The Rivalry that Wasn’t

Georgia and LSU have met infrequently through the years. Although they don’t bring a lot of history when they meet, they’ll bring plenty of wood

Georgia and LSU are like the Odd Couple. Although they occupy the same space in the Southeastern Conference, they don’t have much in common.

If Georgia is the fussy Felix, LSU is the slovenly Oscar. One program’s fan base loves funnel cake and boudin balls, while the other wears visors and listens to R.E.M. One is in the SEC East, one is in the SEC West. Nearly 600 miles of blacktop and two states, Alabama and Mississippi, separate the two campuses. One team’s head coach was raised in the Louisiana bayou and the other grew up in the wiregrass of south Georgia.

Tailback Keith Marshall (4) eludes the LSU defense in the 2013 game | Photo by Philip Williams – courtesy UGA Athletics

Although the two teams were both original members of the Southeastern Conference, they have met only 30 times on the field with LSU leading the series 16-13-1.

But perhaps there are more ties between the two schools than one would think.

Who doesn’t recall the 1928 gridlock in Athens? You know, when LSU head coach Russ Cohen, a—you guessed it—Georgia native, marched his team into his home state and snatched out a 13-12 victory from the grip of UGA and their coach, Harry Mehre?

Then in 1959, as freelance writer Loran Smith aptly pointed out in a recent piece, Tennessee stopped LSU’s Heisman Trophy winner, Billy Cannon, on a two-point conversion at Shields-Watkins Field in Knoxville, opening the door for Georgia and quarterback Fran Tarkenton to claim an SEC title that year.

Photo by John Kelley – courtesy UGA Athletics

What about the connection Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has to LSU? Smart was defensive backs coach at LSU in 2004, the same year Georgia manhandled the Tigers, 45-16 in Athens (Smart probably still has nightmares of Bulldog quarterback David Greene, who threw five touchdowns on the day). Smart also traveled to Baton Rouge in 1998, that time as a player at Georgia for head coach Jim Donnan. In his press conference on Monday, Smart recalled the performance and pageantry of that 28-27 Bulldogs win: “Quincy (Carter) and Champ (Bailey) both playing well, and great atmosphere, incredible atmosphere.”

In addition to 1959, Georgia and LSU have factored into the Southeastern Conference race in several instances across the years. In 1986, the Dawgs secured a late-season win over Auburn to help LSU and head coach Bill Arnsparger take home an SEC title.

On three occasions the Tigers and Bulldogs have played in the SEC Championship Game—2003, 2005, and 2011—which is the second-most frequent matchup behind Alabama and Florida. In 2003, the teams liked playing each other so much they met twice, once in Tiger Stadium during the regular season and once in the Georgia Dome for the SEC title. In both instances, LSU, coached by Nick Saban, came away with the victory.

But perhaps the greatest game between the two schools was in 1987, when Mike Archer led the No. 6 Tigers into Sanford Stadium in Athens to face No. 15 Georgia, coached by SEC legend Vince Dooley. Georgia featured running backs Lars Tate and Rodney Hampton, while LSU brought quarterback Tommy Hodson and LB Eric Hill to town. The Bulldogs led 23-19 with less than 6 minutes to go in the game, but Hodson picked the Georgia defense apart with a series of short throws. With 3:56 remaining, Hodson scrambled out of play action and found tight end Brian Kinchen in the end zone. LSU, now leading 26-23, seemed to be bending as the Bulldogs drove down to the Tigers 31 yard line, but the Tigers’ Kevin Guidry came up with an interception with 1:02 remaining to seal the win.

Now LSU and Georgia lock up for the first time since 2013. That year, the storyline for the game was not so much the Georgia quarterback but the former Georgia quarterback in his return to Athens. Zach Mettenberger, a native of Watkinsville, Ga., originally signed with Mark Richt and reported to the Georgia campus in the fall of 2010. But after an incident at a bar, Mettenberger was dismissed from the team. He eventually landed at LSU, where he was installed as the starting QB for head coach Les Miles. Against his former team, Mettenberger threw for 372 yards on 23 of 37 passing, but it was not enough. Bulldog quarterback Aaron Murray threw for four touchdowns, including the game-winning score to Justin Scott-Wesley with 1:47 left to play to secure the 44-41 win. “We all know your quarterback has to play well to win a game like this,” Richt said. “Aaron was phenomenal, gutsy, tremendous.”

The game also featured Georgia running back Todd Gurley and LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., now NFL superstars.

Linebacker Jordan Jenkins (59) disrupts a pass by Zach Mettenberger – Photo by Radi Nabulsi – courtesy UGA Athletics

My, how things have changed in both Athens and Baton Rouge in five short years. Richt is at the University of Miami and Les Miles is making beer commercials for Dos Equis.

One thing these two teams do have in common is adoration for defense. This year, don’t be surprised if the game is a low-scoring affair, as both Georgia and LSU will rely on strong defense in this bayou brawl. LSU linebacker Devin White is an absolute beast, and Georgia counters on the edge with CBs Deandre Baker and Richard Lecounte. Georgia is seventh in total defense (283 yards per game) and LSU is 34th (343 yards per game).

LSU head coach Ed Orgeron will be looking for headier play from his quarterback, Joe Burrow, who threw two inopportune picks in the Tigers’ 27-19 loss to Florida last week. Though Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm is only a sophomore, his big-game experience makes him seem like an old veteran. He’ll be tested again Saturday.

So Georgia and LSU, the Odd Couple, have plenty of reasons for this to be a more intense rivalry than it is, right?

Nah. These teams may live together in the same conference, but they don’t hate each other like other teams do. H&A

Kickoff for Georgia versus LSU is 2:30 p.m. CDT on CBS

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All photos courtesy University of Georgia Athletics 

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