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Q&A with MaconDawg of Dawg Sports

Vanderbilt hosts Georgia on Saturday, and MaconDawg is here to answer your questions.

NCAA Football: Georgia at Tennessee
Can’t hate a team too much when they make THEM miserable, can we?
Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

The Vanderbilt Commodores host the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday. Georgia is ranked fifth in the AP poll after a 41-0 win at Tennessee.

Okay, you’re excused for laughing at that last sentence. Then wet your pants when you realize Georgia (a) is unbeaten this season and (b) has beaten its last two opponents by a combined 72-3.

Yeah, this doesn’t sound like fun. But we can still point and laugh at Tennessee. So, here’s MaconDawg of our sister blog Dawg Sports to answer the questions you have about the Bulldogs.

1. Let's start with the most obvious question. Jake Fromm has played well since Jacob Eason got hurt in Week 1, but now with Eason potentially healthy this week, Kirby Smart has a decision to make. While Kirby Smart is playing things close to the vest, if it were your decision, who would you start and why? Will both Eason and Fromm get snaps this week?

If he's physically and mentally ready I think the coaches go with Eason. Georgia is 5-0 with Jake Fromm under center. But to some extent they got there in spite of the true freshman rather than because of him. I want to be absolutely clear: Jake Fromm has done more than anyone could have reasonably asked him to in coming in on a moment's notice to lead the Bulldog offense. He's demonstrated the physical ability and poise we all knew he had. And one day he may very well lead this team to an SEC title.

But for now Fromm doesn't have either the command of the playbook or the ability to stretch the field in the passing game that Jacob Eason does. Fromm is 50 of 84 passing (59.5%) for 734 yards with 8 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. That's decidedly not bad. But it breaks down to roughly 10 of 17 passing for 147 yards per game. That stat line is a lot more palatable at 5-0 than it would be at 3-2. And it isn't going to work against the Auburns and Floridas Georgia is going to have to beat on the way to trying to get back to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. There's a reason Jacob Eason trotted out to start the season opener against Appalachian State, He won the job in fall camp, and if he's the same QB he was before his knee injury, I expect him to win it back.

Nevertheless, I'm glad I'm not the one who has to make that call. The backup quarterback is usually the most popular guy on campus, and Fromm is no exception. If Georgia drops a game from here on out and Eason's play has anything to do with it, the Monday morning quarterbacking will be brutal.

2. Georgia seemed to underperform last year, going 8-5, and there were real questions about whether Smart was the right man for the job. Now, with a 5-0 start and a top five ranking, those questions seem to have been put to bed. What, if anything, is Smart doing differently this season?

He's playing the same players, but a year older. Georgia was one of the youngest teams in the SEC last season, and it showed. This year the Bulldogs returned 10 starters on defense and 7 on offense. Within that general maturation three psotion groups have made a huge difference. While the Bulldogs lost 2 starters on the offensive line, some of the younger guys who played in 2016 have matured and moved into starring roles up front. In the receiving corps sophomore Mecole Hardman moved from cornerback to receiver and looks like a natural at the position, while senior Javon Wims has really come into his own as well. Junior Terry Godwin continues to be a consistent, reliable threat both as a deep threat and a possession receiver. In the defensive backfield, a young secondary that was victimized at times in 2016 has been air tight, and Tulsa transfer JR Reed has become a physical presence.

If there is a night and day difference, it's on special teams. Georgia may legitimately have the best aggregate special teams units in the SEC. Kicker Rodrigo "Mr. Spec-tacular" Blankenship had kicked 18 straight touchbacks until Tennessee returned one all the way to the 21 yard line in the second quarter last week. Punter Cameron Nizialek is averaging 42.6 yards per punt, which sounds pedestrian until you find out that oppoents are returning his punts for an average of -1.0 yard per kick. Put another way, he's booming it so well that opponents are returning less than half of his kicks, and when they do (only 4 of Nizialek's 24 kicks have been returned at all) , it's a mistake.

I don't think Kirby Smart is really doing much different than what he said he wanted to do, or in fact did, in 2016. But those initial efforts to make Georgia a bigger, smarter, more physical football team are starting to bear fruit.

3. Georgia has allowed just three points, total, over the last two games. What has made the Bulldogs' defense so stout, and who are some names for Vanderbilt fans to know on that side of the ball?

Before all is said and done I believe at least 8 of Georgia's 11 defensive starters will play in the NFL. So picking out a standout seems like it would be tough. It's actually not. The straw that stirs the drink for the UGA defense in junior inside linebacker Roquan Smith. The 6'1, 227 pounder led the team in tackles in 2016 and is on pace to do so again this season. He's perhaps the most versatile linebacker I've seen come out of Athens since at least Dannell Ellerbe, in the sense that he can stuff the run, is an excellent pass rusher, and can cover receivers down the field.

Vanderbilt will miss facing defensive tackle Trenton Thompson, the team's other standout performer (he sprained an MCL against Tennessee and is likely out for 2-3 weeks). Behind him is a deep group of defensive tackles that may be the best the Commodores face all season that isn't wearing crimson and white. In the defensive backfield senior safety Dominick Sanders is closing in on the Georgia all-time interception mark (he recently passed Kirby Smart on the list), and is as fearsome a ball hawk as any in the conference.

4. After returning for his senior season, Nick Chubb has seen his yards per carry go up from 5.0 to 6.4 this season. What seems to be different: is it better blocking, or does Chubb have the explosiveness back that he showed before his knee injury?

A little of both, as well as some help from his friends. The offensive line has looked a good bit better this season, though there's still work to be done there. Chubb also looks to the untrained eye as if he has regained some of the explosiveness he had as a freshman in 2014. But other factors in his increased efficiency are the increased reliability of the receiving corps and the deep stable of tailbacks behind him on the depth chart. Georgia has been willing to go to the air early and often this season, preventing the type of stacked fronts Chubb was running into last season. But an overlooked factor has been running backs coach Dell McGee playing five tailbacks every game to keep Chubb fresh late.

5. Finally, what's your prediction for the game?

As a Georgia fan I have been conditioned over the years to know we're going to lay an egg at some point. It's just a question of when, how big, and whether it's against an opponent who can truly make us pay for it. An 11 a.m. start in Nashville would be a prime candidate.

That being said, I think this is a horrible matchup for Vanderbilt. The 'Dores bring the 13th ranked rushing offense in the league to bear against the 3rd ranked rushing defense. Derek Mason's squad is last in the conference in total offense (though that Alabama game skews things a bit). Georgia is first in total defense. I look for the Commodores to keep this one close early, especially if they can create a turnover or two.

But if Georgia gets out to an early lead and can play from ahead the way they did against Mississippi State and Tennessee, this one could get a little out of hand. My blanket prediction is Georgia 34, Vanderbilt 20. But if Georgia is up 10-0 or greater heading into the second quarter, and can move the ball on the ground, things could get worse.