When the Georgia Bulldogs travel to Jacksonville’s EverBank Field on Oct. 28, the annual battle with the Florida Gators could well be a showdown for the SEC’s East Division title.
But as ol’ Lee Corso of ESPN GameDay might declare, “Not so fast my friend!”
Before unbeaten Georgia can do something about the recent hex the Gators seem to hold over the Bulldogs and thereby gain the inside track to the Dec. 2 SEC championship game at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, I believe that Kirby Smart’s team first has to deal with a pair of struggling football teams: Vanderbilt and Missouri.
Coming off two of the most impressive back-to-back conference wins in UGA history — the 31-3 rout of then 17th-ranked Mississippi State and a 41-0 pummeling of Tennessee on the Vols’ home turf in Knoxville — presently 5-0 and 5th-ranked Georgia rates a heavy favorite to dispose of both the Commodores and Mizzou Tigers over the next two weekends.
But, again, first things first. No way can the Bulldogs be caught looking down the schedule to the most formidable opponents remaining … Florida, Auburn and, yes, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Their focus clearly has to be on the next foe up and, this week, that’s Saturday’s high noon kickoff against the 3-2 Vanderbilt Commodores in Nashville.
In each of the five outings to date, maintaining focus hasn’t been a problem for this Georgia team. The Bulldogs whipped an upset-minded Appalachian State team in the season opener by 31-10, took a rather historic 20-19 win over Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., barely broke a sweat in toppling the Samford Bulldogs, 42-14, and then, posted the dominating victories over the MSU Bulldogs and the Volunteers the past two Saturdays.
And you would think the Bulldogs, due to their excruciating 17-16 loss to the Commodores between the hedges in 2016, would be ready to play Saturday in the Music City … ready to extract a bit of revenge on Derek Mason’s ‘Dores.
As Smart said in his Monday press conference the Georgia defense, which has been just short of spectacular thus far, will be facing the best passing quarterback it has seen to date, at least when it comes to the vertical passing game. That would be Vandy’s senior quarterback, Kyle Shurmur, who indeed gave the Florida secondary some problems in the Commodores’ tough loss in Gainesville last weekend.
So, no question, Lorenzo Carter, Davin Bellamy, Roquan Smith and the rest of the Bulldogs’ potent pass rushers will have to get in Shurmur’s face Saturday afternoon because, if he is protected well by the Vanderbilt O-line, Shurmur is bound to find some creases in the Georgia secondary and be able to get the ball to his very capable pass receivers.
And of course, the Bulldogs’ stop-em gang can’t let Vandy’s all-time leading rusher, Ralph Webb, get started and inflict damage on Georgia via the ground route. Webb was really held down the past two weekends by the Alabama and Gator defenses and the Bulldogs need to do likewise against the Commodore senior tailback on Saturday.
Defensively, Vanderbilt can also prove troublesome at times, the 59-0 shellacking by ‘Bama, of course, being the obvious exception, so the Georgia offense must be on point Saturday, gobbling up the yards on the ground with Chubb, Michel, and Swift and likely showing more production from the passing game with Jake Fromm and Jacob Eason, if the latter sees increased action in this game.
It’s gonna be difficult for the Bulldogs to ring up another near-flawless performance like they manufactured against Mississippi State and Tennessee but I do anticipate the Dawgs playing plenty well enough to beat Vanderbilt. In fact, after not allowing a single touchdown the past two weekends, I do see the Commodores somehow crossing the goal line against the UGA defensive unit. But it will be just one touchdown and it won’t be nearly enough to spring the huge upset that Mason and his team are gunning for. Make it 35-10, Georgia, and then it’s back to Sanford Stadium for the Saturday night homecoming engagement with the Missouri Tigers.
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