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Saturday Predictions: Vanderbilt at Georgia

Ralph Webb is suiting up. Can he save the Commodores?

Vandy vs. Georgia death rabbits

Vanderbilt is staring into the abyss. With the exception of a cupcake matchup against FCS Tennessee State, the rest of the Commodores’ opponents have S&P+ rankings that look like this: 52, 11, 58, 8, and 13. No. 58 is a beatable Missouri team, but it takes place on the road where Derek Mason has yet to win a conference game.

No. 52 on the list is a team the Commodores have beaten only twice in the past 10 years; the Georgia Bulldogs.

Vanderbilt will head to Athens for a road game against a UGA team Derek Mason has traditionally lost to by 22 points a shot. The Commodores will need to lure their offense out of its seemingly neverending SEC hibernation to leave the Peach State with a win.

In 2016, Vandy is averaging nine points per game against Power 5 conference opponents. It’s a slightly-better 9.7 points against SEC teams. Neither score is likely to hold up against Georgia on Saturday.

Christian D’Andrea: Ralph Webb is back on the depth chart, but is he healthy enough to be the kind of player who stares at the WWI trench in front of him and still finds a way to plunge forward for four yards? More importantly, will his injury scare keep Mason from sending him as a gunner on punt return coverage?

Laying off Webb could ultimately benefit these Commodores. Kyle Shurmur has shown flashes of potential when the team has needed him to throw the ball. His work in two-minute drill situations have come against defenses expecting the pass, albeit in core prevent packages. While that may put a damper on his performances, it doesn’t stop him from being the most talented passer Mason has had in his three season in Nashville.

Shurmur has been growing in fits and starts this season. He’ll have to mature in a hostile environment against a Georgia team ranked 91st in passing defense among FBS teams. The Bulldogs will give the young passer opportunities to succeed, but he’ll have to do so in a stadium much less welcoming than Commonwealth Field in Lexington.

Even worse, his Commodores haven’t scored an offensive touchdown against a conference foe since the first half of opening night. That’s a lot of demons to shake.

Seems like the perfect storm for another day where Shurmur and the Vandy offense extend drives beyond three-and-outs but consistently fail to find the end zone. Factor in a shaky special teams cadre Mason clearly doesn’t trust, and you’ve got the recipe for another low-scoring affair.

The question then becomes whether the ‘Dores can stop UGA. They limited their first three conference opponents to just over 15 points per game. Those three opponents rank t-67th (Florida), t-98th (Kentucky), and DEAD LAST IN THE FBS BY A SIGNIFICANT MARGIN (South Carolina). Georgia, meanwhile, ranks 83rd — so not a major threat, but better than two of the teams to already outscore Vandy this fall.

The Bulldogs have a singular weapon none of those teams can match, however. Nick Chubb has crushed the Commodores in the past, springing for nearly 10 yards per carry the last two years. That’s bad for a Vandy team that allowed Western Kentucky to run for 205 yards and allowed that other Georgia school (Tech) to gash them for 278.

Ultimately, Chubb’s presence will prove to be too much for the ‘Dores bend-don’t-break defense.

The Pick: Georgia 34, Vanderbilt 13

The SEC Upset Pick of the Week: TENNESSEE (+12.5) over Alabama. Weird things happen when the Vols play. I’m pretty sure Butch Jones hired an orphan to keep watch for angels giving Josh Dobbs shoulder rubs during the pregame.

Tom Stephenson: Here is how this game will go down, because it’s how every Derek Mason-coached game goes down:

  1. The defense will play well, including a goal-line stand or at least holding the opposition to a field goal when they drive the ball deep in Vanderbilt territory, and manage to keep the score tantalizingly close.
  2. Ralph Webb will break off a few good runs, but mostly Andy Ludwig will call vanilla run plays on 3rd and 8 that go nowhere, so that Sam Loy can pin the other team deep and give the defense plenty of field to work with.
  3. While the final score will be relatively close and Vanderbilt will manage to cover the spread, you’ll never feel like we really had a chance to win the game in spite of the close final margin.
  4. But of course, when the offense does go hurry-up with two minutes left and trailing by a touchdown, they’ll complete some passes against a prevent defense and drive down the field before it ends with Vanderbilt kinda-sorta close to the goal line, and various commenters will wonder why we don’t go hurry-up more often after comparing that to 58 minutes of inept offense.

Don’t even TRY to fight it. You know this is 100 percent true, and this is how it will go in Athens.

The Pick: Georgia 14, Vanderbilt 7.

SEC Upset Pick of the Week: Honestly, I’d go all chalk this week (BOO!) so I will say BYE (+21) over South Carolina as Will Muschamp discovers a way to score negative points.

VandyTigerPhD: Both the above are reasonable outcomes, and I really can’t argue with either. I’d like to think we have a chance, but we tend to get entirely too optimisitc about UGA games. Sure, we’ve some reason for it, but by and large, they are much better than us. We all remember the game that was stolen from us on a touchdown that was called when the QB was down at the 1 yard line, and even after review was still called a TD. We all remember THAT fumble. We also remember the horrendous games we’ve had against them as recent as last season.

Tom is right though in that (most) Derek Mason football teams somehow end up getting our hopes up, only to dash them upon the rocks. I imagine it’s somewhat what a curious clam feels like when being lifted up into the air by a seagull, feeling the majesty and splendor of the world and flight... only to be a tasty snack.

This game will be unwatchable no matter what happens. Watch something else.

The Pick: /flips coin. I’m going with the curbstomping. Georgia 49 - Vanderbilt 10.

SEC Upset of the Week: Now that the VAWLS have lost, I feel confident I can talk about them as I please without upsetting the football Gods. They’re mad, and they’ve played every game this year EXACTLY at the level of their competition, and no further. Therefore, I’m going with TENNESSEE (+12.5) over Alabama.