published Monday, September 23rd, 2013

LSU, Georgia seeking improvement after wins

LSU and Georgia posted double-digit victories this past weekend to remain nestled among the nation's top-10 teams, but the No. 6 Tigers and No. 9 Bulldogs are hardly without imperfections entering their showdown this week at Sanford Stadium.

The Tigers struck for two quick touchdowns Saturday night against visiting Auburn and led 21-0 at halftime, but they were lackluster for much of the third and fourth quarters before prevailing 35-21. Auburn had a first-and-goal in the final two minutes with a chance to get within a touchdown and an onside kick attempt.

"We have to finish this," LSU coach Les Miles said after winning his 29th consecutive September game. "Any time that you play a conference opponent and any time that you play a Western Division opponents like Auburn, it's going to be a competitive game. We took such a strong lead initially, but I just didn't like how we finished.

"We certainly can play better, and offensively we can run the football and finish the game in a fashion that controls to the end."

LSU has been fantastic early, outscoring foes 62-3 in the first quarter, but the Tigers have experienced their share of lulls during each of the first four games.

In their 37-27 opening win over TCU, the Tigers could have cruised were it not for allowing a kickoff return for a touchdown and fumbling on their own 4-yard line. They allowed 17 second-quarter points during a 56-17 rout of UAB and were outscored 13-10 in the middle two quarters against Kent State in an otherwise impressive 45-13 win.

"I'm disappointed because I know how good we can be," Tigers quarterback Zach Mettenberger said. "I know the potential of this offense and I want us to do better. At the same time, we've got some good things to look at from the film and it's going to be a learning experience to look at it."

Mettenberger, who began his career at Georgia and was a roommate of Bulldogs starting quarterback Aaron Murray, will return to Athens ranked No. 6 nationally in pass efficiency (193.6). He was 14-of-22 for 229 yards against Auburn with a touchdown and an interception.

Murray, incidentally, is No. 4 nationally in efficiency (201.8).

Georgia was effective once again offensively during Saturday's 45-21 defeat of North Texas, and its defense held the Mean Green to seven rushing yards. The game stayed tight, however, because North Texas returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown and blocked a Collin Barber punt for a touchdown.

The blocked punt was the result of a high snap by Nathan Theus, who had a high snap on a botched field-goal attempt at Clemson and a high snap to Barber against South Carolina that Barber dropped to set up a Gamecocks touchdown.

"That's four plays, and we've probably had 100 special teams plays by now, but you just hate that the bad ones have been really bad," Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said afterward. "We absolutely have to clean it up, or we're not going to win."

Richt reiterated Sunday afternoon that kickoff coverage has been solid all year with that one exception, but he pointed out that North Texas could have blocked a second punt.

While TCU was ranked No. 20 when the Horned Frogs faced LSU in Dallas, the Bulldogs already have faced two top-10 teams with Clemson and South Carolina. Saturday will mark the first time in Georgia history that the Bulldogs have opened a season with three top-10 foes.

"Being through it before a little bit is probably going to be helpful," Richt said Sunday. "Three out of four games have been that way, so we've had more games like that than not. Hopefully we'll understand how important every detail of the game is going to be and that we can practice with that kind of purpose."

Odds and ends

ESPN's "College Game Day" will broadcast from Athens on Saturday, which will be a first since the 2008 loss to Alabama. ... The Bulldogs wore black jerseys in that loss to the Crimson Tide, but Richt said there will be no blackout against LSU. ... Richt said he will not bring up Mettenberger's past at Georgia and added that Mettenberger's mother will have this week off from her job in Georgia's athletic department. ... Backup tight end Jay Rome (ankle) is not being ruled out this week by Richt.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

about David Paschall...

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 ...

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