No. 24 Georgia (4-2, 2-2 SEC) vs. Vanderbilt (3-2, 1-2 SEC)
Kickoff: 6 p.m. (TV: ESPN2, Radio: 940-AM)
Stadium: Vanderbilt Stadium (39,773)
Kickoff weather: High of 71, low of 48; sunny; 10 percent chance of rain
Series: Georgia leads 47-18-2
Last meeting: Vanderbilt won 24-22 in Athens in 2006
Odds: Georgia favored by 7
Injuries: Georgia: Out: WR A.J. Bryant (knee), LB Marcus Washington (shoulder), RB Thomas Brown (collarbone), LB Brandon Miller (calf); Questionable: WR Mikey Henderson (hamstring), Probable: OL Scott Haverkamp, DT Jeff Owens (ankle), OL Clint Boling (ankle), WR Kris Durham (shoulder), S Rowdy Francis (hamstring). Vanderbilt: Questionable: LB Brandon Bryant (ankle).
Georgia will trade out Thomas Brown for Kregg Lumpkin in the lineup today as Brown is out due to a collarbone injury and Lumpkin is returning from a broken thumb. Lumpkin gives the Bulldogs a bigger changeup from freshman Knowshon Moreno, who will start. Moreno relies on shiftiness and speed, while Lumpkin is most effective making one cut and using his power to run over people, running backs coach Tony Ball said. If the offensive line doesn’t open up bigger holes than it did last week, it won’t matter who is running the ball. Vanderbilt is 10th in the SEC in rushing with 141.6 yards per game, but the Commodores versatility worries Georgia. Running back Cassen Jackson-Garrison has 290 yards on 72 carries, and whichever quarterback Vanderbilt decides to play will run. Chris Nickson and Mackenzi Adams have gained 270 yards on the ground.
Georgia is 80th in the nation in passing (201.8 yards per game), and the biggest problem is the offensive line, however, the offensive line isn’t going to get a lot better overnight. Sophomore quarterback Matthew Stafford has to take it on himself to improve things by making plays when he has a chance. “I had enough time to make some throws that I didn’t make last week,” Stafford said. “I’ve got to step my game up and be a little better.” He needs some help from senior receiver Sean Bailey, who has had only one catch in the last two games. Expect Georgia to go long at least twice to Demiko Goodman who has proven to be the only offensive playmaker other than Thomas Brown and Knowshon Moreno. The Commodores are even worse at throwing the ball than Georgia (98th in the nation), but the best player on the field today will be Vandy wide receiver Earl Bennett. Vanderbilt’s offensive line, which starts five seniors, will give Nickson and Adams enough time to find Bennett. Georgia has to make sure no one else beats it.
The Bulldogs have allowed an average of 365 yards in their four SEC games. The defensive line began the season as a bright spot but hasn’t gotten any pressure on the quarterback or penetration to stop the running game in two weeks. The linebackers are getting a consistent effort from Dannell Ellerbe and no one else, and the secondary has a total of one interception. Kelin Johnson, the owner of that one interception, says the defense doesn’t need big-name players, but it does need big plays. The Commodores are led by linebacker Jonathan Goff, who is fourth in the SEC in tackles with eight per game. (The Bulldogs’ Ellerbe is fifth with 7.8.) He leads a unit that is un-Vandy like in its conference and national ranking. The Commodores are third in the SEC and 18th in the country in yards allowed (304 per game). They are 25th in the country in scoring defense (20 points allowed per game). In the secondary, Georgia will keep close tabs on cornerback D.J. Moore, a small but physical player who has three interceptions this season, and safety Reshard Langford.
This is the area of the game where the Commodores appear the most vulnerable. Georgia will be using cornerback Asher Allen in place of the injured Thomas Brown to return kickoffs, and Allen will be going against the SEC’s third-worst coverage unit. Punt returner Thomas Flowers, who is filling in for Mikey Henderson, will be facing the nation’s 112th-ranked punting unit. One of the minor disappointments of this season is that Georgia place-kicker Brandon Coutu hasn’t gotten to show his stuff that often. Coutu came into the season as a candidate for the Lou Groza Award, but he’s had just an average season. He’s 8-of-11, and his only notable kick was the late miss against Alabama. Vanderbilt kicker Bryan Hanfeldt is 7-of-10 this season.
Forecast: To his credit, Richt has offered nothing even close to an excuse for last year’s loss to the Commodores. “It was no fluke,” he said. “They came in and went toe-to-toe with us and came out with a victory.” The Commodores are perfectly capable of doing that again considering how bad the Bulldogs are playing. A loss today would mark the seventh straight SEC East defeat for Georgia and the first back-to-back Vanderbilt wins in this series since 1957-’58. More importantly, it would officially signal that the program has a significant problem. Georgia should play with the kind of desperation that Tennessee showed against it last week. Considering this may be the easiest game left on the schedule, the Bulldogs should feel desperate.