ATLANTA -- At halftime of Saturday evening's Southeastern Conference championship football game, the No. 1 team in the country had at exactly zero first downs. It had failed to reach midfield on offense even once. It had surrendered 10 points to Georgia.
Just thought you'd like to know that LSU's eventual 42-10 victory over the Bulldogs really was in doubt for a time.
"I knew our defense would come through," said Tigers boss Les Miles after his 13th win of a long season assured the undefeated Bayou Bengals of a spot in the BCS title game in New Orleans on Jan. 9, 2012. "I knew our offense would get going, too. This team, never are they out of it."
Now everybody would seem to be out of the BCS title game except LSU, Alabama and possibly Oklahoma State. The Tigers already beat Alabama in overtime.
"If [Alabama is] who we play, that's who we play," said defensive back Morris Claiborne, who returned an interception for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter for LSU's final points. "We've just worked so hard all year for this chance. Who knows? Maybe it will be Oklahoma State."
Of course, that won't be official until sometime this evening, when the BCS bowl pairings will be announced.
But as a top-ranked, unbeaten team, the Tigers are a lock for one of the two spots.
"We saw what -- or at least we lived out a lot of things that other people have been living out playing those guys, their ability to get stronger," said Bulldogs boss Mark Richt, whose team saw a 10-0 lead that could have been larger done in by a Tyrann Mathieu punt return late in the second period.
The Tigers outscored his team 35-zip in the final half.
"They are a championship football team," Richt said. "I'm sure they'll do well in the last game."
But they didn't do well early. The Tigers got down 10-0 and it could have been much worse if both Malcolm Mitchell and Tavarres King hadn't dropped perfectly thrown touchdown passes from UGA quarterback Aaron Murray.
"Probably could have had 21 points in the first half if we just catch the football," Richt noted.
But the Dogs didn't. And failing that, they soon watched LSU catch fire as only LSU can. Much as the Tigers put 21 on Arkansas last week before you could say, "Down on the Bayou," they obliterated UGA's 10-7 halftime lead in less than five minutes, going up 21-10 on two Kenny Hilliard touchdown runs.
It was all over but the confetti falling from the Dome ceiling, but both teams had to stick around for another hour or so as LSU outgained the Bulldogs after the break, 225 to 161, much of that earned late.
In fact, when the fourth quarter began, Georgia down 28-10, you weren't sure if a few Bulldogs were holding up four fingers -- the universal collegiate football symbol used to show you intend to own the fourth quarter -- to fire up their fans or merely to hail a quick cab back to Athens, given the party LSU fans were sure to stage throughout the Big Peach as soon as the game ended.
And who could blame anyone for not wanting to spend another second on the field with these guys? They're starting to look like one of the best teams ever, right up there with the 1971 and '95 Nebraska Cornhuskers, Army in 1945, Alabama's 1979 unbeatens, Oklahoma in 1956 and Miami in 2001.
Heck, Mathieu's so good that the player known as the Honey Badger changed the game with his 62-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second period to put LSU on the board, then turned in what may have been a better return in the third, returning it 47 yards through a host of Bulldogs to set up LSU's second TD of the period.
Said Miles with his customary dry wit of that second return: "Seemed to be a few more than one guy he made miss."
Because of that, maybe a lot of us have missed the opportunity to cast a Heisman vote for the Honey Badger. Saturday was his fourth touchdown by either punt return or fumble recovery, and had he scored a second time, those 40-year-old replays of Nebraska's Johnny Rodgers winning the Heisman due to his punt return against Oklahoma would be a thing of the past.
Mathieu even sounds like someone worthy of the award, saying of his possible stroke-of-midnight campaign -- Heisman ballots are due by 5 p.m. Monday -- "I don't think I should be the judge of that."
So we'll turn that job over to his teammate Morris Claiborne, who said of the Honey Badger's game-changing punt returns against Arkansas and Georgia, "He's sparked us twice. He may have saved us twice. It doesn't get bigger than that."
Yet hype being what it is these days, the LSU student section began chanting, "We want Green Bay! We want Green Bay!" near the close of the Tigers' seventh 24-point SEC win or better in nine league games.
Said Claiborne of that desire to play the defending Super Bowl champs, "That's nice, but I'd say no. I like our chances better against the teams we play now."
Playing as they are now, so does everybody else. At least everybody else not named Alabama or maybe Oklahoma State.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...