The No. 2-ranked Georgia Bulldogs will travel to Nashville to face the Vanderbilt Commodores on Saturday for a matchup between SEC East foes. The pandemic forced the cancellation of this game last season, marking the first time since 1967 that these two teams did not meet on the gridiron. Georgia leads the all-time series 58-20-2, and the Bulldogs have won each of the last three meetings, including a 30-6 victory over the Commodores in Nashville in 2019.
Georgia kicked off its conference slate last week with a 40-13 win over rival South Carolina in Athens to improve its record to a perfect 3-0 and 1-0 in the SEC. The Bulldogs racked up 491 yards on offense, and an elite defense once again proved dominant, limiting the Gamecocks to 296 yards in the blowout win. Kirby Smart's team will look to keep its unblemished record intact when they hit the road for the first time in conference play to face the Commodores.
It's been a roller-coaster ride for Vanderbilt and first-year head coach Clark Lea in the early going. Following an embarrassing loss to FCS member East Tennessee State in the season opener, the Commodores managed to bounce back with a 24-21 win on the road against Colorado State to snap an 11-game losing streak. However, the celebration was short-lived as the Commodores returned home and struggled to keep pace against Stanford last Saturday in a 41-23 loss. Vanderbilt now enters SEC play with a 1-2 record and a tough task ahead in trying to slow down Georgia.
No. 2 Georgia at Vanderbilt
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 25 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Georgia -35
When Georgia Has the Ball
Quarterback JT Daniels leads a Georgia offense that averages 35.3 points and 433 yards per game. Despite missing the UAB game with an oblique injury, Daniels bounced back nicely last week to throw for a 303 yards and three touchdowns. For the season, he has completed 73.8 percent of his passes for 438 yards with three touchdowns and a pair of interceptions.
Freshman tight end Brock Bowers has stepped up big in the absence of Darnell Washington to lead the Bulldogs with 14 catches for 203 yards and two scores. Wide receivers Jermaine Burton (8 rec., 173 yds., 2 TDs) and Adonai Mitchell (6, 119, TD) have stepped up as well.
The Georgia passing game will be matched up against an improved Vanderbilt defense that gives up 197 yards per game through the air. That said, the Commodores have struggled to force turnovers with just one interception in three games. And the pass rush has been lackluster, to say the least, producing just one sack. That bodes well for a stout Bulldog offensive line that has allowed just two sacks in three games, led by All-American candidate Jamaree Salyer.
The Georgia offense could use a little more help from a run game that has been serviceable but not spectacular so far, averaging 156 rushing yards per game. That said, the Dawgs do feature three running backs that are all averaging at least five yards per carry in Zamir White (28 att., 159 yds., TD), Kendall Milton (24, 119), and James Cook (14, 88, 2). The Georgia ground attack should be in for its best performance of the season so far against a Vanderbilt run defense that has been among the worst in the FBS, giving up 196.7 yards per game and more than six yards per carry.
When Vanderbilt Has the Ball
Quarterback Ken Seals is at the forefront of a Commodores offense that is averaging 16.7 points and 353.7 yards per game. It's been tough sledding in the early going for the second-year signal-caller, who has completed just 55.3 percent of his passes for 553 yards with three touchdowns against three interceptions. Dual-threat quarterback Mike Wright will likely get some snaps on Saturday as well.
Seals has spread the ball around pretty evenly among his top pass catchers — led by Cam Johnson (15 rec., 125 yds., 2 TDs), Chris Pierce Jr. (14, 181, TD), and Will Sheppard (19, 169). And the offense hopes to get tight end Ben Bresnahan back from injury this week to help bolster the passing attack. Unfortunately, it may not matter much against a stingy Georgia defense that gives up 146 yards per game through the air, has five interceptions, and has surrendered just one touchdown pass in three contests. But it's the Bulldogs' pass rush that has been most impressive, generating 13 sacks and plenty of pressure, headlined by linebackers Adam Anderson (3 sacks) and Nakobe Dean (2.5). It will be a very tall order for the Vanderbilt offensive line to keep the Dawgs out of the backfield on Saturday.
The Commodores' ground attack took a blow this week with top running back Re'Mahn Davis' season coming to an end because of a toe injury. That's bad news for a run game that was starting to gain some traction with a 247-yard performance last week against Stanford. It also leaves Vanderbilt extremely short-handed in the backfield. Running back Rocko Griffin (28 att., 131 yds.) is expected to do most of the heavy lifting this week. And heavy lifting it will be against a stifling Georgia defense that is giving up just 75 rushing yards per game and has yet to allow a touchdown on the ground.
While Lea seems to have Vanderbilt moving in a better direction, the Commodores are still a very long way from being competitive against top-level SEC teams. Georgia certainly falls into that category, and the Bulldogs will have every conceivable advantage in this matchup. In terms of the final score, that really depends on when head coach Kirby Smart decides to let his foot off the gas, which might allow Vanderbilt to put a few points on the board late. But make no mistake, this game will not be close. Georgia wins big on the road to keep its perfect record intact.
Prediction: Georgia 48, Vanderbilt 10
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— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.