In 2016, Vanderbilt needed a superhuman effort to upset Georgia on the road. In 2017, those Bulldogs are even better — and Cunningham is now a Houston Texan.
So how can the Commodores pull off a repeat in Nashville? By finding the offense that escaped them last fall. Vandy gained just 171 total yards in Athens last year, struggling to move the ball against a tough UGA defense and gaining just 1.9 yards per carry in a game they probably didn’t deserve to win.
The bad news is the Georgia defense has only gotten better. The Bulldogs ranked seventh in total defense in 2016. This fall, they rank third.
But Vanderbilt is better too, turning a once-unwatchable offense into an explosive aerial attack. Kyle Shurmur has unlocked the talent that made him a four-star recruit and looks like the best quarterback this team has had since Jay Cutler was on campus punching emergency call boxes. That’s good news, because the Commodore run game has been the football equivalent of chewing aluminum foil.
Ralph Webb, the school’s all-time leader rusher, has been bottled up to the tune of 198 yards on 75 carries. Khari Blasingame’s been held to 103 yards. Even with a budding pass offense taking defenders out of the box as the season wears on, Vanderbilt’s running game has failed to catch on.
Will that change Saturday when the ‘Dores host Georgia in their quest to stay above . 500? Let’s take a deeper look.
Christian D’Andrea: I like what this offense did against Florida. Kyle Shurmur shook off a slow start and spread his wings in a wide-open offense that allowed him to uncork intermediate and deep-range passes and move the chains early against a tough Gator defense. While his accuracy took a hit, Andy Ludwig’s confidence in his young passer grew.
And that’s great for Vanderbilt, because otherwise the Commodores would be stuck in a Dorrell-ian nightmare, running the ball into the backs of its linemen on first and second down before tossing up jump balls on third. Vandy finally has a quarterback with which to work, but that alone won’t be enough to beat Georgia.
The Bulldogs have a solid front seven who can shutter Webb’s running lanes, but their pass rush hasn’t been as impressive — UGA has averaged only two sacks per game this fall. If Webb can find a way to provide just enough support to back off the Bulldogs, the ‘Dores embattled offensive line should be able to keep Shurmur upright long enough to make a difference.
Which means VU can keep pace Saturday, but if we’ve learned anything the last two weeks, it’s that this defense struggles to stop the run. Georgia and Florida combined to gain 714 yards on the ground. This week, they face the most talented backfield they’ll see all season thanks to Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, and D’Andre Swift. Unless something drastic has changed, that trio has the power to grind the ‘Dores into dust.
I see another close game early, a la Florida, until UGA’s running attack becomes too much.
The Pick: Georgia 30, Vanderbilt 24
The SEC Upset Pick of the Week: LSU (+4) over FLORIDA. DACOACHO needs chaos to thrive. Nothing can ever be simple in Baton Rouge again.
VandyTigerPhD: This offense is looking good, but now our defense doesn’t. Why is it we can never have both at the same time? That’s so Vanderbilt. Not as Vanderbilt as taking out a starting QB for the backup to play with a chip on his shoulder, but close. Unfortunately, I’m sure there’s a weakness in the way our front seven played against UF that a Chubb led UGA offense will be able to exploit.
We do have one good thing going for us - our passing game. I can’t believe I’m saying that. While Dawgs fans are crowing about how they’re going to be able to contain Webb, that shouldn’t scare us. We’ve been essentially scoring points with a stifled run game all season.
Nonetheless I can’t see this game going well for us. So hunker down you... golden britches?? Because we’re in for another week of questioning who this team really is.
The Pick: Jawga 38, Vanderbilt 27
The SEC Upset Pick of the Week: I like CDA’s pick because total chaos is the way of things nowadays. However, I also like the USC (+2.5) over Arky pick. It’s a toss-up game, so I’ll be able to excuse myself if I miss either way!
Tom Stephenson: Look, we entered the season thinking it would be a huge win if we were 3-3 through our first six games. To that, I say:
All right. So, our defense has been getting completely pantsed the past couple of weeks and now we get to face Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Hoo, boy. You would think they will run wild on our defense, but this being Georgia, it is probably wrong to assume that they will RUN THE DAMN BALL as they should, instead opting to have Jacob Eason get back in the swing of things by airing it out. You think a 5-yard out is gonna win you a game? No, son, you gotta unleash the dragon!
Ahem. At least, I’m assuming Georgia is going to treat this like a tuneup game for... oh, FFS, they have Mizzou at home next week and then a bye week before the Cocktail Party. What are they tuning up for again? Damnit reality, you’re killing the dream. Anyway, I do think Shurmur will hit enough big plays to keep this one somewhat respectable, but shit, we’re gonna lose this one, aren’t we?
The Pick: Georgia 31, Vanderbilt 14
The SEC Upset Pick of the Week: The BYE WEEK over THEM, because they will manage to score no points for the second week in a row. There really isn’t a bad time to remind you of how much of a dumpster fire that program is at the moment, is there?