Vanderbilt hasn't beaten Georgia since 2006, and they haven't beaten the Bulldogs at home since 1991. In order to get the best read on a potential Commodore upset, we went to an expert - DawgSports's Mr. Sanchez.
Vanderbilt will look for their first conference win of the season on Saturday, but that will be a tough task against a Georgia team that will want to rebound from their first conference loss since last fall.
The Bulldogs haven't lost in Nashville in more than two decades, and they'll be a seven or eight point favorite when these teams face off this week. So what do the 'Dawgs have that make them a fashionable pick? We went to an expert, DawgSports's own Mr. Sanchez, to get his thoughts on this year's UGA team. Our questions are in bold, his answers are below:
1. Injuries played a huge role in last week's loss to Georgia. Now that they've had a week to take stock, how can the Bulldogs replace the production of guys like Todd Gurley (if he doesn't play), Keith Marshall, and Justin Scott-Wesley? Do UGA fans expect Gurley to play on Saturday?
We certainly hope he does. JJ Green is looking very good, and showing a lot of talent for a guy expected to play CB (maybe that's why the DBs have suffered?). Brendan Douglas is quickly becoming a fan favorite with his power and ability to break tackles. But Gurley is just something special. Great stiff arm, power, speed, vision, everything you'd want in a back. And with the offense having injury issues at WR, having Gurley back to strengthen the running game would be a welcome boost. I'm not sure we expect it, since Richt is still being noncommittal about his return, and with the way things have been the last few weeks Georgia fans are remembering why we always expect the worst. 50/50 sounds about right. f he can start practicing, even in a non-contact fashion, by the end of the week, then we can start to bump up his odds of seeing the field in Nashville.
2. Georgia's secondary has been an area of concern lately, and they'll have a tough task when it comes to matching up with All-SEC wideout Jordan Matthews and the underrated Jonathan Krause (24 catches, 430 yards). How do you see Todd Grantham slowing down the Commodore passing attack?
Frankly, I don't. If Trey Matthews can come back, he is an improvement at S, but he'll also be rusty as true freshman who just missed most of the last month. Jordan Jenkins has struggled to make the impact most hoped he'd make this year, and while Leonard Floyd has impressed rushing the passer opposite him, he's also still a 220/230 pound freshman that can be pushed around and makes freshman mistakes. Ray Drew and the DL getting pressure on Carta-Samuels is our best hope, because the secondary struggles covering air. Damien Swann was a great CB last year, but he's struggled badly this year with our lack of help from the safety position, and it's killing his confidence. Shaq Wiggins and Brendan Langley have had their moments, but Langley is prone to getting burned and if Matthews gets isolated on Wiggins he can exploit the size mismatch. There is talent in our secondary, but problems covering from the middle of the field has badly impacted CB play. And unless the pressure can get to the Commodore QB before he gets the ball off, this secondary will give up yards and points.
3. Speaking of Grantham, the UGA defense has been...not great this season, allowing over 33 points per game. How can the Bulldogs fix that, and do you think that the team's coaching staff should be concerned for their job security if these high scoring games continue?
To abuse an overused football phrase these days, just keep chopping wood. As I say above, the talent is there. Jenkins and Floyd are good edge rushers. Ray Drew is having a tremendous season on the DL, and that entire unit is performing better than it did last year. The inside LBs are having issues making some plays but getting lost on others. The CBs have a lot of talent, but S has been an utter disaster which has gotten our CBs burned, and now has them playing scared and confused since they are trying to do everything expecting no help over the top. Trey Matthews is a great young S, but emphasis on the young part. He's also been hurt for multiple stretches in the preseason and over the last month, plus for a guy that was billed as a big time hitter, the new targeting rules have him admittedly playing scared and thinking too much leading to slow reactions. The defense had to fill so many holes, and was filling them with a bunch of guys that had very little, if any, experience, that struggles were to be expected. But communication issues and bad luck injuries have decimated a talented unit. Getting healthier, and getting the kids some more experience will fix some of the issues, but whether that happens this year or not until next year remains to be seen.
As for a coaching change, I'm not there yet. The issues are bad, and Georgia fans love to scream FIRE [insert every coach name], but the unit has issues that go beyond coaching, and that hopefully time and continued coaching can correct. If the problems persist, I wouldn't be shocked to see any changes. But Richt has always been patient in this regard, and I'd think he gives them at least another year to turn things around. Then again, Grantham has been reportedly lusting for a return to the NFL, so I also wouldn't be surprised if he takes the chance to go back to the pros, and Richt avoids making a hard decision that way.
4. Is Aaron Murray the best pocket quarterback in the SEC? He's gone right after Vanderbilt's biggest defensive strength (the secondary) to pile up 288 passing yards per game against the Commodores. Where would you rate him in terms of SEC passers and - if you've got time - UGA passers from the past two decades?
When he actually has a pocket, he is absolutely the best in the SEC. Our OT play has been extremely bad at times, and Murray responds very poorly under pressure, but when he has time he can pick apart any defense. He's got a great arm, and good accuracy. Manziel is something from a 10-15 yr old NCAA football video game with the way he avoids pressure and completes throws QBs aren't allowed to complete. And Mettenberger is really coming into his own at Baton Rouge, but with a good OL in front of him to keep his jersey clean, Murray is as good as it gets. But the mistakes he makes when pressure starts hitting him is something he'll have to improve if he's going to start at the next level.
As for Georgia passers over the last 20 years, he's as good as any. He's got much better arm strength than David Greene, with equal accuracy. Matt Stafford had the cannon, but his accuracy was an issue. Stafford was scatter shot on deep balls in particular, while Murray can drop it in there on a 40 yd fly route as good as anyone. Murray has both accuracy and arm strength that others haven't. I'd say Greene and Stafford both took hits better than Murray, a lot better, but in terms of pure passing, the kid from Tampa has it. Eric Zeier is on the fringe of that 20 yr mark, and he was damn good too, so he might be the closest thing to a complete package as Murray is throwing the ball. And Quincy Carter may be the most talented QB we've had over that stretch but off field issues kept him from ever fully utilizing those skills.
5. The first half of UGA's schedule was brutal, but the second half lacks the same kind of punch. Are there any concerns about this team's intensity dropping as the season wears on and high profile opponents are tougher to come by? With two losses on the ledger, are hopes still high for a third straight trip to the SEC Championship game?
The worry is more on injuries and a very exposed defense than intensity. The defense will hopefully show some pride to prove they are better than they've looked. Plus the second half has the rivalry games of Florida, Auburn, and Georgia Tech, and intensity is never an issue in those contests.
As for the SEC Championship, the math says we're still in contention, but as said above, the injuries and defense make that seem like a very hopeful and unlikely scenario. Unless things turn around quickly in the secondary, and the team gets and stays healthy offensively, any trip to Atlanta this year most likely comes in the form of a Peach Bowl bid.
6. Vanderbilt fans still have a sour taste in their mouths from the Grantham/Franklin confrontation of 2011, and last year's blowout loss was a major disappointment as a result. Do 'Dawg fans still harbor ill will towards the Commodores for their role in that altercation, or was a 48-3 blowout and the chance to just point at the scoreboard enough to wipe away any bad feelings?
A little, but not much. Georgia fans have to hate Florida, and Auburn, and Georgia Tech, and now South Carolina and Tennessee want in on the act, and Clemson had to get a little hate this year too. It's hard to hate everybody. Richt has come out already saying it's still out there, and if we can use it as motivation then why not. But I doubt there's too much bad blood there. Maybe with Josh Dawson though, considering Franklin's comments after recruiting flip between the schools. But most of the defense that was part of the bad blood two years ago is gone, and the new kids have a lot bigger problems to worry about.
7. Finally, what's your prediction for Saturday's game?
I have absolutely no idea what to expect out of Georgia. I think Gurley returns, and the offense gets back on track a bit. The defense will play OK, giving up several big plays and key 3rd down conversions, but makes enough happen in the end to pull out a 41-31 victory. That could change quickly if turnovers become an issue though. Georgia's defense simply can't force turnovers this year for whatever reason, and if the Commodores can get some pressure on Murray, he'll give up an interception or three. If Vandy is +3 in the turnover battle, they can easily win this game. There is a lot of trepidation from Georgia because of the defensive struggles and offensive injuries, but I think there should still be enough talent to eek out a hard fought victory.