The Georgia Bulldogs will square off in Athens Saturday night against the Vanderbilt Commodores to start the meat of their SEC season.
After last year’s wild game in Nashville, in which Georgia survived with a 33-28 victory, expect a battle again this year in Athens. There’s little doubt fans of either team have forgotten the verbal altercation between James Franklin and Todd Grantham after that game either. These teams are going to be charged up for this game and it should be a good one in Athens.
Here are five keys to victory for Georgia against Vandy on Saturday.
Georgia has started sluggishly in each of its first three games. Georgia only took a one-possession lead into halftime against Buffalo in its season opener and trailed Missouri going into the locker room in Week 2.
Even Florida Atlantic was able to hang with the Dawgs before Georgia finally took a two-touchdown lead into late in the second quarter.
Another slow start against Vanderbilt could spell trouble for the Bulldogs. This is going to be a hard-fought battle between these teams no matter what, especially after last season’s emotional win for the Dawgs in Nashville and the postgame shenanigans that ensued.
Georgia needs to play all four quarters with the intensity it’s only seemed to have been able to muster in the second half of games so far this season.
So far, Vanderbilt’s defense has shown itself to be vulnerable to against the run. Georgia is going to need another strong performance from its trio of running backs on Saturday.
Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall and Ken Malcome have been explosive this season, averaging 189 yards per game combined.
On the other hand, Vandy gave up an average of 198 yards on the ground in its two losses.
The ground game may hinge on the play of the offensive line, which has some issues coming into this game. Georgia may have to rotate in some offensive linemen as it’s not yet known if left guard Dallas Lee is going to be 100 percent, but expect Lee to be in the game, even if he doesn’t start.
Without Lee, Georgia will most likely move Kenarious Gates to left guard and insert Mark Beard in at left tackle.
Vanderbilt has been extremely stingy against the pass so far this season. In fact, they boast an SEC-best 100 yards per game given up through the air.
Still, Aaron Murray has been lighting it up with his arm in Georgia's first three games. Already passing for 842 yards through three games, Murray also has eight touchdowns to only two interceptions this season.
UGA is going to need Murray to manage this game and take what the Vandy defense gives him. If the 'Dores load the box to stop the run, Murray should be able to take advantage and beat them on some play-action passes.
Although there’s a question who will be Vandy’s starting quarterback Saturday against the Dawgs, there’s no question that Zac Stacy is the Commodores' most dangerous offensive weapon.
After rushing for nearly 1,200 yards in 2011, Stacy started slow in Vanderbilt’s first two games but ran wild against Presbyterian last week to the tune of 175 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
Containing Stacy and not letting him break any long runs—which has been an issue a few times already for the Georgia defense—will be a key for the Bulldogs in this game.
By shutting down Stacy, the Bulldogs will force either Jordan Rodgers or Austyn Carta-Samuels to beat them through the air. This will be a tall order for either quarterback against a talented Georgia secondary, including cornerbacks Malcolm Mitchell, Branden Smith and Sanders Commings, as well as safety Shawn Williams.
Although Richard Samuel sniffed out a fake punt against Missouri, Georgia was obviously susceptible to some trick plays and fakes last season, the most memorable being South Carolina Gamecock Melvin Ingram's fake punt for a touchdown.
As mentioned, this is going to be a hard-fought game and very aggressive on both sides of the ball. Don’t be surprised if Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin tries to exploit that aggression with some trick plays or fakes on special teams.
Georgia will need to play aggressively, but it also needs to stay disciplined and be prepared for anything Vandy throws at it.