The Commodores will look to make it two-in-a-row this weekend, but they'll have a formidable opponent staring them down from the other sideline. Vanderbilt will take on fifth-ranked Georgia in the hostile environment of Sanford Stadium Saturday night. A win against the Bulldogs would be a major breakthrough for coach James Franklin and a cache of potential recruits in the Peachtree State. However, he'll face steep odds to get there; Vanderbilt is a 16-point underdog according to bettors in Las Vegas.
This Vandy football team will have to prove that last week's 59-0 spanking of Presbyterian wasn't just the product of playing an inferior program. The Commodores came alive after two straight lackluster performances thanks to a revived running game and the steady passing of Austyn Carta-Samuels. Carta-Samuels may have the inside edge when it comes to starting tomorrow night's matchup as well, but he'll have to compete with season-opening incumbent Jordan Rodgers for snaps against the Bulldogs.
Georgia, on the other hand, will be guided by the steady hand of All-SEC quarterback Aaron Murray. Murray has passed for more than 280 yards per contest this season and owns a sterling 180.2 passer rating in 2012. He's flanked by a stout running game led by Todd Gurley and true freshman Keith Marshall, and these weapons should keep the Commodore defense busy all game.
Will Vanderbilt be able to sustain drives long enough to keep their defense fresh and ready to handle Georgia's high-scoring attack? Will the Commodores sort out their quarterback situation in time to give Todd Grantham a bit of payback after last year's late-game chippiness? Or will UGA's high-octane offense be too much for the 'Dores to handle? Let's turn to the experts* for some pre-game analysis and horrible betting advice.
Christian D'Andrea: It's not just Georgia's wins that concern me - it's how they've been winning. This Bulldog team has used, as Mr. Sanchez properly pointed out, superior depth to grind down opponents and pull away in the second half of their games. That sounds like the exact opposite of what the Commodores have done over the past few years. Though Vandy is getting better at playing fresh late in the game, there's still a very legitimate concern that a gassed defense could get torched by the 'Dawgs on Saturday.
The emergence of young players like Caleb Azubike and Darreon Herring will help that, but the biggest factor in whether or not the 'Dores can hang in the fourth quarter will likely come down to how the team's offense plays. If Rodgers or Carta-Samuels can sustain drives long enough for the Vandy defense to get off the field, then they'll have a legitimate chance to stop Murray and the Bulldogs. While Georgia has one of the best offenses in the SEC, Vanderbilt's defense has proven that they're an above-average unit in 2012, even without guys like Chris Marve or Casey Hayward leading the way.
Putting together drives against a stacked UGA defensive front will be easier said than done. Zac Stacy will have to prove that Saturday's 174-yard explosion was more than just a function of Presbyterian's slowness. However, 2011 showed that Stacy is at his most effective when he has a quarterback that can draw at least some of the attention away from him. If Jurdyn Carta-Rodgers can string together a few first downs and get the Bulldogs to unstack the box, then the Commodore offense will get a chance to click. If not, it'll probably be another long night of bubble screens and runs up the middle as the team drops to 1-3.
Ultimately, I think we'll see a bit more out of this offense than we had against Northwestern and South Carolina. Unfortunately, I don't think we'll get enough to win.
The Prediction? Georgia 31, Vanderbilt 20. But hey, Carey Spear stays hot and the Vandy defense looks like the team's brightest spot once again.
SEC Upset Pick of the Week. Well, I'm 0-3 so far with these this season. That probably isn't going to change since the SEC is filled with terrible mismatches this week. Alabama-Florida Atlantic? Florida-Kentucky? Mississippi State-South Alabama? Ole Miss-Tulane? In the interest of finding the only reasonable pick, I'll take Rutgers (+7) over Arkansas. It's not pretty, but it's not like we can expect Akron to throw some shade at UT this season.
KingJamesIV: I don’t think we really know how good the Commodores actually are. If you look to the experts (and by experts I mean gamblers), Georgia should win this game by around two touchdowns. I don’t think there’s any question about how good Georgia is.
Do we really know how good Vanderbilt is? Commodores Football 2012: THE ENIGMA MACHINE. Vanderbilt looked extremely capable and dangerous against a top ten team in South Carolina. Since the opener, the Gamecocks have justified their first preseason top ten ranking ever, despite having health issues with starting QB Connor Shaw. Vanderbilt controlled the first three quarters of the game against Northwestern before a controversial play was a ruled a catch, giving way to a Northwestern score that took all the wind out of the Commodores’ sails (wicked naval pun). Obviously, last week needs no commentary. The Commodores took care of business and worked on getting the offense in sync.
While it doesn’t count for anything, the Commodores were about 5 plays away from being 3–0 with a win over a top ten team. When you’re a Commodore fan, luck isn’t a lady, she’s a miserable banshee from Hell.
Is this really turning into a rivalry game? Sure, there was the flare up between Todd Grantham and Coach Franklin last season, a few personal fouls, and some Georgia players making lewd gestures directly towards Commodore fans in the stands. But when hasn’t Mark Richt lost a little bit of control over the goings on of his football team?
If this supposed rivalry continues to blossom, it could go two ways for the Dores. Obviously, one could be a major stomping by the fifth ranked team in college football. The other could see the Commodores play with the emotion and passion that some believe they haven’t displayed since last season.
We know Franklin has the gift of gab. If I could be a fly on the wall for any of the pregame speeches, this would be my second choice behind the Tennessee game. I’d be willing to bet that the marketing department, despite having entered beast-mode weeks and weeks ago, won’t be releasing a behind the scenes of pregame in Athens.
The Prediciton? Vanderbilt stuns Georgia by a field goal or less. Mark Richt loses control of his bowels.
SEC Upset Pick of the Week: KJIV Season Record: 1–2. ONE AND TWO, BABY! TI took Rutgers over Arkansas. Guess I’m going with Missouri (+9) over South Carolina. I thought about Tulane (+15) over Ole Miss, but we’re not playing the spread like pansies.