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It's Cocktail Thursday. It's The Friday Tailgate. It's Both!!!!

A series of job-related obligations of a most unbloggerly nature kept me busy the past couple of days so that I wasn't really able to finish the Cocktail Thursday post. Mea culpa. But if like me you're uncharacteristically worried about a Homecoming matchup against Vanderbilt, you could probably use a drink, even if it is on the wrong day. Ergo, Cocktail Thursday and the Friday Tailgate are getting jammed together in a room to fight it out for supremacy. Two regular blog features enter. One regular blog feature leaves.

Cocktail Thursday

Quick, name an SEC Coach you'd rather waste an evening in a sports bar with than Vanderbilt's Robbie Caldwell. Can you? Urban Meyer and Nick Saban wouldn't have time for such frivolity. As much as I like Coach Richt, I just can't see him pounding PBR drafts down at Seamus O'Malley's. UVA grad Derek Dooley would almost certainly ask to see the establishment's wine list. He'd then politely order a gimlet and ask if you thought the European sovereign debt crisis spells the end of the European Union. Houston Nutt and Les Miles would be alright until one of them got plastered and decided to take on the biker in the corner with nothing but a busted whiskey bottle and a desire to maim someone other than themselves.

But career assistant football coach and former turkey farm employee Caldwell seems like the kind of guy who could spend hours discussing football, fishing and the crazy turns life takes on a fellow. This time 6 months ago Caldwell was just another anonymous assistant college football coach. He was working for Bobby Johnson, who while not a rock star in the profession was as sound a bet as anyone not to A) be caught with a room full of strippers, B) catch the wrath of the NCAA, or C) get fired by a Vanderbilt administration that asks only that its program be respectable. In short, Caldwell had absolutely no reason to think that his lot was about to change even a little for better or worse.

Yet now he's the head coach at Vanderbilt, a school stocked with a series of lethal offensive weapons one guy named Warren Norman. The former Chamblee standout is only averaging 65.4 yards per game on the ground, but that number is coming on 6.2 yards per carry. And Norman will also likely get the ball receiving out of the backfield and in the kicking game as a returner of substantial ability. Heck, if I were the turkey farmer coaching the Commodores, I'd line Norman up at quarterback and call that set "the Wild Turkey". Which reminds me, assuming we find a way to limit Warren Norman, it would be perfectly appropriate to celebrate that achievement with a cocktail incorporating Wild Turkey bourbon, like the Turkey in the Straw:

Mix 1 and 1/2 oz. vanilla liqueur, 1 and 1/2 oz. Wild Turkey (or other bourbon), and a can of cream soda in a tall glass over ice. You won't be able to corner Warren Norman after a couple of these. But then again, you probably weren't going to corner him anyway. At least the drinks will help you worry less if our defense has as much trouble with the task as you would.

The Friday Tailgate

A little mood music for a Bulldog fanbase which is, in this blogger's estimation, far more mellow than it was this time last week:

This will be tangentially relevant in a moment, I promise. For now, it's just a classic and gets plucked from Youtube for that reason alone.

As all readers of The Guide for the Perplexed know, charity comes in many forms. And as Kyle noted in his Too Much Information briefing, neither Georgia nor Vanderbilt has been overly charitable this season, each tallying a +2 turnover margin. I thought before the season that our turnover margin would regress toward the mean after a disasterous -16 margin in 2009. And it has. I was totally, irretrievably wrong however in thinking that alone would create an upward trend in our overall record.

That general trend notwithstanding, I have a feeling that much like the 2007 contest between these squads the 2010 iteration may come down to a turnover. Vanderbilt has been horrible at scoring points consistently (last week's half-a-hundred effort against Eastern Michigan notwithstanding), so I think the surest way to lose this game is to make the 'Dores most daunting task easier. On the flipside, we know Washaun Ealey will be carrying the ball more than usual. We do not however know that he has figured out how to hang on to said ball more frequently. Many running backs go through a stretch at some point during which they have fumbling issues. I think Ealey will work his way out of that. Unfortunately, the only way to know that he's improved is to give him the ball and see what happens.

I would not rule out a dose of Fred Munzenmaier at the tailback slot, though there's a lot of speculation that Boo Malcome will make his first appearance of the season. Incidentally, some high school football observers, including the AJC's Chip Towers, believed that Malcome was actually the best tailback prospect in Georgia last season instead of current Florida Gator Mack Brown. You can see why here. Plus you get your daily dose of Lil Boosie, which is always nice.

As The Quincy Carter of Accountants established yesterday, our defense's performance at this point could be viewed in a variety of ways. My impression (one borne out to some extent by those numbers) is that we're playing generally better than last season, but we're still giving up the kind of big plays that you give up when you install a new defense. Our 3rd down defense has been troubling as well, especially in the 2nd half, when it has appeared that Todd Grantham couldn't run an opposing offense off the field with a shotgun in one hand and an ebola-riddled monkey in the other.

If there's a team in the SEC who could prove an antidote to those tendencies, it would be Vandy. Quarterback Larry Smith is completing a mere 55% of his passes and averaging a pedestrian 6.6 yards per attempt. Vandy's leading receivers, John Cole and Lincoln County product Brandon Barden each have accumulated 172 yards. That would tie them for 4th place on the Bulldog receiving list behind Kris Durham, Tavarres King and A.J. Green. Vanderbilt may be less of a threat than any SEC squad we've faced so far to turn the game around with a big play on offense.

While I'm a tad worried about a post-Tennessee hangover, my prediction is that we see a UGA offense that continues to get its act together and a Vanderbilt offense that won't be quite so fortunate. Defensively we're not where we want to be yet, but we're no Eastern Michigan, either. While this Bulldog team is certainly not as good as last week's fortuitous rout of the Volunteers implied, they're better than the 2-4 record would lead a disinterested observer to believe. As in every matchup against the Commodores, assuming we can stay out of our own way (read: 1 or fewer turnovers and no soul-crushing penalties at the worst possible times) we should be a mismatch for the crew from Nashville.  Prediction: UGA 31, Vandy 20.

If that happens and we go to 3-4 overall, we can all come back and commiserate over the time this team wasted sitting in Starkville and Boulder (where there are no bays, though there are a lot of transplants from Frisco). Of course, we'll never get those games back. But football seasons are a lot more about where you finish than where you start. Here's hoping last week was the beginning of the long climb back up, and this week is the confirmation that the bottom is behind us. Until later . . .

Go 'Dawgs!!!