The Georgia Bulldogs will begin their quest for another SEC East title and perhaps even a National Championship when they visit the Vanderbilt Commodores at Vanderbilt Stadium on Saturday night.
Reload or rebuild?
Georgia once again lost a whole lot of talent both to the NFL and the transfer portal on the heels of its latest division title, heartbreaking loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship, and appearance in the Sugar Bowl (a setback against Texas). But with Justin Fields now out of the way at Ohio State, Jake Fromm is finally the undisputed starter under center in Athens. Aside from winning it all, the Bulldogs have done just about everything right the past two years, totaling 24 victories. This season’s squad is ranked third in the nation and returns plenty of firepower from last season’s 11-win squad, with Fromm and junior tailback D’Andre Swift back to lead an offense that averaged 37.9 points per game.
“Win or lose, it is not going to define you,” head coach Kirby Smart said of this opening road game. “What’s going to define you is how you respond.”
Fromm passed for 2,749 yards and 30 touchdowns a season ago, completing 67.3 percent of his passes. Swift emerged as a go-to back last season, rushing for 1,049 yards with 10 touchdowns. As for the defense, it lost several key contributors from a unit that allowed just 19.2 points per game in 2018 but brings back its two leading tacklers in junior defensive back Richard LeCounte (74 tackles) and senior defensive back J.R. Reed (66 stops). Senior kicker Rodrigo Blankenship made 19 of 23 field-goal attempts last season and begins 2019 with 154 consecutive made extra points. The Bulldogs have won 21 of the past 24 meetings with Vanderbilt, including a 41-13 rout at home last season.
Georgia handled their business last year against Vandy, winning 41-13 at home, but Kirby Smart knows the game was somewhat closer than the score indicated. At least in the first half when the Dawgs had a 21-6 lead.
“You look at last year’s game, and I don’t think people realize how close that game was, especially early,” Smart said. “They outreached us in the first half. I’ve got a lot of respect for the way they play and the program they run.”
Commodores coming up
Vanderbilt is coming off a respectable 6-6 (3-5 SEC) campaign in which it made a trip to the Texas Bowl, dropping a 45-38 thriller against Baylor. It now begins the post-Kyle Shurmur era at quarterback with two candidates to get snaps in graduate transfer Riley Neal and junior Deuce Wallace. Head coach Derek Mason, however, has said he will not announce who gets Saturday’s start until the last moment.
“We need a quarterback battle,” Mason stated. “That just talks about the talent that’s in the room.”
— Vanderbilt Football (@VandyFootball) August 27, 2019
Whoever takes snaps will have all-conference first-team senior receiver Kalija Lipscomb and senior running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn to help shoulder the offensive load. Vaughn rushed for 1,244 yards (most by any returning SEC running back) and 12 touchdowns last season, averaging 7.9 yards per carry. He wrapped up the 2018 campaign with 243 yards in the Texas Bowl. Lipscomb led the conference with 87 receptions a season ago and is six touchdowns shy of breaking the school record.
The Georgia Bulldogs are:
The Vanderbilt Commodores are:
- 5-1 ATS in their last six overall
- 5-0 ATS in their last five conference games
- 4-1 ATS in their last five games on fieldturf