Preview: No. 5 Georgia at Vanderbilt

Anthony Dasher, Editor
GA Varsity

WHERE: Vanderbilt Stadium

WHEN: Saturday, Noon

RECORDS: Georgia 5-0, 2-0; Vanderbilt 3-2, 0-2

TV/RADIO: ESPN (Mike Patrick, Tommy Tuberville, Paul Carcaterra); Georgia Bulldog Radio Network (Scott Howard, Eric Zeier, Chuck Dowdle); Sirius/XM 138/191

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Radi Nabulsi

THE GAME:

The Georgia Bulldogs have garnered their share of attention after huge victories over Mississippi State and Tennessee, rising to No. 5 in the Associated Press Top 25.

Folks in Athens and around the state are certainly starting to get excited, asking themselves how far this team could possibly go.

However, as head coach Kirby Smart is quick to remind, teams are only as good as their next game, and that certainly includes his Bulldogs who travel to Vanderbilt Saturday afternoon (Noon ET, ESPN).

“Humility is a week away. That is what we talk to them about all the time,” Smart said. “Again, humility comes through practice, going good on good, competing, getting better. It’s a 100-yard sprint and we are at 40 yards. Who cares? They don’t ever talk about who won the first 50 meters of a 100-meter race. I have never heard anybody talk about it. They don’t care. There’s a lot of football to be played and we are focused on Vanderbilt.”

Tight end Jackson Harris can vouch for that.

Although Harris admits they hear plenty from classmates and even professors while walking throughout campus, nobody on the Bulldog football team is taking its success thus far for granted.

Nor are they thinking ahead.

“Honestly, we don’t even pay attention to it. We just focus on the week ahead. It has not been any different in the weeks prior, it is just that each Saturday you have another game and different opponent,” Harris said. “We are just focused on improving ourselves each day and that is our main task. We will take it one day at a time.”

Practices are designed to “alleviate” any issues of comfort players might be having.

“When we practice we practice hard. We show kids the tape. We are very honest with them. I think when you watch the tape everybody can get humbled by the tape,” Smart said. “We got beat, we got beat up at positions, we got blocked at positions — so Monday is all we are worried about and all we are really focused on. We call Monday block-protection Monday because we go out and really work on blocking people on offense or protecting blocks on defense.

“That’s one of the No. 1 things we can get better at. If you get better at that, it does not matter what you call a lot of times. You just get better at fundamentals and we try to humble the guys by showing them the honest truth.”

Smart believes his team is buying in.

At 5-0 for the first time since 2012, Georgia hosts Missouri next week after Saturday’s game with Vanderbilt, before the annual month-end battle against arch-rival Florida.

Games against South Carolina, Kentucky, Auburn and Georgia Tech remain on the schedule as well.

“I think we’ve grown up a little bit as a team. I think they’ve seen the evidence in the practice habits they have,” Smart said. “We didn’t know it would get the results we wanted from our practice habits last year. They’ve bought into the fact that if they’re physical on Tuesday and Wednesday, they’ll be physical on Saturday. That’s carrying over. I think we’re just a year older. I think that practice habit and culture change has been good for them.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

--LB Roquan Smith continues to play inspired football. The junior enters Saturday’s game at Vanderbilt with 38 tackles through five games, and is the spearhead for a Georgia defense that is second in the SEC in scoring defense, giving up a mere 9.2 points per game.

--Running back Nick Chubb is now the second-leading rusher in the SEC with 480 yards after earning SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors with his 109-yard effort against Tennessee. Chubb, who just needs 96 yards to reach 4,000 for his career, needs just five touchdowns to surpass Todd Gurley (44) for most touchdowns in Georgia history.

--J.R. Reed continues to be a pleasant surprise in the Bulldog secondary. The son of former NFL standout Jake Reed recorded a career-best 10 tackles against Mississippi State and last week notched his first interception and recovered a fumble in the Bulldogs’ 41-0 win at Tennessee.

SERIES HISTORY:

Georgia leads the series with Vanderbilt 55-20-2.

QUOTE TO NOTE:

“We have a lot of challenges ahead of us in regards to preparing for Vanderbilt and wanting to keep the team’s mentality of getting better and improving each week, which they have done up to this point. They do that by the way they practice on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, so that is the challenge we are presented with now. It only gets greater because of the attention surrounding the team, but for us, it is really about getting better and focusing on the next opponent. That’s where we are at.” – Kirby Smart.

GAME BREAKDOWN:

• Scouting the running game: Led by Chubb, the Bulldogs enter play on Saturday ranked fourth in rushing offense, averaging 237.4 yards per game. Although Chubb gets most of the ink, the Bulldogs have six players with at least 15 carries, apiece, four of those six – Chubb, Sony Michel, D’Andre Swift and Brian Herrien – have rushed for over 110 yards. Vanderbilt, meanwhile, enters play Saturday ranked 12th in rushing defense, allowing 204.6 yards per game.

• Scouting the passing game: Georgia ranks last in the league in passing offense with 149.6 yards per game, but those numbers are a little deceiving. The Bulldogs haven’t had to pass much of late, with quarterback Jake Fromm only attempting 40 passes combined over the past three contests. Considering the Commodores rank third in the SEC in pass defense (143.2) and faring so poorly against the run, there may be little need to throw this week, either.

• Scouting the run defense: This is where Georgia really excels. The Bulldogs rank third in the SEC in rush defense, allowing just 90.4 of rushing yards per game. That number would be even lower if Mississippi State had not run for 177 two weeks ago, the majority of that came against second- and third-team defenders when the game was out of reach. Otherwise, Georgia’s fourth other opponents have failed to run for more than 89 yards all year.

• Scouting the pass defense: Georgia ranks fourth in the SEC in pass defense, allowing just 153.6 yards per game and enter play Saturday with four interceptions over their past two games after getting zero the first three. The Bulldogs figure to get a solid test from Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur, who has thrown for 985 yards and 11 touchdowns, which ties him for first in the SEC.

• Scouting the special teams: Georgia continues to receive excellent special teams. Behind Cameron Nizialek, the Bulldogs rank second in the SEC in punting with an average of 42.8 yards per kick, while Rodrigo Blankenship ranks first in the conference in kicking having converted 6 of his 7 field goal attempts. Blankenship also has 24 touchbacks, second-most in the SEC.

ROSTER REPORT:

--DL Trenton Thompson will miss Saturday’s game with a sprained MCL.

--LB Reggie Carter is dealing with a concussion that is expected to keep him out of the lineup against the Commodores.

--Linebacker Natrez Patrick is expected to miss this game and Georgia’s three to follow following a Thursday night arrest for misdemeanor possession of marijuana.

PROJECTION:

“I’ve seen some weird things happen at Vanderbilt Stadium. Odder than some of what you’ll see on Music Row. Not this year. Color me convinced on Georgia’s defense, and after talking with my colleague Chris Lee at VandySports.com, I’ve got even more reason to feel like this is going to be a good day for the Bulldogs. Vanderbilt’s offensive line is a mess and that’s left the ‘Dores’ running game in a bad way. Quarterback Kyle Shurmur is a pocket passer with a strong arm, and could potentially give Georgia trouble. Just not much.” Prediction: Georgia 31, Vanderbilt 7.

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