The week is winding down and I'm not going to lie to you: I'm a little worried about Vanderbilt.
I offered a preview of the Commodores before the season started, but it's time I brought you up to date on the reasons Vandy has me concerned. Naturally, in order to do so, I don't just provide you with a dash of detail, nor do I make do with a smidgen of statistics; instead, I offer you . . . Too Much Information.
The Passing Game
In the Jay Cutler era, we came to think of the Commodores as a passing team, but that changed when Cutler left Nashville for Denver. Vanderbilt ranks 10th in the S.E.C. in aerial offense, although the 'Dores and the 'Dawgs have had virtually identical production through the air.
Vanderbilt has attempted 149 passes to the Bulldogs' 148. Georgia gains 6.7 yards per pass, as compared to the Commodores' average of 6.6. The Red and Black manage 165.5 passing yards per game, slightly more than Vandy's 162.8. However, the 'Dores have thrown eight touchdowns and five interceptions, nearly the reverse of the Classic City Canines' seven picks and five T.D.s.
Chris Nickson ranks eighth in the conference in passing yards per game, just ahead of Mississippi State's Omarr Conner, but there is no doubt about the identity of his "go to" receiver: Earl Bennett is one of three Commodores with a pair of touchdown receptions and no other Vanderbilt player has even half as many catches (33) or receiving yards (464) as Bennett.
Even after last week's torching at the hands of Erik Ainge and the Tennessee Volunteers, the 'Dawgs rank fourth in the league against the pass, allowing 155.8 yards per game through the air. The Commodores are similarly proficient at containing the opposing squad's aerial attack, permitting only 154.3 passing yards per contest.
The Vandy D has picked off more passes (eight, to the Bulldogs' three interceptions), but the 'Dores also have surrendered more touchdown tosses (also eight, twice as many as the Red and Black have allowed). Opposing offenses are gaining an extra six feet per attempt against the Commodores, who give up 7.8 yards per pass, than against the Bulldogs, who permit just 5.8. Both teams have allowed as many or nearly as many touchdowns through the air as they have scored.
For all of Georgia's passing woes, the 'Dawgs have spread the ball around quite a bit. Nine Bulldogs have caught at least six passes and nine average at least 14 yards per reception. A.J. Bryant, Mohamed Massaquoi, Martrez Milner, and Danny Ware all average over 20 receiving yards per game.
Although the 'Dores have allowed almost as many first downs on forward passes (39) as they have gained (41), two causes for concern are apparent in the passing game. First of all, Vanderbilt's Reshard Langford and Darlron Spead are two of the conference's top 10 leaders in interceptions. Secondly, although his 121.3 passing yards per game may not be intimidating, Nickson represents a particular danger to the Georgia D, as his 285 rushing yards are the most tallied by an S.E.C. quarterback in 2006. This brings us to . . .
The Running Game
The Commodores boast the league's second-best rushing offense and the Bulldogs rank eighth in the conference in that same category . . . but the gap between first and second place is more than twice the size of the gap between second and eighth: Vanderbilt averages 158.2 yards per game on the ground, nearly 48 fewer rushing yards per outing than top-ranked Arkansas (206.0) but not quite 23 more rushing yards per contest than Georgia (135.3).
The 'Dores have run the ball 195 times---just four more times than the 'Dawgs---but Vandy averages 4.9 yards per carry to the Red and Black's 4.3. Georgia, however, has scored more rushing touchdowns (10) than the Commodores (8) and both Kregg Lumpkin and Danny Ware average 5.7 yards per carry, with each tailback having tallied two touchdowns.
The 50 first downs gained by Vandy on running plays are the third-most in the Southeastern Conference . . . but they match exactly the 50 first downs the 'Dores have allowed on running plays. The Bulldogs and the Commodores each have scored twice as many rushing touchdowns as they have allowed.
The Bulldogs boast the league's third-best rushing defense and the Commodores rank eighth in the conference in that same category . . . and the gap between first and third is essentially identical to that between third and eighth: Georgia allows 102.5 rushing yards per game, nearly 46 more rushing yards per outing than top-ranked Florida (56.8) and exactly 46 fewer rushing yards per contest than Vanderbilt (148.5).
The 'Dores allow 3.7 yards per carry, two feet more than the 3.0 yards permitted by the Red and Black, but Vandy has allowed fewer rushing touchdowns (4) than Georgia (5).
The Kicking Game
The Bulldogs and the Commodores each have returned 17 kickoffs, but Georgia averages an additional five yards per return (23.8, as compared to Vandy's 18.8) and the Red and Black have returned a kickoff for a touchdown. The 'Dawgs also have allowed 493 kickoff return yards this season, though.
Although Vanderbilt has allowed the league's second-fewest punt return yards, the 'Dores have not blocked a punt this year and they rank last in the conference in punt return average (5.0 yards per return). For their part, the Classic City Canines lead the S.E.C. in punt return yardage, averaging 20.5 yards per return, and they have scored three touchdowns on punt runbacks.
The loss of Brandon Coutu for the season allowed Andy Bailey to assume the placekicking duties for the 'Dawgs. Bailey has made both of his field goal attempts, but his longest three-point try was from 34 yards away.
Meanwhile, Vanderbilt's Bryant Hahnfeldt has made a 51-yarder, but he has four misses in his last four games and the Commodores have put the excitement back into the extra point, missing two of their 15 point after tries.
To be continued. . . .