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Preview: Tigers Set for SEC Championship Game Against No. 1 Georgia

by Harrison Valentine | Digital Media Graduate Assistant
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Preview: Tigers Set for SEC Championship Game Against No. 1 Georgia

ATLANTA, Georgia – LSU (9-3) will make its seventh SEC Championship Game appearance on Saturday when the Tigers face top-ranked Georgia (12-0) inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Kickoff is set for 3:10 p.m. CT on CBS and the LSU Sports Radio Network.

LSU is 5-1 all-time in SEC Championship Games, which includes a 3-1 mark vs. Georgia. The Tigers’ seven SEC Championship Game appearances rank No. 4 in the league and trail only Alabama (14), Florida (13) and Georgia (13).

Coming off a 38-23 setback last week against Texas A&M, the Tigers are excited to have another opportunity to play on Championship Week. The trip to College Station was a bump in the road, says head coach Brian Kelly, and an important lesson learned ahead of an SEC Championship showdown in Atlanta.

“It was definitely upsetting (to lose to A&M),” said sophomore defensive end Mekhi Wingo. “But we’ve given ourselves a chance to play another game with how we’ve played all season. We’re happy that wasn’t our last game. We get another chance to correct those things and put a good product on film.“

Year 1, Kelly says, is about setting new standards and creating new habits. To be playing for an SEC Title is a testament to the process, which is just beginning and far from a finished product. The goal, Kelly says, is to achieve a level of unconscious competence in everything they do, from preparation to their play on the field.

“I don’t know that we’re there yet,” Kelly said Monday. “The first year is setting those standards. I think we’re at that level of conscious competence. We want to get to where it’s unconscious competence.”

“He’s set a base down, the stepping stones this year,” said freshman tight end Mason Taylor. “You see him Year 1, imagine him in Year 4 or 5. He’s doing a bunch of good stuff. Being responsible. Doing your part. Little things separate you from being good and being great.”

Kelly joins two other SEC coaches to take their team to the league’s title game in their first season in the conference, joining Les Miles (2005) and Jim McElwain (2015 at Florida) as the only three first-year SEC coaches to reach the championship game.

One of the positives from Saturday’s loss was the play of senior running back John Emery Jr., who rushed for a ​​career-high three rushing touchdowns against the Aggies. After fumbling twice against UAB the week prior, Emery responded with one of his best performances as a Tiger, adding to the theme of resiliency that LSU has shown all year.

“It was great to see him come back this week with a career-best three rushing touchdowns,” Kelly said of Emery on the SEC teleconference. “A really nice way to respond from some adversity. That’s what this game gives you the opportunity for. It was good to see it.”

Georgia is led by senior quarterback Stenson Bennett, who has recorded 3,151 passing yards to go with 16 touchdowns and six interceptions.

Tight end Brock Bowers leads the Bulldogs in receiving with 645 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 14.0 yards per reception. Darnell Washington has tallied 403 yards receiving with a touchdown, while Ladd McConkey has recorded 606 yards receiving with a score.

“Outstanding football team,” Kelly said of Georgia. “There’s so many superlatives. This is a well-coached, consistent football team. But our guys have had the opportunity to play the best and this is another opportunity for us to be challenged. We’re excited about the opportunity.”

The way the Tigers have performed to this point has awarded them with the opportunity that Saturday presents.

The opportunity to win the toughest conference in college football.

That is an opportunity, Kelly says, this team has earned.

“It’s exciting to be able to play for a conference championship,” he said. “We certainly feel like we’ve earned the opportunity to be here. We’re excited for the opportunity to represent the SEC West and play the No. 1 team in the country.”