NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The first three games of the 2021 season have been challenging enough for the Commodores. This week the challenge rises to another level.
Vanderbilt (1-2) hosts No. 2 Georgia at 11 a.m. Saturday to begin SEC play. The Bulldogs are the best team Vandy will have played thus far – and may turn out to be the best team it will play all season.
Vanderbilt head coach Clark Lea has gone up against Georgia twice before as an assistant coach at Notre Dame.
“There’s always some help in familiarity, but in large part college football is about getting your team to line up and to play at its highest level. That’s what we have to do,” Lea said about the matchup. “We’ll spend, certainly, time on design around who they are, but as much time, particularly where we are as a program, on our people being in good positions to execute at a high level to execute our systems.”
The Commodores are coming off a 41-23 defeat to Stanford on Saturday at home. The loss was the seventh in a row at Vanderbilt Stadium for Vandy.
Lea’s team was tied with the Cardinal 14-14 in the second quarter, but 13 points by Stanford just before halftime and seven more to start the third quarter proved to be the difference. That stretch was another crucial learning point for the young Dores as the move forward in Season 1 with Lea.
Georgia, which is 47-9 the past 4+ seasons under head coach Kirby Smart, has won three East Division titles in the past four campaigns. The Bulldogs (3-0) are once again expected to compete for an SEC – and national – championship and come to Nashville with a ferocious defense.
Ranked third nationally in total defense, fourth with 4.67 sacks per game and fifth in team passing efficiency defense, the Bulldogs have allowed just 7.7 points per game and no more than 13 in any one contest.
“That defense is about creating negative plays. They do well controlling the line of scrimmage. They play aggressively and they’re multiple in their coverage concepts,” Lea said. “There are challenges, but there are also opportunities. Finding ways to neutralize their front, finding ways to separate that first level with the second level and trying to design some space in order for us to get the ball to playmakers will all be a part of the formula.
“We also need to worry in design about the defense, but really worry in execution more about ourselves. I’m interested in seeing the Vanderbilt offense operate at its highest level. We haven’t seen that yet. We’ve seen spurts of really good play, but we need to sustain that.”
Due to COVID-19 issues in 2020, Vanderbilt and Georgia did not play each other for the first time since 1967, ending a stretch of 52 straight seasons with at least one matchup. The Bulldogs are 58-20-2 against Vandy and have won three in a row in games played in Nashville.
Vanderbilt will also be trying to break a 13-game conference losing skid.
“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing against, our objective is to play at the highest level as a team,” Lea said. “We will focus on (Georgia) in design but we will focus on us in execution and put our best foot forward on Saturday.”
Davis Out for the Remainder of the Season
Vanderbilt starting running back Re’Mahn Davis will miss the remainder of the season with a foot injury, Lea confirmed Tuesday.
“He’s going to have surgery to repair a torn ligament in his toe and that’s going to put him out for the year,” Lea said. “I hurt for Ray. I’m anxious for him to be a part of this Team 1 and continue to help us in the manner he can.
“He’s a smart player so he’ll be like another coach on the field.”
A 5-foot-9, 205-pound junior originally from San Francisco, Davis had rushed for 211 yards and 44 carries through 2+ games before exiting the Stanford matchup in the second half. He scored his first career touchdown against the Cardinal.
A transfer from Temple, Davis was averaging 4.8 yards per carry. His departure leaves the Commodores with four running backs – Rocko Griffin, Patrick Smith, Dylan Betts-Pauley and converted defensive back James Ziglor.
• As a team, Vanderbilt now ranks 14th nationally in fourth down conversions with an 85.7 percent success rate, is 29th in tackles for loss allowed (4.3 per game) and 34th in time of possession (31:21).
• Vanderbilt quarterback Ken Seals ranks 28th completions per game with 21.
• Vandy wide receiver Will Sheppard ranks 27th nationally with 6.3 receptions per game.
• The Commodores last started 1-0 in SEC play in 2011.
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.