Stopping LSU's ground game a major chore

The Arkansas defense wore down more and more with each bone-crushing hit delivered on the Bayou last Friday.

The Tigers’ packed running backs corps punished the Razorbacks with 286 rushing yards on 46 carries, but this wasn’t the first time LSU’s backfield took total control of a game.

LSU’s stable of running backs has pounded opposing defenses all year. The Tigers are second in the SEC in rushing, churning out 216 yards on the ground a game, and have 32 rushing touchdowns.

It starts with Spencer Ware, who head coach Les Miles labeled as the hard-nosed bruiser. Then there’s Michael Ford, who packs a punch, but has a bit more acceleration. Alfred Blue is the slasher and Kenny Hilliard, a true freshman, might be the most gifted with his size, speed and power.

“They're very well equipped to run the football and to run it in such a way that they just wear you down as the game goes on from what I've seen,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt, who must prepare his defense for LSU’s running game in Saturday’s SEC championship game.

“Everybody's having trouble with it. That's why they're undefeated. They're big and physical.”

It almost seems unfair that LSU can rotate four quality backs throughout a game and have an offensive line that has played so well throughout the season. The O-line is pushing and pulling at the defense perfectly to get backs free and gets help from fullback James Stampley, whom Richt referred to as a “beast.”

But Saturday could be different for the Tigers. Their running dominance will face quite the challenge inside the Georgia Dome once the Bulldogs’ vaunted rushing defense says hello -- and it won’t be a very welcoming hello, either.

Georgia’s rush defense ranks sixth nationally (95 yards allowed a game) and is giving up just 2.5 yards per carry to SEC teams.

Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones said he and his teammates aren't intimidated by LSU’s power running game. He said they’re excited to see what LSU has to show and thinks Georgia can match LSU’s intensity.

“We're physical, just like they are,” said Jones, who has an SEC-high 19.5 tackles for loss, including 13.5 sacks. “I believe we've just got to penetrate, get on the ball, make plays. When we get our hand on them, we've just got to bring it to the ground no matter what.”

You have to like the confidence.

It’s no secret that Georgia won’t be favored Saturday, but the Bulldogs are riding a 10-game winning streak and have one of the most underrated defenses out there.

Still, Saturday poses Georgia’s toughest defensive assignment up front.

“It helps to wear down a defense in the sense that our guys don't get as tired,” LSU offensive lineman Will Blackwell said of the Tigers’ running game. “We got fresh legs here at the end of the season. We've got three, four, maybe five guys that can all run the ball and run it hard.

“The best thing for us is we don't have to put the whole load on one guy. When one of those guys comes in, he can just pound it as much as he can and look forward to getting a little break.”

However, Georgia is no stranger to making plays behind the line of scrimmage. The Bulldogs are first in the SEC, and 12th nationally, with 91 tackles for loss and opposing offenses have lost 390 yards on those tackles.

“We've prided ourselves all year on being stout against the run,” Georgia cornerback Brandon Boykin said.

“If we can contain their run game, that will be a big plus for us and help us be successful.”

Containing it won’t be easy, but Georgia’s fully aware of that. A good running game not only wears down defenses but it opens up the passing game, something LSU did well against Arkansas.

For Miles, there’s no question his offense -- and team -- wouldn’t be this successful without its tough running game.

“We're fortunate there that we have guys that can step on the field and give us some advantages,” Miles said.

“We're capable any time you have those kind of guys. It allows you to run the football effectively. You have to have that matching tailback that can take a pitch and go speed or come downhill into a tight space and run with physical ability. I'd have to think that our running back group gives us that.”