NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt knows what it is up against Saturday. And it’s not just a beast of an opponent.
Yes, No. 2-ranked Georgia is coming to town. But the Commodores are also still at the base of the mountain that is the climb of Year 1 with first-year head coach Clark Lea.
That’s why this week of preparation isn’t as much about the Bulldogs (3-0, 1-0 SEC) as it is about Vanderbilt Football.
“It’s a nameless, faceless opponent is how we’re treating this week. We’re going to go out and play our game,” Vanderbilt quarterback Ken Seals said Tuesday. “If you start thinking about everything else that everyone is saying about it, them you’re going to still get caught up thinking about the wrong stuff and in the end it doesn’t even matter.
“We’re going to try to go and execute our game plan and put it up against theirs and come out with some great effort, great intensity and whenever we’re clicking I like our odds. I like our team. I think we can be really good whenever we’re all putting in the effort and working together.”
Seals will be playing in his 10th Southeastern Conference game Saturday but his first against Georgia and his first against a team ranked as high as head coach Kirby Smart’s program. It will be a large stage for Seals and the majority of his teammates as they measure themselves against one of college football’s premiere teams.
It may have been easy for Lea and his staff to rally the troops and drive home the point this week about the magnitude of Saturday’s affair. That’s not how they’re going about business.
“We’re just focused on us. We understand we got the No. 2 team coming in here to Dudley Field and Vanderbilt Stadium, but right now it’s just about every day getting better as the Vanderbilt football program,” Vanderbilt running backs coach Norval McKenzie said. “That’s all we can talk about, that’s all we want to do and that’s where we are as a program. Just focusing on us and focusing on the details.”
Why not make a big fuss about the possibility of taking down the No. 2 team in the country? The Dores answered that question during a 41-23 loss to Stanford.
It was inside those four quarters that Lea saw his team make great strides in some phases while making critical mistakes in others. The Vandy offense was charged another turnover (a Seals interception), the defense gave up 41 points and 7.5 yards per play and Stanford totaled 169 yards on kick returns.
All these elements are too important to forget about before going full throttle toward worrying – and only worrying – about Georgia.
“We have a good team, but we have a team that’s still in infancy in change in program,” Lea told WPRT-FM on Tuesday. “So finding consistency, finding the toughness required to sustain output and performance over four quarters will be critical for us reaching our potential as a team.
“Ultimately, these are the experiences that expose to our team and to our program what it takes to win at a high level, how we have to play to put away a good opponent and there should be evidence there to all of us that we’re capable of it. Now let’s seize control over the things that we have control over and let’s find out how good we can be.”
Vanderbilt (1-2), facing Saturday what is widely considered the best defense in the land, will hope to do enough offensively to continue its current trajectory of improvement through three games. It has increased its point total each week from 3 to 21 to 23, respectively, as well as its total yards on offense each game from week to week.
Even with the loss of Michael Warden at center due to an ankle sprain and with Re’Mahn Davis now out for the season due to a toe injury, Vandy has figured ways to move the ball with a bevy of capable receivers and a blossoming run game. And last week’s contest against Stanford was undoubtedly the offensive line’s best performance to date.
The Vanderbilt offense certainly appears to be a unit gaining steam.
“Our confidence comes from knowing our ability to run and throw the ball on anyone is there. We’re capable of doing it,” Seals said. “Each 11 players on the field have to own their job and their operation and make sure we’re all doing our part for the success of the offense. I think we’ve seen what happens whenever we do that. We know it’s there, we know we can do it, we just got to go do it.”
Of course, Georgia is a different animal with a defense featuring numerous future NFL players and an offense showing signs of being just as scary. Quarterback JT Daniels and friends have averaged 48 points and 521.5 yards of total offense the past two weeks against Alabama Birmingham and South Carolina, respectively.
The possibility of shutting that group down should be giving the Commodores a little more pep in their step this week – but they insisted Tuesday that’s not the case no matter how much they have been pressed to think differently.
“Right now we’re just focusing on ourselves,” McKenzie said. “We talk to the guys all the time about the details and that’s where our destiny lies. We’re just truly focused on getting better as a team and honing in on our fundamentals and doing the little things that will provide success for us.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.