Vanderbilt will face their toughest test of the 2012 season this weekend when they travel to Athens to play the fifth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday night. The Commodores will enter the game looking to build off a 59-point blowout win over Presbyterian, but they haven't been so lucky against BCS opponents. The 'Dores had their offense squelched by South Carolina and Northwestern in back-to-back losses in their first two weeks.
As a result, oddsmakers aren't giving Vanderbilt much of a chance against Mark Richt's squad. The Bulldogs are 16 point favorites in Vegas as of Thursday, and that line doesn't look like it will be moving much in Vandy's favor. Part of the reason for that is due to the team's instability at quarterback. The 'Dores will have to choose between Jordan Rodgers and Austyn Carta-Samuels behind center after Rodgers's rough start gave way for the Wyoming transfer last week.
Georgia has been rolling through their opponents so far in 2012, using big second-half bursts to win by an average of 26.3 points per game. What can the Commodores expect when they face a fired-up Bulldog team on Saturday night? I established a correspondence with our friend Mr. Sanchez over at Dawg Sports, and he helped shed some light on this weekend's showdown. Also, he may be one of the rare few writers out there that has as profound a love for Frisky Dingo as I do. Anyway, for all things Vanderbilt-Georgia from an Athens perspective, don't forget to swing by Dawg Sports.
Mr. Sanchez's answers are below in red:
1. Georgia is off to a hot start, scoring more than 47 points per game behind Aaron Murray's dynamic work at quarterback. However, the Bulldogs passing strength will match up with one of Vandy's best units thanks to the Dores' stout defensive backs. What can the Vanderbilt secondary expect from the UGA passing attack, and how do you think Mark Richt will work to stretch the field against a Commodore secondary that has only allowed only 100 passing yards per game in 2012?
Look out for the first and bomb! It's a bit of a joke amongst Georgia fans, but it developed for a reason; that OC Mike Bobo loves to go deep on first down. Arthur Lynch has shown some soft hands, and has a huge frame to make some big 3rd down catches from the TE spot. Our leading WR is Michael Bennett. He does a good job using his size to get open, and can be sneaky fast (read, is white). He's a good route runner, but with Malcolm Mitchell playing defense, we don't really have a reliable deep threat (senior Tavares King can make plays deep, but the hands keep him from being reliable). Whether it's open or not, Murray will take his shots down field.
2. Georgia has been a stronger team in the second half of their games in 2012. Is that a function of the team's conditioning, game planning, slower than expected starts, or something else?
Part of this is the opposition. Buffalo and Florida Atlantic just don't have the depth of athletes to keep up for 4 quarters, and the team struggled with mistakes early before putting it together and sealing those games. Missouri sustained multiple injuries (to their LT and best LB) and that showed in the late stages of that game. Part of that endurance is depth, particularly on defense. We have some scholarship number issues, but our 2 deep defensively is very strong, and we can rotate people in and out to keep pressure on. This is especially true at LB where kids like Amarlo Herrera are emerging as future stars. But also, part of it is conditioning. S&C became an issue under Richt, and before last year, they made changes to hopefully improve in that area. It seemed to work last year, and with a few more tweaks this past offseason (like hiring speed/agility expert Sherman Armstrong) have made a huge difference in Georgia staying strong in to the 4th quarter.
3. Austyn Carta-Samuels (stronger arm) and Jordan Rodgers (better runner) are locked in a battle right now for the starting slot for Saturday night's game - which Vandy quarterback do you think poses the biggest threat to the Georgia defense?
Carta-Samuels, without a doubt. Our secondary has shown some holes, and with All-American FS Bacarri Rambo likely suspended (Richt won't discuss it specifically, but the original rumor this summer was a 4 game suspension), those holes haven't been completely filled yet. We start our best WR at CB in Mitchell. Senior Sanders Commings, while a solid corner, tends to look lost at FS and that was where he filled last week in with Rambo still sidelined. We are vulnerable against the pass, so Carta-Samuels can exploit that fact. Rodgers wouldn't help much, as this defense's strength is in it's LBs, their ability to get pressure and to chase. We have a lot of speed and ability at LB which neutralizes the threats Discount Double-Check's kid brother brings to the table.
4. We know about guys like Jarvis Jones and John Jenkins on the UGA defense, but who is one of the less heralded players who could end up making a name for himself against the Commodores?
Kwame Geathers and Shaun Williams. Geathers is the DT who got cut down by Logan Stewart last year. He, similar to Jenkins, is a 6'5 or so, 350 or so behemoth with amazing agility for someone that size. He comes from a family of NFL DL (father, uncle, both older brothers), and if he comes in to this game with a personal score to settle, I would not want to be the one tasked with blocking him. And Williams, who was the player that Grantham/Franklin situation was centered around, is a beast at S. He didn't get the attention Rambo did last year, because he didn't have that high number of interceptions, but he is just as good if not better. He also has an NFL future coming soon, as a solid cover man and big hitter over the middle.
5. Todd Grantham and James Franklin are two coaches who could be described as...well, let's just say "passionate." Is there any extra motivation for the Bulldogs in Saturday's game after the way that the last meeting between these teams ended? How about for the fans? Don't feel like you need to hold back on your opinion of Franklin just because we're a Vandy site, either.
As mentioned above, the cut blocking incident will be added motivation for the DL, particularly Geathers. The yelling match at the end of last year won't reduce passions amongst, as you call them, passionate men, including the one who will be on the field in Williams. And Grantham's defensive players do seem to take on his personality, so I have no doubts they will be aggressive and hit people with, as Bruce Lee called it, "emotional content". There's the situation around LB Josh Dawson, who was a Vanderbilt commit that switched to Georgia on signing day, and whose intergrity was called in to question by Franklin. That will add even more fuel to the fire. I hope the fans can be friendly and welcoming to Commodores who make the trip to Athens, but I'd be lying if I didn't say Franklin's actions haven't increased the emotions. A night game will only add to the increase.
6. And finally, your expert prediction, along with the UGA homer prediction.
Honestly, I see some offensive struggles, a defensive score, and Georgia pulling away late with a 24-10 victory. But the homer in me really, really loves this defense, and thinks they will want to prove something leading to a score of 31-0.