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Spoiler: The Georgia Bulldogs Open the Season 6-0 for the First Time Since 2005

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NCAA Football: Georgia at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to a weekly experience in which we enrich the lives of Georgia fans by building up their confidence and convincing them that there is no possible way the Bulldogs will lose this week.

Congratulations are in order! The Georgia Bulldogs will be 6-0 in a little more than 24 hours for the first time since 2005.

What’s wrong? Am I getting ahead of myself? No, not a bit. There’s no way Georgia loses to Vanderbilt on Saturday. Zero chance.

Truthfully, Georgia seems due for something of a let-down game, but it’s not going to come on the road against a scrappy Vanderbilt team that somehow upset the Bulldogs at home last year. That still-befuddling 17-16 defeat from a year ago will be avenged, as will all the accompanying lackluster individual performances.

Can Vanderbilt Score on Georgia?

At this point, that’s a valid question of any team. Through five games, Georgia has only allowed 46 points. The team has surrendered just four touchdowns—only two of which came against the first-team unit and only two of which were on drives longer than 32 yards. In two conference games, Georgia has surrendered a total of three points and (quite obviously) no touchdowns.

So when I ask aloud (or, in writing) if Vanderbilt can score against Georgia, it’s not just a shot at meager Commodore offensive attack. But, the Commodore offense is just that.

Vanderbilt’s Offensive Offense

Category Stat National Rank
Category Stat National Rank
Yards Per Game 285.2 121
Yards Per Play 5.15 100
Points Per Game 21.6 109

For context, there are 129 FBS teams. This is, a bottom-quartile offense no matter how you slice it And the individual components are not much better.

Kyle Shurmur is decent from the quarterback position and his broad statistical line (71 of 124 for 985 yards, 11 TDs and 1 INT) is respectable. But (surprise, surprise!) he was much better against the likes of Middle Tennessee, Alabama A&M and Kansas State. In those three games he was fantastic. Against Alabama and Florida...not so much.

  • Shurmur vs. Alabama: 4 of 15 for 18 yards, 0 TDs and 1 INT
  • Shurmur vs. Florida: 18 of 40(!!!) for 264 yards, 3 TDs and 0 INTs

Vanderbilt (for reasons discussed in a moment) will commit to the pass. Even if Shurmur is completing on less than half his attempts, they’re gonna let him sling it. That desperation should create a lot of opportunities for the big Dawgs up front. This could be a rather nice afternoon for Lorenzo Carter, Davin Bellamy, and company.

NCAA Football: Auburn at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Why will Vandy throw the ball so much? For starters, they’re never going to lead in this game. For finishers Ralph Webb is much less “Wreck It Ralph” and much more wrecked Ralph these days. Webb entered this season with 3,342 career rushing yards on 739 carries and 22 rushing touchdowns. This year, he’s struggled to find his way. The definition of consistency, having averaged at least 4.2 yards per carry or more in each of his prior three seasons, Webb is struggling in 2017. He’s run for more than 50 yards just once (a 54-yard day against Alabama A&M), and for the season he’s averaging just 2.6 yards per carry for a total of 198 yards.

Against Power 5 opposition, Vanderbilt is averaging under 13 points per game. I’d expect the Dawgs to keep them under 10.

Vanderbilt Might Not Stop Georgia

Last week, a typically sputtering Florida offense racked up 467 yards of offense, 23 first-downs and 38 points (all scored by the offense) against Vanderbilt. That was Florida’s best offensive performance since Week 2 of last year when the Gators racked up 45 points against Kentucky. Florida threw proficiently on Vandy (249 yards on 26 total attempts) and ran with great success (218 yards on 51 attempts).

Georgia may not be a bright, shining beacon of offensive production, but the unit is improving and I do think it’s better than the Gators’ offense. Further, in recent history Georgia’s weaker offensive component (the passing game) has had success against Vanderbilt’s defense. Remember, just last year, Jacob Eason (remember him?) torched Vanderbilt for 346 yards, a touchdown and no INTs.

I think Georgia will move the ball with some degree of ease against a Vanderbilt defense that was unable to stop Alabama or Florida. What will be interesting is how Kirby Smart deploys quarterbacks, and since no one is asking I’ll give you my projection/expectation.

Who Plays Quarterback?

I mentioned this on the Sunday Morning Hangover, but I don’t think Eason has concretely “lost” the starting job with any degree of finality. Instead, I think his limited playing time last week was the byproduct of a tremendous degree of luxury. Coming into the season, I don’t think many people felt all that confident that Georgia would open the year 5-0. For what it’s worth, I felt Georgia would likely drop one of its first three tough games against Notre Dame, Mississippi State and Tennessee. I think even fewer folks would have expected to win those five game with a backup quarterback.

NCAA Football: Georgia at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia is in a truly fortunate position and from my perspective, Kirby offensive coordinator Jim Chaney are capitalizing on it perfectly. You see, when Eason got hurt against App State, Georgia had no choice but to play Jake Fromm. Brice Ramsey, who has thrown four interceptions in his last nineteen attempts, was never an option. Against Notre Dame, Samford and Mississippi State, Eason wasn’t healthy enough and Fromm was the only option. From a health standpoint, I think Eason was ready in a moment of desperation against Tennessee, but that moment didn’t come. What did come, however, was an opportunity to squirt some WD-40 in Eason’s joints and an additional game for Fromm to season.

Against Vanderbilt, we’re going to see more Jacob Eason. He’s getting closer to 100% (though not there yet per Smart) and this game won’t be close. I think we may see Eason for a series or two in the first half and I think he’ll see significant time in the second half. Again, this is a unique circumstance as Kirby now has two young, capable quarterbacks both of whom have significant playing and starting experience. But the unique part about this is that one of these guys still has to be a backup. I don’t think we’ll know who that backup is until the Florida game. At that point, Georgia will be 7-0 but having a firmly established QB1 will matter. Fromm may very well be QB1 from here out and the narrative may say that Eason never stood a chance. But I don’t believe that to be true.

So how can Eason win the job back?

Eason is a better threat to stretch the field and mount a comeback. He has a proven ability to do that. When things were tight against North Carolina in Eason’s first career game last year, it was him (not Greyson Lambert) under center. When Georgia (somehow) needed to hold on against Nicholls, Eason was there. When Georgia needed a comeback win over Missouri, Eason was there. When Georgia needed a drive for a should-be win over Tennessee, Eason was the guy. When Georgia was in a heated contest with Vanderbilt, Eason was setting a career-mark for passing yards. When Georgia needed a game-winning drive to beat Kentucky, Eason was four for four passing.

Eason has done a lot. We’ve all forgotten that because we have a new true freshman who’s 5-0. But in terms of clutch performances, Eason still has the upperhand. Yes, Fromm’s offense has outscored two SEC opponents 72-3 over the past two weeks, but it’s worth noting that Fromm threw the ball an average of 13.5 times per contest in those games (12 passes against Mississippi State, 15 passes against Tennessee). In Eason’s 12 starts last year, he was never relied upon for fewer than 17 attempts in a contest. And that usage rate disparity extends beyond just the two most-recent contests. Fromm has averaged 16.8 pass attempts in five games this year. Last year, Eason averaged 28.5 (and that includes a game he did not start). You can’t ignore the fact that Fromm has been asked to throw more than 15 passes in just one of his five games while Eason never attempted fewer than 17 passes as a 12-game starter last year.

That disparity says a lot. It may not say, “Eason is so much better as a passer, that Georgia used him nearly twice as much as Fromm.” But it does say a lot about what each player has been asked to do and a lot about the state of the 2017 Georgia Bulldogs relative to the 2016 Georgia Bulldogs. I think that disparity somewhat cheapens the theory that “Fromm is just a winner.”

I’m not saying he’s not a winner, because I’m no fool. I’ve literally never seen him lose a college football game, and I hope I never do. But I think the more accurate assessment is that “Fromm wins games he’s supposed to win.” I don’t know that such an observation wouldn’t also be true of Eason if surrounded by this year’s version of the Georgia Bulldogs.

NCAA Football: Georgia at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

I think the game Fromm deserves the most credit for “winning” is the App State game, because he was a steady arm in the face of a chaotic situation. Against Notre Dame, Fromm did enough to win, but he turned the ball over twice and first-half fumble set up Notre Dame’s only touchdown drive of the game as the Irish took the ball over with just 32 yards to march. Any quarterback on the roster would have beat Samford. Fromm’s best game of the year came against Mississippi State but Georgia didn’t just win that game because of an edge in QB play. The Tennessee game was incredible, but From was seven of 15 passing for 84 yards.

The reality is that if Eason had never gotten hurt, Georgia would still be 5-0. Fromm has performed excellently for a true freshman in a tough spot and for that reason I think he’ll hold onto the starting job against Vanderbilt, but Eason will get more touches. I think Fromm will keep the job next week against Missouri, but I expect even more Eason. What happens against Florida? Who knows?

But the beauty of the situation is that if things go as I expect, Kirby will have two viable quarterbacks - both with quite a bit of experience as starters and backups - ready to roll in whatever rotation necessary. Hopefully needing both guys isn’t a necessity in Jacksonville, but it’s a heck of a luxury.