Vanderbilt kicked off their 2015 season with a loss, and the path to their first victory won't get much easier this week when a top 10 rival comes to town. The Commodores will host #9 Georgia on Saturday, and while the Bulldogs will give Derek Mason a chance to secure his premier SEC win, the odds certainly aren't in the home team's favor. A reinforced Vandy defense will be tested by All-American tailback Nick Chubb and an offensive line that has helped turn the Athens campus into an NFL tailback factory in recent years.
This will be a different Georgia team than the last one that left Nashville with a 31-27 loss, so we turned to an expert to help with our preview. Mr. Sanchez is an editor over at Dawg Sports, SBNation's Georgia Bulldogs site. He was generous to help out with a Q&A exchange to help break down every angle of Saturday's matchup. His answers to my questions are below:
1. Greyson Lambert won UGA's starting quarterback race this summer and performed well with limited passes (8-12, 141 yards, 2 TDs) against Louisiana-Monroe. What are you expecting from him against Vanderbilt, and do you think there's a chance we see Brice Ramsey take the field if Lambert struggles?
Mr. Sanchez: I think Ramsey will be seen regardless. Whether it's for a series or two, or for a longer stretch is probably what depends on Lambert's play. But Ramsey will almost certainly take some snaps some time in the first half. As for Lambert, I liked most of what I saw Saturday. He tends to throw fade aways a lot, where he's drifting back as he releases, and that worries me, but he saw what we kind of saw from him at Virginia. He's a big kid, taller than any starting QB for UGA going back to the 60s if not longer. He's got a good arm, not great, but can put it where he needs to down field. And while he struggled at Virginia in their shotgun read option system, he seems pretty well suited for Georgia's under center, run based and play action system. And considering his primary job is to get the ball from the center to either Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, or another RB, he can do that pretty well.
2. Will quarterback play even matter if Nick Chubb is playing at 80-100% of his peak abilities?
Probably not, no. Chubb is really, really, really good. And Sony Michel isn't bad either. Add Keith Marshall working back into good health, and Brendan Douglas now a junior, and Georgia doesn't need to throw the ball much. Last week, we used a lot of two TE sets, often with a FB too, and just ran right at the defense. Chubb just grinds yards, and then Michel has the speed to blow it by teams. Provided they stay healthy, new OC Brian Schottenheimer has a lot of ways to set his team up behind a very veteran OL, with Chubb as the likely focal point being a rare treat these days in the familiar workhorse rusher.
On the bright side though, Vanderbilt is the last team to hold him under 100 yards. Granted, that was with Todd Gurley started and rushed for 163 and 2 TDs, while Chubb added 78 yards and a TD on just 8 carries. But it is the last game where the sophomore from Cedartown failed to reach triple digits.
3. The Vanderbilt offensive line has struggled over the past two seasons, and on Thursday it appeared that the left side of the line was much more stable than the right. Do you expect the Bulldogs to shift players around in their pass rush to take advantage of the Commodores' inexperience at right guard and right tackle?
Not really, because there is a good pass rusher on both sides, and up the middle, based on what we saw against Louisiana-Monroe. Georgia rotated pretty regularly along the DL, and likely does so again this Saturday. But for the most part they were able to stick senior Jordan Jenkins on one side, sophomore Lorenzo Carter on the other, and let junior Leonard Floyd work behind the DTs as an ILB, and got all three of their All-SEC caliber pass rushers on the field at the same time. If the RG struggles recognizing blitzers, I wouldn't be surprised if Floyd and others shoot his gap more than on the left, but aside from that, there are enough edge rushers to keep talent on both sides. DE/OLB is loaded for the Dawgs, it's the interior DL spots that have lesser expectations and lack the star names.
4. Louisiana-Monroe had their most success against UGA through the air. Who in the Bulldog secondary needs to step up in order to keep Johnny McCrary from targeting his first option downfield?
Missed tackles seem to account for some of the bigger plays for the Warhawks, with FS Chris Sanders having a bad whiff on one and SS Quincy Mauger taking a bad angle on another. Georgia is still a bit suspect at CB, with former walk-on Aaron Davis joined by freshman Rico McGraw and sophomore Malkom Parrish (who mostly saw special teams work last season) getting the most of the snaps as La-Monroe spread the field. I expect they'll improve with experience as the season wears on, but if we can get Jenkins, Carter, Floyd, and the rest of the front seven to make sure they don't have to cover for very long, that should help them out considerably.
5. The last time Georgia came to Nashville, they left on the wrong end of an upset loss. Is there any lingering sense of revenge following this team - or its fans - into Saturday's game?
A little bit, sure. I think part of that is also to keep the team from getting relaxed after seeing the Commodores opener was an upset by Western Kentucky. But I think most of the fans are upset about the poor officiating last time with those targeting penalties than Vanderbilt. A lot of bad blood went away with Franklin after some of his antics and the stuff that went on between him and Grantham, but I'm sure the team will be reminded several times at practice that their last trip to Nashville didn't end the way they'd have wanted.
6. Vanderbilt unveils their new "Deep Water" jerseys on Saturday. How excited are you for the ensuing penalty that costs the Commodores four timeouts for wearing improper uniforms?
7. Finally, what's your prediction for Saturday's game?