first series either side of the ball, just let them know we're here, meaning just play physical. Play physical.
Q. Do you feel like they did that?
COACH MARK RICHT: I think so. I think they did. I don't think we out physicaled LSU by any means. I think we at least got after it, and that's what I was hoping for.
Q. Two questions. First, can you talk about the running game. Throughout your season, you're not necessarily flashy with your stats, but you seem to move the chains and that was the case tonight. Then also, your seniors that have led you all season, can you talk about what kind of residual win like this and their performance leading you all season could do for the program for you in the years to come.
COACH MARK RICHT: Right. Well, as far as running the ball, we do want to be a balanced football team. We want to be able to run the ball well enough if they're lining up to double wide receivers and things of that nature, we have to run the ball well.
But, you know, we're not going to run the ball no matter what. We want to try to play the percentages. If they out number us in the running game, we want to throw it well; we want to have balance.
But today especially I was pleased with our line's ability to provide time and space time for the quarterback and space for the runners. Again, it was not a dominating performance by any means, but it was enough to control clock and, like you said, keep the chains moving and make our play action pass legitimate.
Q. What does it say about the team when they play their best game last, especially when it's for a championship?
COACH MARK RICHT: Oh, I'm excited for them. It's great. It's great. It's not the last game, of course. It's the last game of SEC play, and it certainly was the one that was most important to play well at. I don't know. I'm just proud of them, and I'm just thankful to be in this position they were in.
I don't know what it means for the future. This league is very, very competitive, and one year can make a huge difference one way or the other. So we're not going to sit here and start tooting our horn about anything. We're just thankful we got things done this year. Next year's a whole new season and we'll have to start from ground zero again.
Q. The secondary came out strong from the beginning. How important was Tim?
COACH MARK RICHT: Oh, yeah, our seniors, senior corners especially played so well. Greg Blue still made some big hits. Even some hits that the fans wouldn't see as being big. Finishing off some runners, he let them know he was there, that's for sure, and Greg has always done that.
Again, when seniors play the best of their career when it counts the most, then that's true leadership, and you just can't say enough about the job they did.
Q. I know sometimes these things are a little hard to quantify, but over the last few years you've taken a Georgia program, which was always considered to be a very good program, to a championship level. How have you guys done this?
COACH MARK RICHT: I don't know. I think the main thing is that we work very hard. We don't think there's any shortcuts to victory. We think that hard work and diligence and creating good habits in practice and in our lives, you know. I'm hoping that our goal, really and truly, my goal is to help these men, these young guys grow into good men. That's really what I'm after. That's what's most important to me.
We feel like if we build a good man, then we're probably going to build a good team, because good men are unselfish. Good men understand what work is. Good men take care of their responsibilities. So we're trying to build these guys up as people, and then we just figure that will just bleed over into how they play.
Q. Can you talk about Sean Bailey and kind of the up and down year he's had, then the night he had tonight.
COACH MARK RICHT: It was big. We were close to at least not making him the starter. We didn't lose faith in him at all. But sometimes you need to change the lineup a little bit to get things going. We actually got close to playing someone else as a starter ahead of him. I'm glad we didn't.
Guys make mistakes. Guys drop balls. Things happen the way you don't want them to. Even Marcus Browne, he takes the first kick and fumbles it. He got on it, thankfully. I didn't feel it was time to yank this kid out of the game at that moment. We just want to let the guys know we believe in them and hopefully they'll come through. Then once they get over the hump, then they really become productive for you.
Q. You had two long passes from D.J. to Bailey. Did you see something early on with LSU that you could hit them early? Second question, how excited are you about a Sugar Bowl playing West Virginia?
COACH MARK RICHT: Right, the first play was actually a slant and go. We faked away from the corner. We felt like if the ball was being faked away most time when we fake away, we throw away. But we faked to the right and then turned back and threw the ball down field. We were hoping to accomplish two things: One, get the safety, if it was a deep mental responsibility to get him to cheat more to the right, so when we threw it back he wouldn't be a factor. And then we were hoping the double move would get the corner back off balance a little bit. The second one was one we were going to audible, two what looked like the quick game, and it really was a quick game play, but we were hoping that once they saw us checking and signaling, that they were going to try to jump a quick route. We have a route where we run the outside guy on a take off and the inside guy to a speed out, and their corners tend to look inside, when they play soft we knew they would look inside and see what the corner back was doing.
So we went back and then we pumped it as if we were going to hit the inside receiver. So the corner came to drill, basically, or even get the pick. Then Sean just ran right by them. Thankfully Shockley kept it in bounds. It looked like he just about threw it out of bounds.
We were hoping that's what would happen. It's hard. Teams are so well coached. They know your signals. They know what you're trying to accomplish. We were just hoping we'd give the illusion we were going to throw short and then see if they would jump, and they did.
I forgot the second part, being excited about the Sugar Bowl. Yeah, we're excited. But this is what it's all about right now. We'll think about the Sugar Bowl later.
Q. How does the emotion of this game compare to 2002? How does the feeling of accomplishment compare to it?
COACH MARK RICHT: I think the emotion was very much the same, very much the same. We grabbed momentum early in both games. We played with a lot of energy. Defensively, they just looked as fast as they did in 2002. I just felt like we played fast, you know, in 2002. I saw the same thing.
Again, what we knew is we really believed that I mean, I played not played, but I've coached in enough championship games to know that good things or bad things really get accentuated. It just seems like it's a bigger deal than it really is. And when you grab momentum, it's probably bigger than any other game when you know you're playing for a championship.
And if something bad happens to you, it's so hard to believe that the sky's not falling. So we just tried so hard to get the momentum early, so we took some shots in order to try to get that done, and, thankfully, we hit them.
MIKE NEMETH: Coach, thank you so much. We appreciate it.
COACH MARK RICHT: Okay. Thank you.