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Guts, desire carry Tigers past Dawgs

ATHENS, Ga. -- Several minutes after No. 4 LSU survived another last-minute scare in its 20-13 victory at No. 18 Georgia on Saturday night, Tigers linebacker Kelvin Sheppard wondered what the road win would do for his team's reputation.

"After this performance, hopefully we get a lot more respect," Sheppard said. "Coming between the hedges, and winning a game like this, maybe now people will think we're legit."

The Tigers took a big step in that direction at Sanford Stadium, but their real test comes next week. Defending BCS national champion Florida plays at Tiger Stadium, and chances are LSU will have to play a lot better than it did against Georgia to beat the No. 1-ranked Gators.

LSU, which needed goal-line stops on four consecutive plays to win at Mississippi State 30-26 a week ago, again found itself in serious trouble in the final minutes at Georgia. After going ahead 12-7 on Charles Scott's 2-yard touchdown run with 2:53 to play, the Tigers allowed the Bulldogs to drive right down the field.

With less than two minutes to play, Bulldogs quarterback Joe Cox threw a 46-yard pass to Tavarres King to the LSU 16. Two plays later, Cox lofted a pass into the end zone for sophomore A.J. Green, who out-leaped LSU cornerback Chris Hawkins for a 16-yard touchdown with 1:09 to play. The Bulldogs couldn't convert a two-point play, leaving them with a 13-12 lead.

Worse, Georgia was penalized 15 yards for excessive celebration, moving them back 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff. LSU's Trindon Holliday, one of the fastest players in the country, returned the kickoff 26 yards to the UGA 43. Another Georgia penalty moved the ball to the 38.

Scott ran for 5 yards on first down, and the Tigers called timeout with 54 seconds to play. Sophomore quarterback Jordan Jefferson walked to the sideline, where he grabbed a phone to speak with offensive coordinator Gary Crowton, who was watching in the press box.

Crowton told Jefferson to throw a play-action pass to Brandon LaFell on second down. But Jefferson persuaded his coach into changing the play, telling him to give it to Scott again.

"It was second-and-5, with under a minute to go, and Charles is a big, power back," Jefferson said. "I recommended we run it. I didn't want to pass the ball in that situation and throw a pick that would keep us from getting points."

Crowton said his plan was to gain at least 5 more yards, which would have left Josh Jasper with a long field goal try to win the game.

"We felt if we got to the 35, we had a good chance to make the field goal," Crowton said. "We wanted to get closer. Jordan told me, 'Let's run it one more time and get it done.'"

Scott made sure the Bulldogs were done on the very next play. He took a handoff from Scott and burst down the left sideline, scoring a 33-yard touchdown with 46 seconds to go.

"I saw the hole," Jefferson said. "Once he hit it, I knew it was a touchdown. I raised my arms right after he hit the hole."

Once again, the Tigers simply found a way to win a game in the end, like they have done so many times under coach Les Miles.

"Our football team, if you turn your back on them, they're going to beat you up and steal a victory," Miles said. "They love to play."

But Miles knows the Tigers will have to play better to beat Florida. And they'll have to get better if they're going to knock defending SEC West champion Alabama from its perch. At this point, LSU doesn't seem as balanced as the No. 3 Crimson Tide. And the Tigers don't seem as explosive as undefeated Auburn.

But Miles likes the way his team wins football games. In four-plus seasons under Miles, the Tigers have won 47 times. They're 18-8 against ranked opponents and 16-5 on the road.

"Let me tell you the most important characteristic of a football team: to find a way to win," Miles said. "It doesn't matter who is on the field -- offense, defense or special teams. They're going to find a way to win."

But to win another SEC championship, the Tigers will have to play better than they have so far. They sputtered on offense again, especially during the first half. After dominating Georgia during the first two quarters, the Tigers had only a 6-0 lead at the half. Jefferson threw an interception in the end zone on LSU's first possession. Later in the half, the Bulldogs stopped LSU on fourth-and-1 at the UGA 9.

"We've got to run the football," Miles said. "Our guys want to run it, and I feel like we'll run it from here on."

Scott, who had been disappointing in LSU's first four games, ran 19 times for 95 yards with two touchdowns. Jefferson, starting only his seventh game, completed 18 of 27 passes for 212 yards. But he was sacked six times and threw an interception.

"He's still a developing quarterback," Miles said. "But let me tell you what he is: he's a competitor and a pretty good passer. I think his growth is weekly and it's not unexpected. I expected him to make those throws."

With former Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis on board, LSU plays defense the way it's supposed to play defense. The Tigers held Georgia to only 49 yards of offense in the first half -- 31 passing and 18 rushing.

Green, the Bulldogs' sensational sophomore receiver, hurt the Tigers at times. He caught five passes for 99 yards, including the late touchdown, but cornerback Patrick Peterson covered Green as well as anyone has. Georgia's running game was so ineffective early in the game that the Bulldogs played freshman Washaun Ealey, who didn't play in the first four games. Richard Samuel and Caleb King combined for only 18 yards on 12 carries.

"We tackled better, there's no question about it," Chavis said. "You saw some hits you expect to see in the SEC. I don't know if anybody can say they have everything they need, but we have the guts and desire."

And at LSU, where the Tigers seem to win on guts and desire more than anything else, that just might be enough.

"Now we know what kind of team we have," Sheppard said. "If we come together, we know we can play with anyone. I saw guys' eyes tearing up out there. This team's will to win, I've never been around anything like it."

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.