- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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No. 15 Georgia (4-2, 3-1 SEC) travels to Vanderbilt (3-3, 0-3) with the knowledge that if it can escape Nashville with a win, its SEC East hopes will very much remain intact with an open date -- and a chance to get healthy -- ahead of a key game against Florida on Nov. 2.
But the Bulldogs have to win today first, and that has been more difficult for recent Georgia teams than one might expect. In two of Georgia's last three trips to Vandy, the outcome hung in the balance up to the very last play of the game. Considering how every Georgia game this season was up for grabs well into the second half, today's contest in Nashville could very possibly give Bulldogs fans further heart palpitations.
Here are five storylines to consider as the noon ET kickoff approaches, with an assist from ESPN's Stats and Information group:
Record watch: Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews could both claim SEC career records before today's game is over. Murray will almost certainly break former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow's career record for total offense, as Murray's career total of 12,203 yards is just 29 behind Tebow's mark. Murray is also two touchdown passes behind ex-Gators quarterback Danny Wuerffel's SEC-high mark of 114. Meanwhile, Matthews trails former Georgia wideout Terrence Edwards' SEC career record of 3,093 receiving yards by 97. He had 119 receiving yards in the Commodores' blowout loss to Georgia last season.
Offense losing power: It's no secret that Georgia's offense lost some of its effectiveness when tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall and receivers Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley and Michael Bennett dropped out of the lineup with an array of injuries. Georgia might get Gurley and Bennett back for the Florida game, but the rest are out for the season, forcing the Bulldogs to identify new skill players to fill their spots. But it's still a work in progress. Georgia has 37 touchdowns of at least 20 yards since the start of last season -- the most in the SEC and third most in the FBS. The Bulldogs had at least one such touchdown in each of the first four games this season, but none in the last two since the injuries hit the lineup. Among the candidates to pick up the big-play slack: tailback J.J. Green, who had a 57-yard run last week against Missouri; wideout Rantavious Wooten -- who had a 48-yard catch last week -- receiver Reggie Davis, who hauled in a program-record 98-yard touchdown pass against North Texas, and Chris Conley, who has five career touchdown catches that covered 25 yards or more.
Matthews going long: Matthews leads the SEC in receptions per game (7.8) and trails only Texas A&M's Mike Evans with his average of 118.2 receiving yards per game. Most troubling for a Georgia secondary that is 12th in the league in pass defense (259.3 ypg) and 13th in yards allowed per pass attempt (8.0) is Matthews' ability to haul in catches for big gains. Since the start of last season, the Vandy receiver has 51 receptions that covered at least 15 yards -- the most for any wideout in the FBS.
Third-down trouble: It's no secret among Georgia fans that the Bulldogs' young defense has struggled on third down this season. The Bulldogs rank 13th in the SEC and 97th nationally, allowing opponents to convert 43.7 percent (38 of 87) of such opportunities. Georgia has forced a three-and-out 30.1 percent of the time (22 in 73 opponent drives), which ranks 94th nationally. What might make the issue seem even worse among Georgia fans is that the Bulldogs had been so effective in that department over the previous two seasons. Between 2011 and 2012, Georgia forced three-and-outs on 43.9 percent of opponent drives (161 of 367), which ranked fourth nationally. Unfortunately for Vanderbilt, the Commodores haven't been much better. They're 10th in the SEC and 82nd nationally in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert 41.4 percent (36 of 87). Making matters even worse for both teams is that their offenses haven't been particularly effective on third down, either. Georgia is 12th in the league in third-down conversions (37.3 percent) and Vandy is eighth (42.1 percent). Whichever team finds a way to be more efficient in those situations today might very well wind up as the winner.
Fun with QBR: Here's a somewhat bizarre stat for Georgia's maligned secondary. It has actually held the last four opposing quarterbacks below their season average in ESPN's new Total Quarterback Rating metric. Last week, Missouri's James Franklin posted a 70.6 adjusted QBR, his lowest in any game this season. In previous weeks, Tennessee's Justin Worley scored a 59.0, LSU's Zach Mettenberger a 90.2 and North Texas' Derek Thompson a 36.3. QBR rates quarterbacks on a 0-100 scale where 50 is average. Top quarterbacks are in the upper 80s and 90s, and the adjusted QBR accounts for the strength of opposing defenses faced. Vanderbilt's Austyn Carta-Samuels ranks 88th nationally with a 50.2 adjusted QBR. He has struggled over the last four games, with his 48.1 adjusted QBR in a loss to Missouri ranking as his highest score in that stretch. Murray posted his lowest adjusted QBR of the season (82.9) last week against Missouri. He ranks third nationally with a 93.3 adjusted QBR this season.
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