- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
VANDERBILT AT NO. 5 GEORGIA
Saturday, 7:45 p.m. ET
Sanford Stadium/Athens, Ga.
Records: Georgia 3-0 (1-0 SEC), Vanderbilt 1-2 (0-1)
Last week: Georgia beat Florida Atlantic 56-20; Vanderbilt beat Presbyterian 58-0
What’s the Story?: Georgia dodged a major bullet last season when Vanderbilt blocked a Drew Butler punt in the final minute, but the Bulldogs’ defense prevented the Commodores from scoring the game-winning touchdown. The 33-28 victory enabled the Bulldogs to win 10 straight games to end the regular season and win their first SEC East title since 2005. Of course, nobody has forgotten the postgame fracas between Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and Vandy head coach James Franklin, which generated some bad blood on both sides.
1. Anticipated rematch: The Grantham-Franklin shouting match is what everyone remembers about last year’s meeting in Nashville, but there were hard feelings from both teams related to borderline cheap shots in the game itself. There is no love lost between either side entering Saturday’s rematch.
2. Who’s the Commodores’ QB?: Jordan Rodgers nearly propelled the Commodores to a comeback win against the Bulldogs last season, but Franklin benched him last week in favor of Austyn Carta-Samuels, who promptly led the team to a 58-0 win against overmatched Presbyterian. Franklin hasn’t announced a starter yet and Grantham said the Bulldogs will prepare for the Commodores’ scheme, not for an individual quarterback.
3. Health of starters a question: Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones proclaimed himself ready to play after missing the FAU game with a groin strain. The Bulldogs need him as close to full strength as possible against a Vandy team that has given numerous strong SEC teams a challenge over the last year. It also bears watching whether starting left guard Dallas Lee (ankle) and defensive end Cornelius Washington (hamstring) are able to play at close to 100 percent -- and how the Bulldogs adapt if they aren’t healthy enough to perform.
Players to watch:
1. Jones: The last time we saw Jones, he was wreaking havoc in Missouri’s backfield, forcing two fourth-quarter turnovers that helped Georgia pull away for a key SEC East road win. ESPN’s Mel Kiper and Todd McShay both moved Jones to the No. 1 spot in their prospect rankings for the 2013 NFL Draft this week, so this much is clear -- when healthy, the Georgia outside linebacker is one of the nation’s most dangerous players.
2. Todd Gurley: Vanderbilt surrendered 205 rushing yards to South Carolina and 191 to Northwestern, so it will be important for Gurley and his fellow running backs to get things going on the ground. The freshman leads Georgia with 276 rushing yards and an average of 9.9 yards per carry.
3. Malcolm Mitchell: Mitchell continues to play predominantly at cornerback, but he made a 49-yard catch last week on his first play back at receiver. It would not be a surprise to see Mitchell’s role on offense expand slightly this week and grow even further as the season progresses.
1. Zac Stacy: The Commodores’ senior running back leads the team with 258 rushing yards and an average of 7.6 yards per carry. He ran 17 times for 97 yards and a touchdown and also completed a 43-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Matthews against Georgia last season.
2. Carta-Samuels/Rodgers: Whichever player Franklin chooses to start, he’ll have to be a competent performer or he won’t last long. Rodgers struggled to move the offense in the first two games, but he has far more experience against SEC competition. It wouldn’t be a surprise if both players see the field -- particularly if the starter opens the game slowly.
3. Trey Wilson: Wilson returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown last week and is tied for fourth in the SEC with four passes defended. He and his teammates in the secondary will have their hands full with Georgia’s bevy of talented receivers.
Georgia’s front seven vs. Vanderbilt’s running game
If Vandy is unable to move the ball on the ground, the Commodores’ chances of winning will be slim. They had a great game with 410 rushing yards against Presbyterian and Georgia has had its issues against the run, allowing 199 yards to Buffalo and 135 to FAU. The Bulldogs were more stout against Missouri, which suggests they might not have taken the two non-conference opponents quite as seriously.
By the Numbers
1. 4.6 -- Vanderbilt has won just once in its last six games against SEC opposition (the Commodores beat Kentucky last season), but it has given some traditionally powerful programs a challenge in that stretch. Since midseason last year, the Commodores’ losses to Georgia, Arkansas, Tennessee, Florida and South Carolina have come by an average of 4.6 points with the widest margin of defeat a six-point overtime loss to Tennessee.
2. 13-0 -- Georgia has won its last 13 regular-season games, which is the nation’s second-longest streak in the regular season, trailing only LSU’s 16.
3. 81-23 -- Georgia has been a strong second-half team thus far after getting off to some sluggish starts. The Bulldogs have outscored their first three opponents 81-23 in the second half, including a game-ending 24-0 run against Missouri and a 42-0 run last week against FAU.
On Deck: Next Saturday, Georgia hosts a Tennessee club (2-1) that suffered its first loss last week against Florida. Tennessee figures to improve to 3-1 on Saturday when it hosts Akron at Neyland Stadium. The Bulldogs and Volunteers will kick off at 3:30 p.m.
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