NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt opens Southeastern Conference play against long-time rival Georgia on Saturday morning at Vanderbilt Stadium.
The Commodores (1-2) are coming off a 41-23 defeat at home to Stanford in a contest in which they allowed 27 unanswered points. Vandy will be looking to bounce back from that loss and to start 1-0 in league play for the first time since 2011.
Georgia, ranked No. 2 in the country by The Associated Press, is off to a 3-0 start and 1-0 in league play after dismantling South Carolina 40-13 last week. The Bulldogs have won three in a row in the series against Vanderbilt.
Here is more on how to watch, listen to and follow Saturday’s contest as well as five key matchups to consider when the Commodores face the Bulldogs:
When: 11:03 a.m. Saturday
Location: Vanderbilt Stadium
Television: SEC Network
Taylor Zarzour (play-by-play), Matt Stinchcomb (analyst), Alyssa Lang (sideline)
Vanderbilt Sports Network from Learfield
On-Air Time: 11 a.m.
Pregame Show: 9:30 a.m.
Affiliates: Nashville WQZQ 830 AM, 93.3 FM; Chattanooga WALV 105.1 FM; Lewisburg WJJM 1490 AM, 94.3 FM; Memphis WMPS 1210 AM, 103.1 FM
Satellite: SiriusXM 190; SiriusXM online 961
71 degrees at kickoff, partly cloudy, zero percent chance of rain
1. About That Defense …
How good is Georgia’s defense? Well it’s unlikely the Commodores will face a better unit the remainder of the season.
The Bulldogs are loaded with professional-level talent and experience at all three levels. From nose tackle Jordan Davis (6-6, 340) to linebackers Nakobe Dean (6-foot, 225) and Channing Tindall (6-2, 230) to safety Christopher Smith (5-11, 190), there are not a lot of – if any – weak spots in the Georgia defensive lineup.
Georgia ranks third nationally in total defense and scoring defense, fourth in sacks, fifth in passing efficiency defense and seventh in first downs allowed.
Vanderbilt’s offense has shown glimpses of what it can be the past two weeks. But this matchup heavily favors the visitors.
2. Control the Controllables
Vanderbilt, as a program, is not yet in position to be able to fully recover from crucial mistakes – especially when those mistakes are self-inflicted.
The Commodores have five turnovers this season, one in each game. They have committed 24 penalties this season, at least seven each game.
Those types of miscues have been detrimental to a team still finding itself in the early part of the campaign. And those types of miscues Saturday against the No. 2 team in all the land could be devastating.
Should Vandy have any hopes of coming out victorious at Vanderbilt Stadium it will need to play a near-flawless contest when it comes to controlling the controllables.
3. Inside the 20s
Success in the red zone can certainly be a tad misleading at times. Conversions inside the opponents’ 20 rarely tell the whole story – but it can, at times, provide some insight into the narrative.
Georgia’s offense has reached the red zone 11 times this season and only six of those trips have resulted in touchdowns. What does that mean for the Vanderbilt defense? A bend-but-don’t-break attitude could be advantageous for the Dores on this day.
Vandy’s defense came away with a goal-line stand against Stanford and forced a missed field goal at Colorado State – the only two trips for the opponents inside the Vanderbilt red zone this season that have resulted pointless. Thus, it would behoove the Commodores on Saturday to bow up with their best effort once the Bulldogs are sniffing pay dirt.
4. Time For Some Takeaways
Georgia, despite its early success, has had some trouble with ball security this season.
The Bulldogs have six giveaways through three games, tied for the sixth-most in the nation, and even lost possession three times last week in a win over South Carolina. Four of Georgia’s six miscues have come via interception.
Vanderbilt, conversely, has just one takeaway thus far – an interception at Colorado State that helped change the course of the result there. The Commodores only have seven takeaways in their last 11 games.
Defensive coordinator Jesse Minter will need his unit to find a way to force the ball free if they have any chance of helping dictate the outcome Saturday.
5. Tight Ends To The Rescue
Vanderbilt has to figure a way to get its tight ends more involved in the passing game – not only Saturday but for the remainder of the season.
The return of Ben Bresnahan to the lineup after two weeks out due to injury should help in that regard. The senior and Georgia native was one of the team’s primary weapons in the passing attack in 2020 and his presence Saturday will equate to the Georgia defense having to account for his play-making abilities.
Senior Gavin Schoenwald made his long-awaited and first career reception last week. That single reception should give quarterback Ken Seals some added confidence with whom to target when going through his post-snap progressions.
The incorporation of the tight ends to Vandy’s passing game could do wonders for the Commodore offense looking to put together its finest four quarters of the young season.
(6.) Celebrating Commodore Champions
Saturday will be a day to celebrate some of Vanderbilt’s athletic successes from the past four months.
The Vanderbilt baseball team will be honored at halftime and presented its rings for advancing to the 2021 College World Series. Tim Corbin’s Commodores finished 49-18 and were one win away from the national title before dropping 2 of 3 to Mississippi State in the championship series.
Vandy’s men’s golf team and head coach Scott Limbaugh will also be recognized during the first quarter for its SEC championship. The Commodores beat Tennessee, Alabama and Arkansas, respectively, to win the league title in April and eventually went on to advance to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament in June in Arizona.
Finally, Vanderbilt bowling associate head coach Josie Barnes will be on hand and honored during the first quarter for her recent win at the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open. Barnes defeated Cherie Tan 198-194 in California in August for her first major championship.
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.