While Georgia is about a 7 point favorite over Vanderbilt, I have to admit that I get a bit nervous when you consider Saturday’s game will be against another team from the state of Tennessee that is tough on defense and features an offense that is led by a much maligned quarterback who so far hasn’t shown much.
Vandy fans keep wondering why senior Mackenzi Adams is standing on the sideline wearing a headset, considering that redshirt sophomore starter Larry Smith is completing only 46 percent of his passes (less than 40 percent against SEC defenses) as the Commodores have thrown for just 146.7 yards per game, worst in the conference and 114th nationally. Smith has thrown only two touchdowns against six interceptions.
Yet I have nightmarish visions of Smith suddenly looking competent against Georgia’s secondary, which acts at times as if it thinks the opposing receivers have cooties.
On top of that, Smith is a threat to take off running, though so far he hasn’t done so to much effect (averaging 1.7 yards per carry) and has been sacked 14 times. His freshman running backs do better, with Warren Norman averaging 66.3 yards per game and Zac Stacy averaging 56.4 yards.
Norman also had a 76-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Army and averages 27.7 yards per return. Bet he can’t wait to meet Georgia’s kick coverage team.
Still, Vandy ranks last in the SEC and 108th nationally in scoring offense, with just 18.8 points per game.
The Dores (2-4 overall, 0-3 in the SEC) rank 22nd nationally in turnover margin at plus-5, but that hasn’t helped much as they haven’t been able to turn those takeaways into points. They didn’t score anything off a turnover last week at Army and against Mississippi State they recovered a fumble at the Bulldogs’ 6, but managed to gain only 3 yards on three runs before settling for a field goal — their only points in a 15-3 loss. The Commodores have scored in single digits in all of their conference games and have only beaten Western Carolina and Rice. Army nipped them 16-13 in overtime.
The Dores are more than respectable on defense, ranking No. 2 nationally in passing defense (allowing just 118 yards per game) and 22nd in total defense (fifth in the SEC) at 288.2 yards per game. They’re No. 18 nationally in scoring defense, allowing 15.67 points per game, giving up just nine touchdowns in six games. Pro prospect Myron Lewis (6-3, 202 pounds), who has three interceptions, likely will be matched (with help) against Georgia’s A.J. Green. Linebacker Chris Marve trails only Georgia’s Rennie Curran in the SEC tackles totals, with 56.
Vandy’s run defense hasn’t been quite as tough, ranking 11th in the SEC at 170 yards per game. So this might be a good opportunity for the Bulldogs to rediscover their ground game. If not, well, Joe Cox will need to be on his game or this could turn into one of those ugly, low-scoring defensive battles.
One factor in Georgia’s favor: Vandy is terrible in the red zone, both on offense and defense.
Contrary to usual Vanderbilt form, the Commodores have been flagged for 46 penalties, only nine less than Georgia’s league high 57. Many have been false starts by their veteran but injury-hobbled offensive line.
If the Dogs can put up three scores, that should be enough to win. But I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the game come down to Blair Walsh’s foot like it did with Brandon Coutu two years ago in Nashville.