The Vanderbilt Commodores (3-2, 0-2 SEC) will face their fourth top-25 opponent in as many weeks on Saturday when the No. 5-ranked Georgia Bulldogs (5-0, 2-0 SEC) roll into town. Derek Mason’s Commodores are still in search of their first conference win after last week’s 38-24 loss at Florida. Meanwhile, Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs look to continue their reign of terror against SEC teams, as Georgia has outscored its first two conference foes by a combined 69 points. A 31-3 win against Mississippi State at home was followed by a 41-0 shutout victory over Tennessee in Knoxville last week.
Saturday’s matchup will mark the 78th meeting all time between Georgia and Vanderbilt, a series that dates all the way back to 1893. The Bulldogs lead 55-20-2 but the Commodores did pull off the upset in Athens last season, winning 17-16. That should provide Georgia with plenty of extra incentive to keep their 2017 perfect record intact on Saturday. Vanderbilt's motivation will be to snap a two-game losing streak, by once again playing the role of spoiler.
Georgia at Vanderbilt
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 7 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Georgia -17.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Jake Fromm or Jacob Eason?
Who will be under center when the Bulldogs take the field against Vanderbilt? That is the burning question and major storyline for Georgia ahead of Saturday’s matchup. True freshman Jake Fromm has filled in admirably for injured sophomore Jacob Eason to this point, but according to head coach Kirby Smart, Eason will have the opportunity to earn his starting job back in practice this week.
Fromm hasn’t been perfect in any of his four starts. He also isn’t on pace to break any Georgia passing records. In fact, Georgia currently ranks dead last in the SEC in passing yards per game (149.6 ypg). But in addition to being efficient in his duties as starting quarterback, Fromm has shown the occasional flash. Perhaps more importantly, the Bulldogs are off to a 5-0 start with the freshman taking almost all of the snaps.
Eason was often criticized for his struggles and inconsistencies during his freshman campaign. However, the former five-star prospect does have a better arm and more experience when comparing the two quarterbacks. It’s also a popular opinion that Eason has more upside than Fromm. So, will Smart risk the winning formula with Fromm with the hope that Eason can take the Georgia passing attack to another level? We will find out on Saturday when one of these competing signal-callers takes the field against the sixth-ranked pass defense in the country.
2. Vanderbilt offense vs. Georgia defense
What was once the strength of the Vanderbilt offense is now its biggest weakness. The Commodores’ run game has gone from a respectable 164.5 rushing yards per game last season to just 79.2 so far in 2017. Only three other FBS teams are producing fewer yards on the ground than Vanderbilt. Ralph Webb, the program's all-time leading rusher, is currently on pace for just 480 rushing yards after posting back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns. Despite efforts to retool the offensive line, nothing has helped the lackluster rushing attack. And a tough matchup against a Georgia run defense that is giving up only 90.4 yards per game (No. 11 nationally) isn’t likely to do the Commodores any favors.
Given the struggles in the run game, quarterback Kyle Shurmur will be called upon to do most of the heavy lifting for the Vanderbilt offense this week. Aside from an abysmal performance against Alabama, Shurmur has performed admirably this season despite the lack of a complementary ground game. He has thrown for almost 1,000 yards, with an impressive 11:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. But like the run game, this passing attack will be in for a big challenge. The Bulldogs rank tenth in the nation against the pass, giving up just 153.6 yards per contest. Georgia also has allowed just two touchdown passes through its first five games.
3. Georgia run game vs. Vanderbilt run defense
The key component to Vanderbilt’s upset win over Georgia last season was the Commodores’ ability to slow down the Bulldogs’ ground attack, limiting them to just 75 rushing yards in that game. While that will be the goal once again on Saturday, history isn’t likely to repeat itself for a defense that has struggled mightily in that department so far in 2017. Vanderbilt currently ranks 107th out of 129 FBS teams against the run, allowing 204.6 yards per game along with 12 rushing touchdowns in just five games.
While the Commodores' run defense has regressed, the Georgia ground attack has been feasting on opposing defenses this season, averaging 237.4 rushing yards per game. The Bulldogs' top three rushers - Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and D’Andre Swift – have already combined for 968 yards (6.3 ypc) and 10 touchdowns on the ground. Vanderbilt will be hard-pressed to keep an elite Georgia backfield in check for the second year in a row.
These teams match up fairly well against one another in regard to passing the football, as well as defending the pass. Vanderbilt may even have a slight edge in those areas. Regardless, the Georgia run game and run defense are far superior. Additionally, back-to-back tilts against Alabama and Florida are likely to have taken a toll on the Commodores as they head into the final matchup of a brutal three-game stretch against SEC foes. Momentum and a revenge factor also play heavily in the Bulldogs' favor.
Prediction: Georgia 34, Vanderbilt 13
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.