ATLANTA -- LSU will play for its third Southeastern Conference championship in five years Saturday as the third-ranked Tigers face No. 13 Georgia in Atlanta. Kickoff for the nationally-televised (CBS) game is set for 5:05 p.m. CST from the Georgia Dome.
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LSU (10-1, 7-1 SEC) has won nine straight contests, including a 19-17 victory over Arkansas last Friday that advanced the Tigers into the conference title game as Western Division champions for the third time since 2001. LSU won the SEC Championship Game in 2001 (31-20 over Tennessee) and in 2003 (34-13 over Georgia).
Georgia (9-2, 6-2 SEC) won its third Eastern Division title in four seasons, and the Bulldogs are seeking their second SEC championship this decade. Georgia captured the 2002 league title with a 30-3 victory over Arkansas.
First-year LSU coach Les Miles, who has directed the Tigers to the eighth 10-win season in school history, said his team has demonstrated great character and maturity in reaching the SEC title game. The start of LSU's season was disrupted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, yet the Tigers persevered to claim the division crown.
"I really feel like this team has achieved a lot considering the start of the season and the unusual nature around the state of Louisiana," Miles said. “We feel very fortunate to be in position to achieve a great majority of our goals and to be playing for a championship. I consider it a great pleasure to take this team on the road to meet a very quality opponent in Georgia. I think they are as talented of a team as we have seen."
Miles can become just the third coach in SEC history to win the conference title in his first year in the league. The only two coaches to accomplish the feat are Bernie Moore of LSU in 1935 and Johnny Vaught of Ole Miss in 1947.
LSU brings into Saturday's game a defense a defense that ranks among the nation's top five in four categories. The Tigers are No. 4 in scoring defense (13.5 ppg), No. 5 in total defense (278.7 ypg), No. 5 in rushing defense (90.8 ypg) and No. 5 in pass efficiency defense (95.1 rating).
The Tigers must contend with Georgia senior quarterback D.J. Shockley, who has completed 147 of 265 passes for 2,199 yards, 19 touchdowns and five interceptions. Shockley leads the SEC in pass efficiency, and he is a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.
"He's got a rocket for an arm," Miles said of Shockley. “He's got the ability to throw it long and accurately. He's got the ability to avoid the rush, run the ball and pick up some scramble yards. We need to make sure that we have containment, understand our rushing lanes, yet still pressure him."
The potent LSU offense is averaging 29.9 points and 378.6 yards per game. Quarterback JaMarcus Russell is No. 2 in the SEC in pass efficiency, having completed 176 of 291 passes for 2,315 yards, 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Russell has a 14-1 mark as the Tigers' starting signal-caller.
LSU tailbacks Joseph Addai (774 yards, eight TDs) and Justin Vincent (467 yards, five TDs) have combined to rush for 1,241 yards and 13 scores.
The Georgia defense ranks in the top 15 in the nation in three categories – the Bulldogs are No. 5 in scoring defense (14.6 ppg), No. 9 in passing defense (175.4 ypg) and No. 15 in total defense (303.9 ypg).
LSU leads the all-time series with Georgia, 14-10-1, and the teams will meet Saturday for the fourth time in the past three seasons. The Tigers defeated Georgia in the 2003 regular season (17-10) and in the '03 SEC Championship Game (34-13) before the Bulldogs posted a 45-16 win over LSU last season in Athens.
Miles said he expects the Tigers to perform at a higher level Saturday than they did in last week's narrow victory over Arkansas.
"I think our team wants to play their best football," Miles said. “The best time to do so would be this weekend. The most significant opportunity the team has at accomplishing their goals is on Saturday. I just want them to play better than they have played. I want them to be consistent. I want them to play all three phases. I want them to play for all four quarters. If we do that we will have done a lot to give ourselves the opportunity to win."