Vanderbilt and first-year head coach Derek Mason are still looking for their first SEC win after an 0-3 start. The odds that they'll get one this weekend are ...not great.
The Commodores will face Heisman Trophy frontrunner Todd Gurley and #12 Georgia on Saturday, where they are currently +7500 underdogs to win outright. They'll face a +33.5 point spread that's actually gotten worse as the week has gone on - meaning that bettors are pouring money down on the Bulldogs to win by 30+ points at home. These may be the worst odds the team will face all season.
That doesn't mean that the 'Dores can't pull off an upset. To break down their chances, we enlisted the help of an expert. MaconDawg is the manager of the excellent DawgSports. He was willing to take a break from his Oktoberfest duties and sit down to talk Bulldogs with us. Here's what he had to say about this weekend's matchup.
1. Hutson Mason hasn't been asked to do too much passing as the Bulldogs' quarterback so far this season (141.5 yards/game). How often do you expect to see him drop back to pass against a very young Vanderbilt secondary that has been burned by luminaries like Blake Frohnapfel and PJ Walker so far in 2014? Can he exploit Vandy's weaknesses against the pass?
Mason's actually attempting a relatively robust number of passes per game (26 against Clemson and 23 against South Carolina, for example). The biggest issue has been that those passes have not traveled very far, nor have many Bulldog receivers accrued many yards after the catch. Perhaps the best news for Hutson Mason this weekend is that he gets perhaps his two most explosive receivers, Justin Scott-Wesley and Malcolm Mitchell back, one from injury and the other from suspension. George's game plan will likely continue to be throwing the ball often and successfully enough to keep the running lanes open for Todd Gurley and the rest of the Bulldog tailbacks. Everything beyond that is gravy.
2. Let's put the over/under for Todd Gurley's rushing yards at 160. Which side do you take?
I was taking the under until Caleb Azubike called him out in the Tennessean the other day. Kidding. Kinda. Actually, I think that the number I am fairly comfortable predicting is Todd Gurleys number of rushes, which I imagine will be more than 14 and less than 20. If he continues to average north of 8 yards a game as he has so far this season, that puts him right around the 160 mark.
Just because I am a born pessimist, I'm going to say that he falls somewhere above 100 yards and below 160, and instead you see a large contribution by freshman Nick Chubb and sophomore Brendan Douglas. Georgia's second leading rushing threat on the season, true freshman Sony Michel, is currently sidelined with a shoulder injury and the second stringer coming into the season, Keith Marshall, is sidelined with ankle and knee sprains. Georgia cannot afford a banged up Todd Gurley going into that pivotal showdown with Missouri next week. So as soon as it's safe to pull him, expect Todd to be back on the sideline in his bubble wrap warm up suit.
3. Vanderbilt's most effective scoring weapon has been, uh, kick returner Darrius Sims. Do you expect the Bulldogs to give him opportunities to return kickoffs, or can we expect Mark Richt to keep the ball away from him?
Kicker Marshall Morgan has the leg to put it out of the back of the endzone, and I expect he'll be told to do so most of the time on Saturday. Coach Richt has singled out Sims and appears keenly aware that he's the sole reason South Carolina ranks dead last in the SEC in opponent kick return yardage (Georgia is 8th). That being said, Richt does occasionally like to kick a high one to the corner (ideally landing between the goal line and the 10) to see if he can pin the opposition deep. Spoiler: it rarely works and drives Georgia fans nuts.
4. Kentucky ruined the Vandy offense by blitzing Wade Freebeck and preventing the 'Dores from getting anything going on the ground to relieve the pressure on VU's inexperienced QB(s). Can we expect to see a similar defensive philosophy on Saturday? How will Georgia stop Vandy's effective tailback platoon or Ralph Webb and Jerron Seymour?
Webb is particularly worrisome because of his propensity to break tackles. That's a paranoia all of its own. But in terms of defensive philosophy I don't expect you'll see a great deal of blitzing from Jeremy Pruitt's defense. Don't get me wrong, generally Pruitt loves to blitz. He is a Saban acolyte who believes that the way to play defense is to bring pressure on the offense and force them to play on their heels.
But he is far more likely to see if he can get pressure on the Vanderbilt offensive line with four or five rushers before he starts bringing the house. He was able to accomplish this against Clemson, leaving poor Cole Stoudt to spend much of the second half of that game on his back or throwing off his back foot. South Carolina by contrast did a much better job handling the pressure from the Bulldog front four, and therefore had a much better evening. By forcing Georgia to bring blitz pressure Spurrier was able to take advantage of one-on-one matchups in the secondary, and even to get Dylan Thompson loose for a couple of nice QB keepers.
Georgia will blitz. There will be corner blitzes, safety blitzes, and a variety of twists and stunts from the linebackers. But it will be pretty judiciously used unless the Vandy O line is really throwing up a brick wall around Freebeck.
5. To that note, what has been different about the UGA defense this season without Todd Grantham running the show?
Statistically, the defense is really no better than it was before. In some respects it may actually be performing at a lower level. However, there is a clear upward trajectory, especially in terms of not giving up big plays. This was a huge problem under Todd Grantham. Pruitt has simplified schemes and alignments to cut down on missed assignments. As a result Georgia may not always be in the perfect setup, but they're rarely going to be heinously lost and confused. In Athens, on defense, this qualifies as progress.
6. Finally, what's your prediction for Saturday afternoon? Is it just a Clubber Lang quote?
I have seen too many underdog Vanderbilt teams come into Sanford Stadium and make Georgia's life miserable to take this game lightly. I am heartened by Freebeck's effort last week, or rather, the offensive line's and Karl Dorrell's lack of effort to protect him physically, schematically, economically, or spiritually. I expect Georgia to struggle far longer than Bulldog fans will be comfortable with but to ultimately prevail 34-24.