The Vanderbilt Commodores travel to Athens on Saturday to take on Kirby Smart's Georgia Bulldogs in what should be a closely-decided SEC East battle. Vandy is looking for its first SEC win and is still on the outside looking in at a bowl game, while Georgia is looking to continue building on momentum. The Bulldogs could still be a long shot for an SEC Championship Game berth.
Derek Mason's squad comes into this one reeling off back-to-back close division losses. In fact, against every SEC East opponent Vanderbilt has faced this season — South Carolina, Florida and Kentucky — it has lost by seven points or fewer. Vanderbilt is on the cusp of breaking through but it hasn't been able to win the close games yet.
Georgia heads into Saturday's game off a refreshing 28-14 win against South Carolina. After consecutive losses to Ole Miss and Tennessee, the Bulldogs needed some momentum and they found it in Columbia. With Georgia having corrected its course a bit, it will be interesting to see if this team can keep it up with several key division games looming in the coming weeks.
Saturday will mark the 77th all-time meeting between Vanderbilt and Georgia. The Commodores don't win this matchup very often, as Georgia leads the series 55-19-2. Vanderbilt has only two wins in this millennium — in 2006 and '13 — against the 'Dawgs. The last one before that came in 1994. Georgia has won back-to-back games in this series by an average of 22 points.
Vanderbilt at Georgia
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 15 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: SEC Network
Spread: Georgia -14.5
Three Things to Watch
1. The Red Zone
It couldn't be drawn up any better for the Commodores to score when they get inside the 20-yard line. Vanderbilt is surprisingly efficient, leading the SEC in red zone scoring. The Commodores have scored 18 times (12 touchdowns, six field goals) on 19 trips to the red zone this season. That's a vast improvement from last year. Georgia is last in the SEC in allowing opponent red zone conversions. Interestingly enough, the Bulldogs have allowed 18 scores on their opponents' 19 trips to the red zone — and 14 of those have been touchdowns. Vanderbilt's offense hasn't been stellar in gaining yards for the most part but when it gets close to scoring territory, it usually gets points.
2. Nick Chubb Revival
He had been hobbling around since a season-opening performance that saw him run for 222 yards against North Carolina. Since then, Chubb's rushing yards had decreased every week; from 80 against Nicholls State, to 63 vs. Missouri, then 57 vs. Ole Miss and just three yards against Tennessee. But last week against South Carolina, Chubb looked a lot more like his usual, healthy. He ran for 121 yards and averaged 7.6 yards per carry against the Gamecocks — and also scored two of the Bulldogs' touchdowns. If Chubb can get back as the reliable No. 1 running back, it will help the Georgia offense tremendously, especially with the talented Sony Michel and Brian Herrien coming off the bench.
3. Vandy Through The Air?
Something has to give here. Vanderbilt is ranked last in the SEC in passing, having thrown for only 914 yards this season. Also, the Commodores have only three touchdown passes compared to four interceptions. But Georgia is 13th in the conference in pass defense and has surrendered an SEC-high 11 touchdowns through the air. The 'Dawgs secondary has been shredded on multiple occasions, especially by Missouri's Drew Lock and Ole Miss' Chad Kelly, who each threw for more than 300 yards. The Commodores don't have anybody on the roster who is going to tear Georgia up, but Kyle Shurmur has had his bright spots. This could be an opportunity for Vandy to put together a little bit of a passing game.
Georgia has had little trouble with Vanderbilt the past two seasons. But I think this year, the 14.5-point spread is a little much. Derek Mason's team still has a capable defense and its SEC losses have all been close. Georgia's wins over SEC East teams Missouri and South Carolina also were very close (the Bulldogs scored late on an onside kick return vs. the Gamecocks). If Vanderbilt's defense can put the Commodores in good field position on a few occasions, that red zone scoring stat could play a key role. Georgia's defense isn't great. Still, I like the team with the better running backs at home. The 'Dawgs will wear 'em out eventually.