We’ve looked at the play-by-play and the stats from last year’s game at Vanderbilt, and is there anything we can apply to this weekend’s game?
- It’s worth looking at who won’t be on the field. For Vanderbilt, they’ll miss outstanding linebacker Chris Marve. Versatile cornerback Casey Hayward is also gone. Georgia expects to be without Rambo again, and he was very active in the 2011 game.
- Vanderbilt’s weapons to watch this weekend also showed out in the 2011 game. Zac Stacy has already rushed for 258 yards this year. Jordan Matthews leads the team in receiving. Andre Hal remains a threat on kick returns and brought one back 52 yards against South Carolina.
- Jordan Rodgers remains largely the same threat he was last season – dangerous on the ground when defenses get caught cheating on Stacy, and he’s a bit better than he was, though still not great, at passing. The question though is whether Rodgers will play at all. Last week against Presyterian, Rodgers was benched in favor of Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels. The junior made his first start against 1-AA Presbyterian, and the 2009 Mountain West freshman of the year had a modest debut. Carta-Samuels completed 13-of-20 for 195 yards and 1 touchdown against the Blue Hose. He’s not nearly the running threat that Rodgers is, but Carta-Samuels seems to be a better passer. Vandy coach James Franklin won’t name a starter yet, but I would be surprised if it’s not Rodgers. He held things together during Vanderbilt’s comeback a year ago, and his running ability frustrated the Georgia defense. The alternative is giving Carta-Samuels his first SEC start on the road against an annoyed and capable Georgia defense. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some combination of the two in one of two scenarios. The first is in relief if Rodgers proves ineffective early just as Franklin pulled Larry Smith early in the 2011 game. The second scenario is as a change of pace if the game is relatively close. If the Georgia defense gets tired chasing Rodgers and Stacy around, bring in Carta-Samuels to switch gears and force the Dawgs to react in the passing game.
- Georgia’s running game figures to be more of a factor this year. You have to like the combination of Gurley, Marshall, and Malcome over a suspended Crowell, Samuel, and Thomas. South Carolina’s Lattimore broke 100 yards against Vandy in the season opener, and that would be a good benchmark for Georgia’s young backs.
- Three of Murray’s incompletions a year ago were on screens and passes to backs. Screens and passes like 344-Fullback remain an adventure this year. Can Georgia finally figure out how to throw the ball to the backs?
- Georgia’s six field goal attempts a year ago stand out. It’s tough to quibble with 33 points in an SEC game, but the six field goals represented opportunities to put a lot more distance between the teams before Vanderbilt made a game of it. It’s bad enough that two of the longer field goals were missed; there was also an interception at the Vandy goal line. Georgia has done a good job cashing in on drives this year, but hopefully Murray’s interception in the FAU endzone last week was just a case of sloppiness after the game was in hand.
- Most of all, Georgia has to keep its cool. Even with a slow start, Georgia was on its way to building a nice lead. That changed as they – players and coaches alike – let the emotions of the game get away from them. The Dawgs bit on trick plays, got sloppy on defensive position which allowed Rodgers to do damage, and got baited into a total of 11 penalties including several personal fouls. Both teams are more or less saying the right things, but the fact that the ugliness of last season’s game has been topic #1 this week will have both teams on edge. The Georgia fans, with the added time to prepare for a night game, won’t let the team forget either. Georgia can focus that intensity and play as they did in a grudge match against Auburn last year, but they can’t let the emotions turn into the undisciplined and reckless style of play we saw in Nashville.
The Dawgs followed the how-to-keep-a-lesser-opponent-around playbook to perfection in Nashville. They settled for field goals, failed to cash in on other chances, and made the mental mistakes that allowed a team that was 11-of-31 passing the ball to end up with 28 points against one of the SEC’s better defenses. Fortunately the offense was just productive enough to overcome the meltdown. Georgia’s attention to detail and discipline will be tested in their home SEC opener. If Vanderbilt is forced to drive for their points, they’ll struggle to keep up. If Georgia lets the bad blood get to them again, they’ll be vulnerable to the same defensive miscues and special teams breakdowns that kept a mediocre team in the game last season. It’s a good exam for the coaches in the way they prepare for the first of several highly-charged games over the rest of the season, and it’s also a good exam for the leadership on the team in how they spot and reign in teammates who lose their edge.