Commodores Head Down to Georgia
By Matt Smith
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The fifth-ranked Bulldogs are sizable favorites against Vanderbilt, but they have some depth concerns on defense due to injuries and suspensions.
SEC East foes Vanderbilt and Georgia will meet in September for the first time since 1965 on Saturday night when the Commodores visit Sanford Stadium. Vanderbilt (1-2, 0-1 SEC) got its first win of the season last week with a 58-0 shutout of Presbyterian. Georgia (3-0, 1-0) also stepped out of conference last Saturday, routing Florida Atlantic, 56-20. The fifth-ranked Bulldogs are sizable favorites, but have some depth concerns on defense due to injuries and suspensions. Let’s look at five important questions for Saturday night’s showdown in Athens.
Vanderbilt at (5) Georgia
Saturday, 7:45 ET
TV: ESPN2 (Mark Jones and Brock Huard)
1. How will Austyn Carta-Samuels perform in his first road start?
Technically, Carta-Samuels has started on the road before, but his last two starts away from home were against UNLV and New Mexico when playing for Wyoming in 2010 – not exactly Georgia. The junior connected on 13 of his 20 passes last week against Presbyterian with no turnovers, but again – not exactly Georgia. He did, however, face the 2009 and 2010 TCU defenses, which both finished ranked No. 1 in the nation.
Head coach James Franklin called on Carta-Samuels to give a spark to the offense after two disappointing performances by Jordan Rodgers in losses to South Carolina and Northwestern. Carta-Samuels struggled last week at finding his initial read, but showed the arm strength that helped him earn Mountain West Freshman of the Year honors in 2009.
2. Can the Commodores contain Jarvis Jones?
Probably not, although Jarvis Jones’ strained groin may be what contains Jarvis Jones. The reigning All-American linebacker missed last week’s rout of Florida Atlantic with an injury with which every man can sympathize, but Jones has declared himself good to go for Saturday night’s game. Jones single-handedly nailed Missouri’s coffin shut two weeks ago with an interception and forced fumble in the fourth quarter of the Bulldogs’ win in Columbia.
Carta-Samuels can be elusive and make throws on the run, but Jones’ closing speed is unmatched. Wesley Johnson, a veteran left tackle and the anchor of the Commodores offensive line, will likely have the unenviable task of going head-to-head with Jones for most of the evening.
3. What impact will Georgia’s suspended players have, if any?
Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt has kept the status of linebacker Alec Ogletree and safety Bacarri Rambo under wraps. The dynamic duo has yet to play this season, and based on comments this week from cornerback Malcolm Mitchell, it appears they are likely to miss their fourth consecutive game on Saturday night. Vanderbilt has been preparing as if the two will play, but the Commodores’ chances of pulling off the upset are significantly higher if Ogletree and Rambo remained sidelined.
Sophomores Amarlo Herrera and Connor Norman have filled in admirably over the first three weeks, with Herrera currently second on the team in tackles, but are the not the talents of Ogletree and Rambo. There’s not a ton of depth on the Vanderbilt offense, but there are enough playmakers to hit some home runs on Saturday night, much as Missouri did two weeks ago with two long touchdown passes.
4. Can the Vanderbilt running game be productive?
Vanderbilt’s offensive line has struggled this season, as the Commodores have allowed eight sacks and rushed for just 163 yards in two games against FBS opponents. They finally broke out for 410 yards against Presbyterian, but those numbers can basically be thrown out, since it was, after all, just the Blue Hose. The best news for Vanderbilt was not the 400-plus yards, but the fact that four different backs saw significant time, all with touchdowns.
Franklin’s offense functions best with a mobile quarterback, but neither Carta-Samuels nor Rodgers have the speed of the “other” James Franklin, the Missouri quarterback who caused some problems for Georgia when the two teams met earlier this month. Zac Stacy had a light day of work last week despite rushing for 174 yards, carrying the ball only eight times. He’ll be fresh for the trip to Athens, and Vanderbilt will need everything they can get from him. The Bulldogs’ run defense statistics are nothing special, but the numbers are skewed due to garbage time yardage from Buffalo and Florida Atlantic.
5. Is this a trap game for Georgia?
If you listen to Richt, it isn’t. That’s not just because coaches will never admit to overlooking an opponent, but because the two teams exchanged unpleasantries after last year’s 33-28 Bulldogs win in Nashville, involving Franklin and not-so-mild-mannered Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. Richt has said multiple times this offseason that the ‘Dawgs will be more fired up for this year’s the Vanderbilt game than they had been in years past.
Yes, division showdowns with Tennessee and South Carolina loom in the next two weeks, but the Bulldogs were a failed scoop-and-score attempt on a Commodores blocked punt away from losing last year. If Georgia doesn’t play well, they’ll lose. That hasn’t always been the case when playing Vanderbilt, but it is now. Franklin’s team made a statement during and after last year’s game, but it may prove to be to their detriment on Saturday night against a focused Bulldogs team.
Bonus: Who wins?
Other than a game at eventual national champion Alabama last season, Vanderbilt has been competitive in every game since Franklin arrived. Saturday will be no different. However, with the questions at quarterback for the Commodores, and Aaron Murray the active leader in wins among SEC quarterbacks, the advantage shifts greatly to the home team. Vanderbilt’s defense will turn in a strong enough effort to scare the Bulldogs, but Georgia will pull away late to start 4-0 for the first time since 2008. Georgia 28, Vanderbilt 16.