ATLANTA -- LSU is moving on to college football's national championship game, while Georgia is still trying to get the license number of that second-half steamroller.
The No. 12 Bulldogs dominated the No. 1 Tigers during the early stages of Saturday's Southeastern Conference title game at the Georgia Dome, but LSU broke loose for 35 points after halftime in applying a 42-10 flattening. By improving to 13-0, the Tigers cemented a spot in the Jan. 9 BCS championship game in New Orleans, where they won national crowns in 2003 and '07.
"I guess we just lost our focus coming out of the locker room at halftime," Georgia cornerback Sanders Commings said. "A lot of times their offense had a short field, and it was tough for us to play like that on defense. They got too many plays on special teams, and we just didn't play in the second half.
"I definitely don't think the score was a reflection of the game."
Saturday's title game was the 20th in league history and drew a sold-out crowd of 74,515.
Georgia took a quick 10-0 lead on a Blair Walsh field goal and a 12-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Murray to tight end Aron White. The Bulldogs surprised LSU with an early onside kick and held the Tigers to 11 yards through the first quarter.
It was more of the same for Georgia's defense in the second quarter, as LSU managed 1 yard, but the Tigers did get within 10-7 on Tyrann Mathieu's 62-yard punt return for a touchdown. Mathieu added a fumble recovery and a 47-yard punt return in the second half to run away with game MVP honors.
"When you play as hard as he does, good things do happen to you," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "I'll be honest with you, I enjoy watching the guy play football other than when he plays against us, because when you do see a guy like that, you can appreciate it."
Said Mathieu: "Obviously we got off to a slow start, so I just felt that I needed to change the momentum of the game."
LSU seized control three plays into the third quarter, when Mathieu recovered a Murray fumble that had been caused by Michael Brockers at Georgia's 26-yard line. The Tigers picked up their initial first down on a pass from Jordan Jefferson to Rueben Randle and then capped a two-play drive with Kenny Hilliard's 15-yard touchdown run that made it 14-10.
Hilliard scored two more touchdowns in the third quarter, and the rout was on.
"We played lights out in the first half, and we've got to use this as a learning experience," Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. "When you give a good team opportunities, that happens."
Georgia had an opportunity to build much more than a 10-0 lead. Tavarres King had a pass go through his hands on Georgia's first possession, when the Bulldogs had to settle for a field goal, and Mitchell was alone inside the LSU 5-yard line when he bobbled and dropped the ball.
Walsh followed Mitchell's gaffe by missing a 45-yard field goal.
"We had several opportunities to go up big in the first half, and that's on us wideouts," King said. "The lighting is different here at the Dome, but it's our job is to know where the ball is at all times."
Said Mitchell: "I tried to run before I caught the ball. Rule number one is focus on the ball and make the catch."
Alfred Blue wound up leading LSU rushers with eight carries for 94 yards and had a 48-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter. Hilliard added 72 on eight, and Jefferson wound up completing just five passes for 30 yards and a touchdown.
The Bulldogs, who were making their first SEC title-game appearance in six years, are now 2-2 in the event.
"We'll be back in this game," Richt said. "We may play in it next year."
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...