ATHENS, Ga. — Before he gimped up the tunnel with a sprained left ankle, Georgia running back Todd Gurley sheared off a final big gain.
Bouncing outside to open grass, the sophomore dashed 23 yards before LSU strong safety Craig Loston rode Gurley out of bounds, crooking the ball carrier’s joint a way its ligaments shouldn’t flex.
Morbid as it might sound, hobbling Gurley was the lone means of slowing him and backfield buddy Keith Marshall from dashing around, juking and bolting and smashing through the second level of No. 6 LSU’s second level in a 44-41 loss Saturday.
“Early on in the game, a couple runs he had inside every gap was filled,” junior outside linebacker Lamin Barrow said. “But he was bouncing outside, and our safety was getting down on it. But he’s a tough runner and breaks tackles.”
Squaring off against a Bulldogs offensive front returning five starters, the Tigers linebackers — a unit lauded by defensive coordinator John Chavis as a bumper crop of talent — failed to wreak havoc.
Until the waning stages of the fourth quarter, the group did not have a tackle for loss, quarterback hurry or sack. Kwon Alexander spared them the dubious distinction when he submarined low to cut down Marshall on an edge run for a 1-yard loss.
No doubt, the void left by middle linebacker Kevin Minter’s early departure to the NFL would be keenly felt. Saturday showed how much, too.
After Gurley left, Marshall picked up the load. Meanwhile, LSU had been shuffling starter D.J. Welter and Lamar Louis in and out on the same drive.
Neither halted the ground game.
Marshall ripped off 31 yards on his next three carries, capped by a 19-yard gain as he angled to the end zone before Louis chased him down at the Tigers’ 9-yard line.
Chavis and the linebackers have repeated that a rotation would be used, but Barrow didn’t delve into whether Louis and Welter’s swapping was simply a byproduct or Chavis trying to find a specific solution.
“I don’t know,” Barrow said. “It was just something Chief was feeling.”
Any critique can’t exclude the defensive front either, which only stopped Gurley behind the line once — a 3-yard loss when Jermauria Rasco chased the running back down from behind coming from his defensive end spot.
Outside of that, shedding blocks at the point of attack proved irksome.
“It was real tough,” Barrow said. “I engaged with a couple of them, and I felt I let them get their hands on me a little bit too much. Once you let a lineman grab you, a flag can’t help you.”
Meanwhile, LSU coach Les Miles wasn’t inclined to share a final opinion of group. Granted, the final analysis surely doesn’t come in a positive context, considering the position group was a linchpin in second-quarter lapses against UAB and Kent State and a week ago watched Auburn rush for 213 yards.
“I don’t know, I’ll have to see,” Miles said. “It seemed to me that some linebackers made some plays.”
Colby Delahoussaye entered Saturday having not attempted a field goal of longer than 30 yards.
Late in the second quarter, the redshirt freshman trotted on to the red wall of noise and booted through a 49-yarder to pull LSU even at 17-17. Ahead of the season, Miles had hinted either Trent Domingue or kicker James Hairston, who handles kickoffs, might be options as a “long field-goal” kicker.
Delahoussaye, however, put forth solid evidence to handle an attempt of any length.
“We’ve been telling you our kicker is pretty strong,” Miles said. “He can come in and nail it in a rough environment. He doesn’t care. … He’s going to be salty. He’s going to be good.”
Jogging back to the huddle ahead of LSU’s decisive fourth down, Jarvis Landry lobbied for dirty laundry.
The junior wide receiver climbed the ladder to snag a throw from quarterback Zach Mettenberger, and appeared to have been bumped early before the pass arrived, tumbling to the turf before a Georgia stood firm to cinch up the victory.
Without specifically criticizing the no-call, Miles said he was keenly interested in reviewing the play on film.
“There’s some film I want to look at,” Miles said. “Just see what it’s all about.”
Mettenberger, for his part, was matter of fact in his assessment.
“We had a matchup with Jarvis on a linebacker. I tried to back-shoulder him (with the throw),” Mettenberger said. “There was some contact there. We didn’t get the call to go our way. Those things happen.”
The homecoming of Mettenberger and a top-10 matchup helped propel CBS’ ratings to levels the network is surely pleased with.
The network reported its broadcast received a 4.9 share of households, which topped last year’s meeting between Georgia and Tennessee, and 12 million TVs tuned into the matchup.
Outside of a muffed punt which set Georgia up on a short field in the third quarter, Odell Beckham Jr. was held in check in the LSU return game. The junior had minus-4 yards on punt returns, well below his season average near 27 yards. …. No one can doubt Georgia basketball coach Mark Fox’s desire to sell his program, which is coming off a 15-17 season. He covered his body in red paint and watched the game from the student section. … LSU pared down its linebacking rotation, with faces such as Kendell Beckwith, Deion Jones and Lorenzo Phillips not seeing the field. Senior Tahj Jones did not travel due to injury. … Before Saturday, LSU had won 34 games in a row when scoring at least 30 points.