ATLANTA — It would have been closer, but it wouldn't have provided a different winner.
The Georgia Bulldogs were the walking wounded throughout Saturday's Southeastern Conference championship game from an offensive standpoint, but their impressive defense that had foiled foe after foe this football season was no match for LSU's high-octane attack under the guidance of graduate transfer quarterback Joe Burrow.
Burrow completed 28 of 38 passes for 349 yards and four touchdowns to punch LSU's ticket to the College Football Playoff with a 37-10 rout of the Bulldogs inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The lopsided loss was Georgia's worst since Kirby Smart's inaugural season in 2016, and it topped the 36-16 beating the Bulldogs endured last year in Baton Rouge.
Georgia entered Saturday allowing 257.0 yards a game. The Tigers amassed 481, including 418 through the first three quarters.
"We were trying to take away what they do best, and there were times where that was pretty effective," Bulldogs defensive coordinator Dan Lanning said, "but they had too many explosive plays at the end of the day. When you don't finish on third down like you need to, it's going to cost you no matter what kind of defense you are in.
"Tonight was obviously their night and they deserve all the credit, but I would play those guys again with our guys and take our chances again. I do think we can play with those guys, but they just had the better night tonight."
LSU opened the scoring less than six minutes into the game with a 23-yard touchdown pass from Burrow to Ja'Marr Chase in which Burrow scrambled for nearly nine seconds before throwing for the score. Burrow took almost as long late in the third quarter, when he avoided Bulldogs defensive linemen Jordan Davis and Travon Walker before flinging a 71-yard pass to Justin Jefferson that led to a Cade York field goal that made it 27-3.
The Tigers nearly topped the season average Georgia was allowing in the first half by amassing 255 yards.
"They came out on defense with kind of what Auburn played against us a little bit, and we didn't expect that against Georgia at all," Burrow said. "We kind of had to feel our way out a little bit. They were rushing three, so my O-line did a great job of giving me time in that three-man rush, and our receivers found a way to get open.
Said Bulldogs redshirt freshman outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari: "Burrow did what he had to do. We knew they had explosive playmakers. We just didn't execute enough to stop them."
LSU cruised to its first SEC title since 2011 and could be the top seed this afternoon when the College Football Playoff field is announced. Should the Tigers (13-0) earn the No. 1 spot — they were No. 2 in the most recent CFP rankings — they would return to Mercedes-Benz for the Peach Bowl national semifinal.
"Tonight wasn't our final destination," Tigers coach Ed Orgeron said. "We know that. We don't know where we're going to go. We don't know who we're going to play. Wherever they tell us to go, whoever they tell us to play, we'll be ready to go."
Georgia (11-2), which was fourth in the CFP rankings, could be headed for a second consecutive trip to the Sugar Bowl and a date against Baylor. Should the Bulldogs fall behind Florida in today's CFP standings, the Gators could head to the Sugar Bowl and the Bulldogs to the Orange Bowl.
The Bulldogs entered Saturday without top receiver Lawrence Cager and with five-star freshman receiver George Pickens suspended for the first half. They then lost receivers Kearis Jackson and Dominick Blaylock to first-half injuries and also had to play with standout running back D'Andre Swift nursing a shoulder injury.
Even quarterback Jake Fromm, who always seems to avoid such setbacks, had to come out of the game briefly in the first half due to an ankle injury.
Georgia was held to 286 yards and a season low in points.
"I don't know how many drops we had tonight, but I feel like we had to have five or six that you could say should probably have been caught," Smart said. "We would have been more explosive if that was the case. If we had really good wideouts, we're more explosive, but one is on the bench in the first half, one is in a wheelchair, and two or three are in the NFL that came out early."
The Bulldogs lost a heartbreaking SEC championship game to Alabama last December and didn't recover in the Sugar Bowl, falling 28-21 to Texas. There are several key Georgia players, such as Swift and offensive tackles Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson, who could elect to skip the bowl and forgo their senior seasons.
Stay tuned to these next few weeks in Athens, because things could get interesting.
"We have another opportunity for us to come out and play another game for this university and end this season the right way," Ojulari said.