Although spring football practice is on hold due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19 and the current global pandemic, the Georgia football rosters are still set for the fall. Coming off a 12-2 season, the Bulldogs head into the 2020 season with high expectations. Bulldawg Illustrated is analyzing each opponent in a twelve part series that will continue for the next several weeks.
Following Georgia’s game against ULM, the Vanderbilt Commodores come to Athens on Oct. 3. This will be Georgia’s SEC home opener and their fifth game of the 2020 season. Last year, Georgia thumped Vanderbilt in the season open 30-6 in Nashville. It will be interesting to see what Derek Mason and his staff have done in the offseason as there a few looming questions surrounding his program.
Head Coach: Derek Mason
2019 Record: 3-9 overall, 1-7 SEC
Key Returnees: running back Jamuari Wakefield, wide receiver Cam Johnson, defensive lineman Dayo Odeyingbo, linebacker Dimitri Moore, cornerback Allan George and safeties Dashaun Jerkins and Tae Daley
Key Losses: quarterback Riley Neal, running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb, tight end Jared Pinkney, offensive linemen Devin Cochran and Saige Young and punt/kickoff returner Justice Shelton-Mosley
1) Quarterback Carousel
Surprisingly enough, four of Georgia’s first five opponents have a change a quarterback heading into the 2020 season. Vanderbilt is no different, and the Commodores have lost all four of their quarterbacks that they played last season.
Riley Neal started in 10 of 11 games last year, but has worn out his eligibility as a graduate transfer from Ball State. Deuce Wallace, who played in eight games, and Mo Hasan, who made an appearance in two, both started one game apiece in 2019, but have since decided to enter the transfer portal with Allan Waters, who was the fourth quarterback to see action last season.
That leaves the Commodores will a couple of viable options for next season with two of them being junior college transfers and the other two as freshman. First, there is former Kentucky Wildcat Danny Clark, and second is former Hawaii Rainbow Warrior, Jeremy Moussa, who has two years of eligibility remaining. Freshman Ken Seals and Michael Wright are the two names on the list. Junior walk-on Jack Bowen is another guy who is in the mix, too.
Moussa, Seals, and Bowen were all on campus this spring and were hoping to showcase their skills in the Black and Gold game on April 3. Instead, they are all having to communicate via video teleconference because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I thought (Seals) looked good moving around and Moussa threw the ball well,” Mason said after the first day of spring drills. “They can both make plays and the arm talent (from both) is undeniable.”
Out of all those options, Moussa looks like a frontrunner for now. He comes to Vanderbilt after leaving San Bernardino Valley College where he led them to a 9-2 record in 2019. There, he averaged 353 passing yards per game and earned co-offensive player of the year honors in the All-American Mountain Conference. On the hand, Seals enrolled early after graduating from Weatherford High School in Texas where threw for more than 5,800 yards combined in his final two seasons of high school.
2) Losing Talent and Offensive Production
The quarterback position isn’t the only spot that offensive coordinator Todd Fitch has the worry out, because the Commodores have also lost three of their biggest offensive weapons from a year ago.
Ke’Shaun Vaughn, Kalija Lipscomb, and Jared Pinkney have been three of Vanderbilt’s biggest weapons over the past two seasons. The trio has combined for 2,399 rushing yards, 2,874 receiving yards and 52 touchdowns in that time span. This leaves three big holes in Fitch’s arsenal that will have to replace.
Some good news is that sophomore wide receiver Cam Johnson returns to fill that top receiver role. In 2019, Johnson hauled in 34 catches for 316 yards and three touchdowns. He finished second on the team last year in both receptions and yards while tying while Lipscomb in touchdowns. Senior Chris Pierce returns as he had 14 receptions with for 245 yards with a score in 2019.
On the ground, Keyon Brooks will have to pick up the load as well as rising sophomore Jamuari Wakefield. Brooks played in 11 of 12 games last year as a freshman and averaged 4.5 yards per carry. He finished the season with 56 carries for 252 yards and a score. Wakefield had one just one carry for seven yards and a reception for 10 against Georgia last season, but then suffered a season-ending injury later in the game. In 2018, he played in all 13 games, in which he started two, and rushed the ball 78 times for 353 yards and two touchdowns.
3) Offensive Line Struggles
Another part of the offense that needs to improve is the Commodores’ offensive line who finished 2019 by allowing 28 sacks, which was 11th in the SEC behind Mississippi State, Texas A&M, and LSU. They have the potential to struggle this upcoming season due to several key departures.
First, offensive line coach Cameron Norcross left Vanderbilt to join UNLV’s staff , and is being replaced by former Rutgers staff member Peter Rossomando.
Second, they will have to replace several key components. Left tackle Devin Cochran misses his first three games last season due to injury, but then he returned to start the final nine. Then, on Jan. 6, Cochran announced he will be entering the NCAA transfer portal as a graduate, and decided to play his final season at Georgia Tech. The Commodores also lose three-year starter Saige Young, who graduated this past fall. Tyler Steen, the only player to start all 12 games last year on the offensive line returns, as well as Bryce Bailey, Cole Clemens, Dan Dawkins, Sean McMoore, Grant Miller and Jonathan Stewart.
4) A Strong Defensive Surge
While the offense seems like it needs a complete overhaul, the Commodores return a lot of experience on defense. In fact, all 11 position starters and each of the top 11 leaders in tackles return for the 2020 season. Linebacker Dimitri Moore led the defense with 99 total tackles last season, and his presence should be felt by opponents again next season. Feleti Afemui, Kenny Hebert and Andre Mintze also return at linebacker.
On the defensive line, rising senior Dayo Odeyingbo led his position with with 45 tackles, including 12.0 for loss and 1.5 sacks. Other guys such as Drew Birchmeier and Cameron Tidd return, too. Birchmeier started all 12 games last season and Tidd started eight, but played in all 12. The Commodores also added former Florida Gator transfer Malik Langham.
The secondary returns a lot as well led by Dashaun Jerkins, Tae Daley, and Frank Coppet. Brendon Harris returns with experience at safety, and BJ Anderson, Allan George and Jaylen Mahoney return with playing time at cornerback. Daley, who’s a Warner Robins native, had a forced fumble and had seven tackles against Georgia last year. He also had 16 total stops against USC last year, which is a career-high.
5) Derek Mason’s Job Security
A lot rides on this season as head coach Derek Mason enters his seventh season at Vanderbilt on the hot seat. The 2019 season didn’t fair well for the Commodores, and it matched Mason’s worst record while in Nashville. Former athletics director Malcom Turner had to publicly confirm Mason’s return for the 2020 season last year. Turner since then has resigned and interim Candice Storey Lee has since taken over.
It will be tough for Mason to succeed in 2020 not only because of the talent he lost, but also because of the new batch of assistant coaches he has brought in. Both Todd Fitch and Ted Roof are in their first seasons as the offensive and defensive coordinators, respectively. While Tony Ball, Peter Rossomando, Kenechi Udeze and Aaron Henry are all in their first year as position coaches for Vanderbilt. Ball was a former Georgia assistant coach, but will now work with the wide receivers, and Rossomando with the offensive line. Udeze will be with the linebackers and Henry with the cornerbacks.
Prediction: Georgia wins 41-13