Apparently, the attitude of fans of the Vanderbilt Commodores toward fans of the Georgia Bulldogs is one of fear and condescension, coupled with a belief that the ‘Dores have enjoyed a fair degree of recent success against the ‘Dawgs (loosely defined, of course; Georgia has gone 32-3-1 against Vandy in the last 36 series meetings). I don’t hold that against them, though, since at least they (unlike some folks I could name) know the seating capacity of Sanford Stadium. As we get set to tee it up between the hedges, therefore, I now bring you neither a dash of data nor a modicum of minutiae, but, rather, . . . Too Much Information:
Vanderbilt ranks eleventh in the league in scoring offense, ahead of only the Tennessee Volunteers, who average 23.3 points per game after being held to fourteen points in Athens last Saturday. The Commodores have scored the conference’s second-fewest field goals (3) and fewest touchdowns (14). Vandy has taken fewer offensive snaps (305), moved the chains fewer times (76), thrown for fewer first downs (34), completed a lower percentage of its passes (56.5%), and held the ball for fewer minutes (26:28 per game) than any other SEC team. They are, however, tied with Tennessee for the league lead in punts (36), so they have that going for them.
Last week, the Commodores scored 52 points on Eastern Michigan. Vanderbilt has an all-time record of 2-1 against the Classic City Canines when scoring 50 or more points the week before playing Georgia, but neither of those wins came in Athens and both occurred prior to 1925. Last week, the Bulldogs scored 41 points on Tennessee. Georgia has an all-time record of 3-1-1 against the Music City Sailors when scoring 40 or more points the week before playing Vanderbilt, including a 1-1 ledger in Athens.
Georgia has lost four fumbles. Vanderbilt has lost four fumbles. Georgia has thrown three interceptions. Vanderbilt has thrown three interceptions. Georgia has tallied nine takeaways. Vanderbilt has tallied nine takeaways. Both teams rank in the top four in the conference with +2 turnover margins, which is pretty amazing when you consider that three Commodores (Tim Fugger, Jay Fullam, and John Stokes) are among the top ten players in the conference in forced fumbles, two Commodores (Kenny Ladler and John Stokes) are among the top ten players in the league in fumble recoveries, and one Commodore (Casey Hayward) ranks second in the conference in interceptions, while no Georgia player made the top ten in any of those categories. (By the way, Tim Fugger’s four forced fumbles are the most in the SEC, which must make his mother very proud. Gee, I wonder what term of endearment and respect his friends use when addressing Tim Fugger’s mom by name?)
You’ve probably noticed that the Red and Black have improved considerably in the penalty department. The Bulldogs rank sixth in the SEC in penalty yards assessed per game, which isn’t great, but mediocrity is a distinct upgrade from being downright awful. However, Georgia benefits from fewer penalty yards per game assessed against the opposition than all but one other conference club. The only team that advances fewer yards per outing on flags against the opposition is Vanderbilt, which has incurred more penalties than the other team in every game so far this season.
Since the start of the 2003 campaign, the Commodores have had a running back rush for 100 yards fourteen times. Vandy is 14-0 in those games. Fortunately, no Commie tailback has tallied more than 335 total rushing yards in 2010, and the ‘Dawgs allow 111.0 rushing yards per game (fifth in the SEC) and 3.0 yards per carry (third in the SEC) despite having faced two of the conference’s top seven rushers (South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore and Tennessee’s Tauren Poole). The Red and Black rank in the top 25 nationally against the run; against the only other top 25 run defense they have faced, the ‘Dores ground out a paltry 65 rushing yards and a meager 2.0 yards per carry as a team against the LSU Tigers.
The ‘Dawgs are looking for their first two-game regular-season winning streak in the same autumn since last year’s Tennessee Tech and Auburn games, but it could be worse: Georgia could be Vanderbilt. The Commodores have not won two straight games on consecutive Saturdays since September 2008. Both of this weekend’s combatants have won one in a row.
The field position battle should favor the home team: Georgia ranks first in the conference in kickoff coverage, while Vanderbilt ranks last.
Justin Houston leads the league in sacks. Commodore quarterbacks have been sacked fourteen times this fall, more than any other SEC team that has played only five games and more than all but two of the eight conference clubs to have played six games. In Houston, Vanderbilt may have a problem.
While the Commies are slow starters on offense (they have tallied just seven first-quarter points all season), Vanderbilt’s best period by far is the second quarter, in which the Music City Sailors have scored a whopping 68 points this autumn. In the other three quarters combined, the ‘Dores have scored a collective 57.
Unfortunately, the fifteen minutes just before halftime also happen to be the Bulldogs’ worst defensive quarter, as Georgia has allowed 38 second-quarter points yet has not surrendered as many as 30 points in any other period.
The defense has been playing better, with three glaring exceptions: third downs, red zone touchdowns, and big plays. None of those weaknesses ought to be cause for concern against the Commodores. Consider:
- Vanderbilt has the conference’s fewest third-down conversions (17) and the league’s lowest third-down conversion rate (27.0%).
- The Commodores have made the SEC’s fewest red zone trips (13), are tied for the conference’s fewest red zone scores (10) and fewest red zone touchdowns (7), have scored the league’s fewest red zone rushing touchdowns (5), are tied for the SEC’s second-fewest red zone passing touchdowns (2), have the conference’s third-lowest red zone scoring percentage (76.9%), and are the only team in the league to have turned the ball over on downs inside the 20 more than once in 2010.
- While two of Jared Funk’s five pass attempts have been completed for 35 or more yards, Larry Smith’s 119 aerials have included eleven passes that were completed for pickups of 20 yards or more. Between them, Jonathan Krause, Warren Norman, Kennard Reeves, Larry Smith, and Zac Stacy have carried the ball 149 times, but just seven of those rushing attempts have covered 20 or more yards of real estate. Of the 20 offensive plays on which Vanderbilt has gained at least 20 yards in 2010, only six occurred in venues outside of Nashville.
If ever there was a conference opponent tailor-made to help the ‘Dawgs shore up their weaknesses, Vanderbilt is it.
Last weekend’s win was a huge boost for this team, as it confirmed the suspicion held by many that the Bulldogs were separated from being a good team only by inches and consistency; it now seems like months ago that we were considering the credentials of other coaching candidates.
Aaron Murray hasn’t just been good; he’s been better than you think, and he’s well on his way to being Mark Richt’s best Bulldog quarterback. Murray doesn’t have Matthew Stafford’s arm, D.J. Shockley’s legs, or David Greene’s brain, but he’s not far behind any of those guys in any of those categories, and he possesses the best combination of throwing ability, running ability, and football intelligence of any Georgia quarterback since Fran Tarkenton, who turned around a faltering Red and Black program for Wally Butts the way Murray will for Coach Richt.
It’s not only a home game, but also the homecoming game. The new Uga will be introduced in a pregame ceremony. The Bulldogs will be without Caleb King, but they have A.J. Green back after selling his jersey for a few greenbacks. The Commodores will play Georgia tough---they almost always do---but momentum is wearing silver britches, so I expect the Red and Black to take care of business.
My Prediction: Georgia Bulldogs 31, Vanderbilt Commodores 20.