ATHENS, Ga. — Had this week's Southeastern Conference marquee matchup of No. 2 Georgia at No. 13 LSU been gauged solely by their opposition to this point, the host Tigers might be considered the touchdown favorites.
Instead, it's the Bulldogs who are expected to win Saturday despite a 6-0 start that does not include any victories over teams that are currently ranked.
"I feel like we're tested," Georgia senior inside linebacker Juwan Taylor said this week. "We've been tested since fall camp, and we're ready for anything."
South Carolina was ranked No. 24 on Sept. 8, when the Bulldogs traveled to Columbia for their SEC opener and applied a 41-17 whipping. Georgia led the Gamecocks 41-10 through three quarters, with the toughest fourth-quarter threats so far being Missouri briefly coming within 11 points on Sept. 22 and Tennessee briefly getting within 12 the following Saturday.
Last weekend's 41-13 drubbing of Vanderbilt to improve to 4-0 in SEC play certainly didn't qualify as a 60-minute test, with the Commodores scoring their lone touchdown with two seconds remaining.
"We really haven't had a four-quarter game," Georgia senior defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter said. "I don't want to say that we've just been pushing our way through, because we've had some physical games, but we haven't been battle-tested. We're actually excited to have that situation.
"We've been waiting to see what we would be like."
LSU (5-1, 2-1) doesn't have that same curiosity. Coach Ed Orgeron's Tigers became the first college football program in 42 years to defeat two top-10 teams within the first three weeks of the season, opening with a 33-17 blowout of No. 8 Miami on Sept. 2 and topping No. 7 Auburn 22-21 on Sept. 15.
The win at Auburn was clinched on Cole Tracy's 42-yard field goal as time expired, and last week's 27-19 loss at No. 22 Florida wasn't sealed until Joe Burrow was intercepted at the Gators' 34-yard line with 21 seconds remaining. Miami, Auburn and Florida are still ranked — 16th, 21st and 14th, respectively — but Orgeron isn't saying whether LSU's schedule or close calls could serve as any kind of advantage in addition to the Tiger Stadium crowd.
"All I know is that Georgia is one of the best teams in the country, and they're going to be ready no matter who we've played before," Orgeron said. "This will be a tremendous challenge for us. This is a team that went to the national championship and knows how to play in big games, because a lot of those players were there.
"For us, playing some good teams has helped our team mature, and we'll find our where we are on Saturday."
LSU routinely produces talented defenses, with this season no exception, and the Tigers still showcase a downhill running game that is headed this year by senior running back Nick Brosette, who has 576 yards and has averaged 4.9 yards per carry. Burrow, a graduate transfer from Ohio State, has added a running element to this year's quarterback play with 176 yards and 3.9 yards a pop, and he had not thrown an interception until his two last week.
Orgeron wanted more spread components to this year's offense under first-year coordinator Steve Ensminger, and Georgia coach Kirby Smart is sensing a difference.
"They have some signs of being the old, really physical LSU that will come downhill and hit you right in the mouth," Smart said. "They run power, counter and lead. They do all the traditional fullback offense, but they also have the spread elements, and I think their quarterback does a tremendous job with that. He's a really good athlete. They are able to run quarterback runs with him, and you could tell that from his transition from Ohio State.
"So they have more spread elements, yes, but they still have the traditional hit-you-in-the-mouth offense."
Georgia's defense has allowed an average of 113.2 rushing yards per game, which is ahead of last season's 126-yard clip, but the Bulldogs yielded 172 rushing yards at Missouri and last week surrendered 79 yards on just nine carries to Vanderbilt's Ke'Shawn Vaughn. Though they are preparing for LSU's spread elements, the Bulldogs eagerly await the old-school Tigers as well.
"This is my kind of football game," Ledbetter said. "I love games like this. It's tough. It's physical, and that's what you love to see in the SEC. It will definitely be that way Saturday."
Said Taylor: "They're a good team, but I feel like we go up against the best O-line and the best running backs every day. Our offense is our best challenge."
The Bulldogs have been very stingy against the pass and have the SEC's top defense overall, having allowed an average of 283.2 yards per game, which has Orgeron and his offensive staff burning the candle at both ends trying to find ways to move the ball.
"It's going to be tough," Orgeron said. "Every time I walk in there, Steve Ensminger is sitting in his chair watching players. I'll say, 'You got something yet?' And he says, 'No.' They're just solid and well-coached. They play with good technique. They play their gaps.
"They play tight coverage and make it hard for you to throw the football when you want to throw the football. They mix it up. It's going to be difficult, but they've made it difficult for everybody."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.