With 12 starters returning this fall, bowl eligibility was the hope for Derek Mason and his Vanderbilt football team. But when the Commodores dropped a winnable game at home to South Carolina on the opening Thursday night, the reaction around the SEC was, “Same ol' Vandy.”
After beating Middle Tennessee in week two, Vanderbilt has another opportunity for a Power Five victory when the Commodores travel to Atlanta to face Georgia Techfrom the ACC. The Yellow Jackets started their campaign by squeezing out a victory over Boston College in a game played in Dublin, Ireland. They then returned stateside and throttled Mercer 35-10 last Saturday.
Georgia Tech holds a 19-14-3 edge in a series that dates back to 1906 and the Jackets have gone 11-0-1 since Vandy last won back in '41.
Vanderbilt at Georgia Tech
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 17 at 12:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: WatchESPN/ACC Network
Spread: Georgia Tech -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Taking the Heat Off of Ralph Webb
The Vanderbilt offense is predicated on how well its junior running back plays. Teams are going to stack the line and make sophomore quarterback Kyle Shurmur win the game. Against South Carolina, Shurmur couldn’t make the Gamecocks pay. Last Saturday against the Blue Raiders, he didn’t complete a pass until there was 5:04 left in the second quarter. But then Shurmur got hot and the offense exploded. The Commodores need Shurmur to make an impact because as good as Webb is, he can’t beat Georgia Tech alone.
2. Containing the Georgia Tech B-Backs
When thinking of the Georgia Tech offense, quarterback Justin Thomas comes quickly to mind. His decision-making is vital in coach Paul Johnson’s option attack. But the offense is really opened up when the B-Backs are effective as the first part of the triple option. Freshman Dedrick Mills ran for 68 yards against Boston College and will return to the lineup after missing the Mercer game for a violation of team rules. Marcus Marshall got the bulk of the action last Saturday and performed well. Vanderbilt’s first goal is to stop the fullback run and make Thomas do other things.
Last season, Georgia Tech was minus-seven in turnover margin, ranking No. 105 in the FBS. Vanderbilt was even worse at minus-eight (109th nationally). It’s not surprising that the two programs combined for a 7-17 record. Both teams have improved early this year, with Vanderbilt seeing a large spike to plus-three and Georgia Tech at even. Turnovers are always vital but in a game featuring a complex option offense on one side and an inexperienced quarterback on the other, mistakes will be made. The team that capitalizes on those miscues will probably be the team that wins.
This is an important non-conference game for both teams. A win over Georgia Tech would help Vanderbilt get the South Carolina taste out of its mouths before the bulk of the SEC schedule begins. The Yellow Jackets are sitting at 2-0, but that’s where they were last year before their season unraveled. Georgia Tech also would like to gain some positive momentum going into next Thursday’s clash with Clemson. Vanderbilt’s one-dimensional offense and tough defense will ensure that this will be a low-scoring affair. But it will be Georgia Tech that makes the plays at the end and comes out with a hard-fought victory.
Prediction: Georgia Tech 17, Vanderbilt 13
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.