Georgia’s surging running game to test LSU in SEC title game
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — A healthy Kenny McIntosh and strong play from the offensive line have No. 1 Georgia’s running game peaking just in time for the postseason.
The Bulldogs ran for more than 200 yards in each of their last two regular-season games, providing valuable momentum for Saturday’s Southeastern Conference championship game against No. 11 LSU in Atlanta.
The Tigers’ run defense will try to recover after giving up Devon Achane’s career-high 215 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s 38-23 loss to Texas A&M.
Georgia (12-0) led Georgia Tech only 10-7 at halftime last week before coach Kirby Smart called for a re-commitment to a physical running game. The Bulldogs answered the call by scoring on their first five possessions in the second half of a 37-14 win.
McIntosh and Kendall Milton ran for touchdowns as Georgia outrushed Georgia Tech 264-40. McIntosh posted game-high totals of 86 rushing yards and 91 receiving yards.
“When he flips the switch and really starts going, he’s got great vision and great hands,” said Smart of McIntosh. “He’s a weapon.”
After dealing with two deep thigh bruises this season, McIntosh looks strong for the postseason. That’s a good sign for Georgia’s hopes of defending its national championship.
“It’s my last year and I know what I want and I’ve been waiting all my life for this moment,” McIntosh said after the Georgia Tech game. “I want to take full advantage of this opportunity.”
Daijun Edwards, Milton and Branson Robinson shared the carries with McIntosh. The Bulldogs averaged 6.5 yards per carry against Georgia Tech, boosted by a 45-yard run by McIntosh and a 44-yard gain by Milton.
LSU linebacker Micah Baskerville said he expects Georgia to challenge the Tigers’ run defense, especially after last week’s poor showing.
“They have a good offensive line, good size,” Baskerville said. “I see that they’re physical. Our goal is to stop the run. We feel they’re going to come out and run it on us because of last week. That’s our challenge that we’re going to have to stop so it doesn’t happen back-to-back weeks.”
Georgia ran for 247 yards while passing for only 116 yards in a 16-6 win at Kentucky on Nov. 19.
Smart credits “the physicality at the line of scrimmage” for the late-season surge in the running game.
“I think the line of scrimmage is playing really well, they’re playing really physical,” Smart said.
Georgia has completed back-to-back undefeated regular seasons. The Bulldogs will try to snap a streak of three straight SEC championship game losses. They lost last year’s SEC title game to Alabama before winning the rematch in the national championship game.
Depth at running back and an efficient passing game provided balance to the offense. Stetson Bennett threw two touchdown passes on only 135 yards against Georgia Tech.
Georgia ranks No. 8 in the nation with 488 yards per game in total offense, including 203 on the ground.
“Those guys have played physical,” said Smart of the running backs. “The backs have done it by committee. That’s been helpful.”
LSU (9-3) ranks only 59th against the run, allowing 144 yards per game. Defensive end BJ Ojulari said the Tigers’ run defense must recover from last week’s “very disappointing” game against Texas A&M.
“We all know what the task at hand is,” Ojulari said. “We’re still going to have to go out to Atlanta and play our best game. We know our potential. We know how we can play and the level we can play at.”
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.