"I thought we struggled moving the ball in the second half," LSU coach Gerry DiNardo said of his decision to gamble on victory rather than a possible overtime with a conversion kick with 18 seconds remaining.
"We did not want to get into an extended game with them," DiNardo said. "They had offensive momentum, and no timeouts left to call on defense."
The Tigers, a 9 1/2-point underdog, cut into Georgia's 23-16 lead when Josh Booty, who bypassed college to spend five years in minor league baseball, almost made his first college start most memorable with a scoring drive in the final four minutes.
Booty hit Ed Dangerfield with a 32-yard pass on the Georgia 39. After three incompletions, he found Reggie Robinson at the goal line on fourth down for the touchdown with 18 seconds to play.
On the 2-point play, Booty rolled to the right sideline, dodged a defender and tried to hit either of two open receivers on the far side of the field. But Witherspoon made a leaping deflection to save the Bulldogs.
LSU players backed up their coach's decision to spurn the kick at the end.
"It was the right call because we struggled on offense today," Tigers cornerback Fred Booker said. "We had to go for the jugular."
"We were fortunate to win," Georgia coach Jim Donnan said.
It was the second consecutive one-point decision for the Bulldogs, who edged upstart Central Florida 24-23 last week.
"We should have put it away, but we were our own worst nemesi," Donnan said. "All in all, I'm happy that we won, but we're still working to get better."
Georgia erased a 16-13 halftime deficit when Quincy Carter connected with Randy McMichael on a 12-yard scoring pass less than 90 seconds into the final quarter. It came five plays after Charles Grant blocked an LSU punt.
The Bulldogs got runs of 18 and 25 yards from Jasper Sanks on their next possession and stretched the lead to 23-16 when Hap Hines kicked a 33-yard field goal, his third of the game. He also scored from 31 and 20 yards, but missed a 38-yarder that would have forced a tie two minutes into the second half.
"I don't think we can take this every week, but we have to take them any way we can," Carter said. "Today we hung in there and kept fighting to the end."
Georgia's other score came on a 58-yard run by Patrick Pass in the second quarter.
John Corbello kicked field goals of 37, 31 and 40 yards for the Tigers and Rondell Mealey got LSU's other touchdown on a 9-yard run in the first quarter on which he was hit by three defenders.
Carter was 12-of-28 for 110 yards, Booty 19-of-45 for 280. Mealey, needing 100 yards to become LSU's eighth 2,000-yard rusher, was held to 25 yards on 18 carries, while Sanks had 156 on 27 for the Bulldogs.
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