Contain Ke’Shawn – The Southeastern Conference’s Newcomer of the Year in 2018, Ke’Shawn Vaughn is one of the league’s most talented and dangerous running backs. A transfer from Illinois, Vaughn ran for 1,244 yards and 12 touchdowns on 157 attempts, an impressive 7.9 per pop. Vaughn closed the season in tremendous fashion with 243 yards on 13 carries and two touchdowns in the ‘Dores 45-38 Texas Bowl shootout loss to Baylor. His numbers in the league were strong, as he averaged 95 yards per game against conference foes, including 172 yards and three touchdowns at Arkansas and 146 on the ground in the Commodores win over Tennessee. In Georgia’s 41-13 win over Vanderbilt last season in Athens, Vaughn ripped off a 43-yard run, and totalled 79 on the ground on just nine carries. Vanderbilt will certainly try and ride the defense and have Vaughn and the running game grind away against the Bulldogs. For the Georgia defensive front, it’s a huge challenge in game one. If the Dogs are going to avoid the upset, it all starts with that run defense against a stellar ball-carrier.
Get after the Quarterback – The Bulldogs defense had one of its finest performances in last season’s win over Vanderbilt, limiting the Commodores highly touted senior quarterback Kyle Shurmur to 14 of 28 passing for just 169 yards, an average of six yards per attempt and a QB Rating of 37.4. Shurmur leaves big shoes to fill. The leading candidate is Ball State graduate transfer Riley Neal, a three-year starter from Muncie, Indiana. The 6-5, 217 Neal threw for 11 TDs and just four picks last season, chalking up 1,917 yards through the air, and 357 on the ground with five rushing scores. Georgia coach Kirby Smart has used the catchword “havoc” quite frequently, and this is the first shot at showcasing a potentially talented group of pass-rushers. Of course if Vaughn is running big, that opens up the passing game, and Vanderbilt has some talented pass catchers, highlighted by receiver Kalija Lipscomb and tight end Jared Pinkney. Both, like Vanghn, were All-SEC selections a year ago.
Power Up That O-Line– One of the biggest – literally and figuratively – reasons Georgia has such high expectations for the 2019 campaign is a strong, powerful, deep, talented, extremely large offensive line. In the Bulldogs 45-14 pounding of the Commodores in Music City two seasons ago, Georgia averaged 7.8 yards per carry. Last season in Athens, the Dogs chalked up 6.4 per tote. That big Georgia front will be vital to the Bulldogs success Saturday. A blueprint from last year would be right up the Bulldogs alley. Jake Fromm was 17 of 23 for 276 yards with three touchdowns against the Commodores. Derek Mason will always have a tough and well-prepared defense that will challenge any team. It all starts in the trenches. That’s where this Georgia team must make its mark for greatness.
Kicking Game Conquest – The last two seasons, as Georgia has ascended into one of the elite teams in college football, the Bulldogs, not coincidentally, have been outstanding in the kicking game. But in the last two games of last season, special teams woes played a large part in the heartbreak and disappointment of Atlanta and New Orleans. It is the last go around for Rodrigo Blankenship, and he needs a huge year for the Bulldogs to be great. Will Jake Camarda make the jump in his second season as Georgia’s punter? There is speed and athleticism across the board for the Bulldogs, which should provide for effective coverage and return units. Catching punts, playing sound, that’s the foundation. Smart wants a complete kicking game that delivers big plays and creates some of those beautiful Non-Offensive Touchdowns.
Bring It – The Bulldog faithful will travel in droves to one of America’s great cities, Nashville, Tennessee. There is so much hype for this team. There is so much hope. But the team must stay focused week to week. Every game is a new challenge, a new test and a new goal. Achieving short term goals leads to achieving long term ones. Enjoy the journey. The Bulldogs players and fans feed off one another. That has certainly shown away from home – thinking of Notre Dame and Pasadena most notably. An impressive showing in Nashville would be a tremendous kick start to the campaign and a 1-0 conference mark.