When you looked at the schedule before the season started and saw Vanderbilt would be traveling to Georgia in week six, it probably didn’t move the needle at all, right? But here’s the caveat to that thinking, this matchup has all the earmarking of a what they call a “trap door” game for the No. 2-ranked Bulldogs as they have a big showdown in Baton Rouge against No. 5 LSU coming up next weekend.
With their eyes looking at Vanderbilt but their minds thinking about the Tigers, could this one turn into a toe-to-toe fight for four quarters?
Well after playing No. 6 Notre Dame to a nip-and-tuck 22-17 game three weeks ago, you could see it happen. But the confidence level has gone south for the Commodores since then, losing badly to South Carolina (37-14) and then barely escaping FCS foe Tennessee State (31-27). Well now it’s time to put their big boy pants on, because the Bulldogs will have the most talent staring them across the line of scrimmage than anyone on their schedule.
Vanderbilt at Georgia
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 6 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Georgia -27
Three Things to Watch
1. Avoid the negative plays
Considering the talent differential as it is, it will be vital for Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur and Co. to put themselves in manageable down-and-distance circumstances and try to keep the Georgia defense off-balance. The Commodores entered last weekend dead last in rushing in the SEC, but Ke’Shawn Vaughn (146 yards) and Khaki Blasingame (88) were able to carve up the Tennessee State defense for some significant ground yardage, hopefully garnering more confidence in the ground game. Sure, they won’t be able to do that to the Junkyard Dogs this week to the same extent, but busting out some solid gains on first and second down will make a huge difference. By the by, it is completely weird to see the Bulldogs' defense ranked No. 118 in both team sacks (five) and in tackles for a loss (19).
2. Watch the first five minutes of each half
Coaches say it all the time, the first five minutes of each half are the most important in the game (although wouldn’t the final five minutes of the game be more likely to be the most important? But I digress). If there is going to be any hope for a close game, the Commodores have to not let Georgia grab the momentum to start each half. If the Bulldogs come out on fire and start to destroy the will of the Dores' defense, that’s a bad omen. The running game and controlling the clock will be of the utmost importance here.
Despite the Bulldog offensive line expecting to be one of the best in the country this season, this could be considered a showdown of weakness vs. weakness because the last few weeks the UGa O-line has had a tough time consistently protecting Jake Fromm and trouble establishing the vertical passing game. Meanwhile, the Commodore defensive line got pushed around by South Carolina and didn’t do much better in their showdown with local rival Tennessee State. If the Dores can show some improvement, mix their stunts and blitzes and harangue Jake Fromm and keep him from feeling comfortable, it could help keep the game close. Of course if the Bulldogs get the running game cranked up, helping to open up the passing game, it could get to be a long day from the get-go.
Obviously, Georgia is a College Football Playoff-worthy team but just has not looked quite as dominant the last few weeks. They’ve come far from clicking on all cylinders, although their running game has shown more promise of late. Is this the week that everything starts to fall into line? Or can Vanderbilt make this a four-quarter game. First things first, the Commodores have to kick this turnover habit, having lost five fumbles and four interceptions so far (tied for 97th in the country in total turnovers). If they quell that habit, it could keep this game tighter than it should be. By contrast the Bulldogs have lost just three turnovers so far, even though they did have four fumbles vs. Tennessee, recovering all of them.
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart calls his charges “a work in progress” knowing that they have a ways to go to meet their potential. I get the feeling this could be either a complete blowout or a white-knuckler due to overconfidence. Either way, it’ll be a raucous atmosphere on Saturday night between the hedges with those passionate Bulldog fans.
Prediction: Georgia 35, Vanderbilt 17
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.