ATLANTA — Play to the whistle. It's the first thing every coach should teach, the last thing every player should remember before running onto the field.
Early in Saturday's SEC championship, in one of the more embarrassing plays of the college football season, LSU didn't play to the whistle, but Georgia did — illustrating the stark divide between a challenger and a champion.
LSU had just navigated a precise, 14-play, 69-yard drive that looked, at times, like the Tigers were the equal of the Dawgs, despite their differences in record. LSU drove all the way down to Georgia's doorstep, getting as close as the 5-yard line before a sack pushed the Tigers back to the 14.
LSU set up for what should have been a relatively easy field goal, but Georgia's Nazir Stackhouse leaped up and blocked it, and the ball trickled harmlessly away. No shame in that, Georgia is a tough special-teams squad, and ... hey, wait, what was that about the ball trickling away?
Yes, somehow LSU's entire team forgot that a blocked field goal is still a live ball. After a bit of deliberation, Georgia's Christopher Smith decided to pick up the ball and run with it, and 96 yards later, the Dawgs had a gift of a touchdown. (To be fair, some of Georgia's players apparently didn't quite realize it was live either, standing around or actively waving Smith away from the ball.)
That's the kind of boneheaded play that makes coaches bite through steel bars, and the only thing that saved LSU from absolute mortal embarrassment was that the Tigers responded with a three-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. The capper: a brilliant 53-yard reception and broken-field run by Kayshon Boutte to even up the score at 7 apiece.
In the end, it didn't matter much as Georgia ran away with a 50-30 victory to capture the SEC crown.
Contact Jay Busbee at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.