NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt goes back on the road this weekend and heads to No. 1-ranked Georgia for a 2:30 p.m. CT Saturday kickoff, the last of three straight matchups against a top-10 opponent for the Commodores.
Vandy (3-3, 0-2 SEC) was hard at work trying this week to find answers for all that went wrong in a 52-28 defeat to No. 9 Ole Miss last time out at FirstBank Stadium. The Dores had a 20-10 lead in the second quarter and 20-17 lead at halftime before the Rebels went on a 28-0 run in the second half to seize control.
Georgia (6-0, 3-0 SEC), the defending national champion, has won eight in a row since falling in the 2021 SEC Championship game. The Bulldogs have outscored opponents 237-64 this season.
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: 2:30 CT p.m. Saturday
Location: Sanford Stadium (92,746)
Television: SEC Network
Taylor Zarzour (play-by-play), Matt Stinchcomb (analyst) and Alyssa Lang (sideline)
Available via WatchESPN
Vanderbilt Sports Network from Learfield
On-Air Time: 1:30 p.m. CT
Affiliates: Nashville WQZQ 93.3 FM; Chattanooga WALV 95.3 FM; Lewisburg WJJM 1490 AM, 94.3 FM; Memphis WMPS 1210 AM, 103.1 FM
Satellite: SiriusXM 201; SiriusXM online 964
Vanderbilt Athletics App (Free)
81 degrees at kickoff, zero percent chance of rain
1. Follow the Script
Vanderbilt had the perfect game plan working a week ago against Ole Miss. Through two quarters the Commodores had a 20-17 lead and had methodically and precisely controlled the narrative of the contest.
The second half told a different story.
Vandy’s first five offensive possessions of the second half went: punt, fumble, punt, punt and turnover on downs, respectively. Not ideal.
But despite how things turned out in the second half, the blueprint is seemingly there for Vanderbilt. Now the onus is on the Commodores to follow that blueprint for four quarters.
That’s easier said than done against one of the nation’s best team’s and best defense’s. If the Dores can stick to the script, however, they will give themselves a chance at victory Saturday.
2. Third Downs
Vanderbilt’s offensive has been vastly improved in 2022 compared to 2021. But where the Commodores still need to be much better is on third down.
Vandy ranks 108th nationally, and 13th out of 14 SEC teams, at converting third downs just 33 percent of the time. There have been good days—against Hawai’i, Northern Illinois and Ole Miss—and there have been bad days—against Wake Forest and Alabama—in that department.
The Commodores cannot afford another bad day.
Georgia is only allowing opponents to convert on third down 28 percent of the time. Only once this season has the Bulldogs’ defense not held the opposition to less than 40 percent on third down (Oregon, Sept. 3).
Thus, third down will be a crucial play for the Vandy offense inside Sanford Stadium.
3. Tight Ends Revisited
Time to reintroduce the Vanderbilt tight ends into the passing game.
Thought to be one of Vandy’s offensive strengths coming into 2022, the Commodores haven’t featured the tight end group in the aerial attack perhaps as much as one might have thought possible.
Part of that is due to the trio of Ben Bresnahan, Gavin Schoenwald and Justin Ball being solid blockers making it difficult to let them them loose down the field. Defenses are also certainly keying in on those individuals and not leaving them unattended after the snap.
But in a game where the Dores will need each and every one of their offensive weapons to make plays, perhaps getting the ball out to the tight ends could give Vandy a slight edge. Bresnahan has just one catch since Sept. 3, Schoenwald has just four grabs since that day and Ball has just two receptions all season.
Featuring at least one of those capable playmakers could play dividends for the Dores on Saturday.
4. Seeing Red Zone
There are only four teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision this season who have a 100-percent scoring rate when crossing into the red zone: No. 2 Ohio State, No. 4 Clemson, No. 6 Tennessee and Vanderbilt.
The Commodores (21-for-21) have done a masterful job of putting points on the board when going inside the 20. And 17 of their 21 trips this season have resulted in touchdowns.
Georgia, a bit surprisingly, only has a success rate of little more than 77 percent of the time when defending the red zone. That may mean that if there is any sort of weakness (if one could call it that) for the Bulldogs it may be when their backs are against the wall.
Vanderbilt must continue that trend of perfection in the red zone this weekend if it wants to give itself any shot at victory between the hedges.
5. Flawless Football
Vanderbilt last played a No. 1-ranked team in 2017 when it lost 59-0 against Alabama. Vanderbilt, although it has been close a few times, has never defeated a No. 1-ranked team.
So history not on the Commodores’ side Saturday. And on paper, the Bulldogs are heavy favorites to take care of business in the present.
How does Vandy pull off what would be one of, if not the, biggest wins in program history? It starts with playing near-flawless football.
There can be no turnovers, no penalties, no missed assignments, no blown coverages, no lapses in special teams—the list goes on. Vanderbilt head coach Clark Lea’s consistent chorus is about playing four quarters of Vanderbilt football.
No better time than to do that than Saturday.
(6.) Clark Lea in Athens
Lea has not had very much fun in his three previous trips to Athens, Georgia.
In his first season as a player with the Commodores in 2002, Lea and Vandy lost 48-17 in Sanford Stadium against a Bulldogs team ranked No. 5 nationally the time. Headlines were made before that contest when a Vanderbilt team bus was struck by a tractor-trailer en route to the game.
Two years later during Lea’s senior season, Georgia (ranked 12th at the time) handed Vanderbilt a 33-3 defeat in Athens.
Lea returned to Georgia in 2019 as the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame. Lea’s defense held Georgia to 339 yards of total offense, but the Bulldogs outscored the Fighting Irish 10-7 in the fourth quarter of that game and held on for a 23-17 victory.
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.