The Vanderbilt Commodores won a low-scoring, hard-fought game in Athens last year, 17-16. This year, the Bulldogs are 5-0 and ranked fifth in the country while the Commodores are reeling, having lost two straight conference games (to Alabama and Florida) after winning their first three games of the season.
Last season Vandy was 2-4 heading into that October 15 contest. Georgia was 4-3 under first-year head coach Kirby Smart. How did Georgia lose that game, and what’s changed since that won’t allow another upset this year?
1.) Don’t overlook the Dores.
Last year, Vandy had lost its three SEC games prior to playing Georgia by a combined 17 points (to South Carolina, Kentucky and Florida). The Commodores knew they were close to a break-through under third-year head coach Derek Mason. UGA won the previous week at SC and had the Florida game in two weeks (after a bye); it’s reasonable to think the Bulldogs were not focusing on Vandy as much as they should have been, having won 19 of the previous 21 contests.
“Humility is a week away,” Smart said about his team’s focus on a week-to-week basis this season. “That is what we talk to them about all the time. Again, humility comes through practice, going good on good, competing, getting better. It’s a 100-yard sprint and we are at 40 yards. Who cares? They don’t ever talk about who won the first 50 meters of a 100-meter race.”
2.) A more diverse run game
In 2016, Georgia averaged 215 yards per game on the ground, with Nick Chubb averaging 91 on 16 carries per game. Though he averaged 5.5 yards per carry, he hadn’t looked like the Chubb of old, minus the first game in which he rushed for 222 yards against North Carolina.
Combine that with an ankle injury suffered two weeks earlier at Ole Miss and it’s easy to see why the Cedartown native was held to just 40 yards on 16 carries during that one-point loss to Vandy.
The run blocking had been so suspect against Vanderbilt that offensive coordinator Jim Chaney decided to call a toss sweep to slot receiver Isaiah McKenzie (with Chubb as a lead blocker) on fourth-and-1 with under a minute remaining, a play that was stopped for a loss by now-Houston Texans linebacker Zach Cunningham.
This year, the Dawgs are averaging 237.4 yards on the ground and are much more diverse. Besides Chubb’s 96 yards-per-game (6.4 per carry compared to last year’s 5.5), Sony Michel adds 64 per game (66 last year) and true freshman D’Andre Swift adds an additional 46 (7.3 per carry). Last season, besides Chubb (who still hadn’t looked like his pre-ACL tear self of 2014), the only other reliable back was Michel, with McKenzie running the ball on jet sweeps.
After allowing 300 yards rushing through its first three games, Vanderbilt has allowed 718 to Alabama and Florida. Chaney’s game plan should be apparent – make the Commodores stop Chubb and company.
3.) Quarterback efficiency
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