Christian D'Andrea of SBNation's Vanderbilt blog Anchor of Gold exchanged emails with me over the week, so we could get a little better feel for just who we're about to face Saturday at noon on CBS. So, what will Lionel Ritchie's old buddies look like when the Silver Britches take the field in Nashville? Keep reading to find out.
Vandy seems to get a lot better as games keep going (outscored so far 96-45 in the first and third quarters, but have put it on folks 157-63 in the second and fourth quarters). Any idea why they seem to start halves so slow, and finish so strong?
This team has been hot garbage in the first quarter. They're getting outscored by SEC opponents 51-0 in the opening frame this season. It looks like these guys just need some time to hit their stride - they play considerably better in the second quarter - but the exact reason why is a mystery. The 'Dores have a few different identities on offense, and they might just need that first terrible quarter to figure out who they are going to be on a given Saturday.
Matthews has good size and speed, but its his knowledge of the game - those dreaded intangibles - that set him apart. He understands how to exploit coverage and get to the ball even while double or triple-covered. He creates space against defenders that end up being the exact size and spot for a football to come through, and that's one of those uncoachable traits that makes him so good. Plus, he can do this: which is pretty good.
How does Georgia stop him? Get to Austyn Carta-Samuels and force bad throws. Matthews has had a Larry Fitzgerald-ian impact for the 'Dores this season, but as the Cardinals have shown, that means nothing if your quarterback spends most of his time on his back.
Vanderbilt is tied for the most sacks allowed in the SEC. Is that a product of simply being a pass heavy offense, or can Georgia expect to exploit a mismatch getting after Carta-Samuels at QB?
This was supposed to be a banner year for the Vandy O-Line. We had an All-SEC anchor (Wesley Johnson) and the most depth the team has had at the position in years. Instead, these guys are struggling, and it's tough to figure out exactly why. OL Coach Herb Hand has done great work in the past two seasons to shore up holes and coax improvement from Vandy's blockers, but their deficiencies this season have been tougher to address. It's a matter of missed assignments and an inability to play as a cohesive unit. If Todd Grantham can show some flashy stunts along the line and bring an aggressive blitz package, UGA should not have much trouble exploiting this weakness.
Losing a talent like Zac Stacy is never easy, and while both have their struggles, how have Jerron Seymour and Wesley Tate filled his shoes? Is Vanderbilt's rushing woes on them, or the blocking in front of them?
No one back is going be able to immediately replace Vanderbilt's all-time leading rusher in the season after his departure, but the Vandy RB stable hasn't been bad in relief. Jerron Seymour is the standout, and his compact, pinball-style of running has been helpful, but he has yet to prove that he can sustain drives when the passing game isn't working like Stacy could. Brian Kimbrow, if he's finally out of James Franklin's doghouse, is the team's biggest home run threat, and he could be dangerous against UGA. Wesley Tate, the team's power back, is the kind of grinding leader Vandy needs to change things up in the backfield.
Overall, they're getting better, but they aren't Stacy-good yet. The O-Line hasn't done them many favors, but the blocking has been arguably better in the run game than it had been in either of the past two years. I think the key for this team will just be finding the balance between three talented runners with three very different running styles.
The Commodore defense does a pretty decent job getting after the QB, but their 13 total team sacks are spread across 8 different players. Being that Georgia has routinely struggled blocking edge rushers the last several years, how do you expect the Commodores to attack Aaron Murray?
One of the disappointing aspects of this season has been a lack of growth from sophomore Caleb Azubike, who is Vandy's strongest and most athletic edge rusher. We were expecting him to become a beast, but he's been quiet in 2013. Other players like Kyle Woestmann and Walker May are strong against the rush and pass, but ultimately this team doesn't have a big time playmaker in their front seven as long as Chase Garnham is roaming the sideline with a leg injury.
The 'Dores got good news when senior Karl Butler was listed as the starter after missing the past three weeks, but Vanderbilt's defense has still struggled, especially at the linebacker position. With Vandy's defenders often falling behind plays and having trouble identifying gameplans, I'd hope that they'd be a bit more conservative in terms of pass rushing in order to get their linebackers to better prevent mid-level passes that can stretch this team out over time.
Considering our last trip to our neighboring state to the north, please tell me the turf on Dudley Field isn't as dangerous as the one in Neyland.
Due to Vanderbilt's traditional lack of interest in football, Dudley Field is converted into a community garden each spring. Please mind whatever okra may remain.
Is there any lingering bad blood on the Commodore side of things from the unfortunate spat between Franklin and Grantham two years ago?
Sure. We don't have much to get fired up about in Nashville, so things here tend to get overblown. For example, there's still a rich vein of hatred for the SEC officials that called an excessive celebration penalty on Earl Bennett against Florida back in 2005 - a penalty that kept the 'Dores from going for 2 (and a possible win) and led to a double-overtime win for the Gators. That's almost impressively petty - the referees who potentially kept Vanderbilt from losing in regulation by making them play overtime! - so don't feel like the Grantham hate is necessarily coming from a place of reason.
Seemingly wanting one of their own fired at all times, Georgia fans love discussing coaching changes. Is there any fear in Nashville that James Franklin might try to move to a bigger program this off season?
Absolutely. Vacancies at USC and Texas are the biggest game in town, and it's tough for Vanderbilt to compete with that - although the school's commitment to paying Franklin (and his staff) while upgrading the university's athletic facilities has been commendable. At the very least it shows that Franklin will be leaving some fertile ground if he does depart. Ultimately, I think CJF will stick around until - at the very least - he watches his first full recruiting class graduate.
Side note: last year I mentioned that if Vandy beat UGA and put Richt on the hot seat that Franklin could be a potential candidate in Athens. That suggestion got pretty roundly jeered by the good folks at DawgSports, but I still think it's a possibility. At any rate, it's something for both sides to think about.
What are your expectations for the game, and score prediction?
I'm a bit more enthusiastic after seeing Missouri put up big points on an established program, but I am still concerned for this Commodore defense. Chase Garnham's absence has left this team scrambling, and every group pitching in to help a weak linebacking corps has sapped this team's effectiveness at nearly every defensive position.
I'm more optimistic on the offensive end, and I think the 'Dores can get near the UGA points allowed average and turn this one into a shootout. It might not be pretty, but it should be fun to watch, especially if Jerron Seymour can give this team's offense a little breathing room by running the ball effectively. I'm not sure if I love or hate that this one's on national television, but I'm gonna say:
Georgia 45, Vanderbilt 31