Georgia tries to stay in contention in the SEC East with a win against upset-minded Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Here’s what you need to know:
Date: Saturday, Oct. 19
Time: 12:00 p.m. ET
Place: Vanderbilt Stadium, Nashville, Tenn.
Radio: Georgia Bulldog Radio Network
Spread: Georgia by 7.5, via 5Dimes
Offensive Line Play
The common denominator in Georgia's two losses this season has been poor pass protection by the Bulldog offensive line. Against both Clemson and Missouri, Aaron Murray was hurried repeatedly in the pocket and ran out of time while looking for an open man. Not surprisingly, both of these games saw the fifth-year senior turn the ball over. Murray has six turnovers this season; four of them came in Georgia's two losses.
The need for a protected pocket is exacerbated by the absence of three of Georgia's receivers. With Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley and Michael Bennett all out with knee injuries, Murray needs a little extra time to track down young receivers.
Pressure the Quarterback
When he has time, Austyn Carta-Samuels is a more than effective quarterback. Combine his accuracy (he's hitting on over 66 percent of his passes) with one of the nation's best wide receivers in Jordan Matthews, and Georgia's weak secondary could be in for a long day. Georgia's defense must pressure Carta-Samuels and disrupt his timing in the pocket.
In 2011, Georgia barely escaped Nashville with a 33-28 victory. One of the big plays that kept Vanderbilt in the game was a 96-yard kickoff return by Andre Hal. Georgia's miscues on special teams are well-documented, and with loads of talent missing from the offense and a young defense that has yet to mature, the Dawgs can ill afford a misstep in the kicking game.
Vanderbilt has registered 13 sacks in six games this season. On the other side of the ball, Aaron Murray has only been sacked nine times. With his favorite targets out, a few early game sacks could break Murray's confidence as he tries to rebound from a three-turnover game against Missouri.
Georgia has shown weaknesses on the outside of the offensive line, and with at least one (and possibly two) star running backs out of the game with injury, the Commodores may be able to get around the edge and blow by the block attempts of true freshman running backs.
An Early Lead
Georgia's offense has proven capable of erasing leads relatively quickly. Nonetheless, Vanderbilt needs to get off to an early advantage in an effort to take the game out of Georgia's hands. For the first time all season, Georgia is reeling from a decisive defeat and the piling up injuries may render a trailing Bulldog squad frantic.
If the Commodores win the coin toss, they should receive the opening kick and attack Georgia's questionable defense from the onset. The Commodores need to force Georgia to play from behind and hope panic sets in.
Drew has four sacks in Georgia's last two games and trails the SEC's leaders in the category by just one (Chris Smith of Arkansas and Michael Sam of Missouri each have six sacks on the year). He'll have a more than decent opportunity to catch up against Carta-Samuels, who has already been sacked 16 times this season.
More importantly for Drew, however, is the impact that his pressure on the quarterback can have on the entire Bulldog defense. With four true freshmen defensive backs (Quincy Mauger, Tray Matthews, Brendan Langley and Shaq Wiggins) earning significant playing time, limiting Carta-Samuels' time in the pocket will be crucial.
A few short weeks ago, Todd Gurley was a Heisman Trophy candidate, but an ankle injury in the first-half of the LSU game has kept him out of Georgia's last two games. To be sure, all of Georgia's injuries on offense have hampered the Dawgs' capabilities, but none has hurt more than the loss of Gurley.
With him in the lineup, Georgia has averaged 41.25 points per game this season. In two games without him, the Bulldogs have been held to 30 points per game (and that includes an overtime period against Tennessee).
Murray desperately needs a receiver to step up and join Chris Conley as a deep threat. At times, Rantavious Wooten (10 catches, 121 yards and three touchdowns in the last two games) has looked like the man for the job. But, Reggie Davis has the athleticism to be a real difference-maker.
Although he's just a freshman, Davis already holds the school record for longest touchdown catch, thanks to a 98-yard bomb against North Texas. However, he's registered just two catches for 18 yards since the loss of Scott-Wesley and Bennett.
Azubike, a sophomore defensive end, boasts the size and athleticism to disrupt offenses from his spot on the edge of the line. Already this season he's registered 6.5 tackles for loss, and he plays his best in big games.
In the season opener against Ole Miss, Azubike broke up a pass and consistently pressured quarterback Bo Wallace. Against South Carolina he notched a career-high five tackles, one for loss.
Matthews is Vanderbilt's primary offensive weapon and everyone knows it, which makes his production all the more impressive. This season, Matthews has registered 47 catches for 709 yards and five touchdowns. If Matthews surpasses 102 yards receiving in this game, he'll best the SEC career mark of 3,093 yards set by former Georgia receiver Terrence Edwards. That's not too shabby for a player who registered just 181 yards receiving as a freshman and still has six games left to play.
Equally impressive is Matthews' consistency. He's registered five or more catches in each of his last 12 games. He'll be looking to continue that streak against a young and vulnerable Georgia secondary.
Georgia Tight End Arthur Lynch on the Battle for the SEC East
Lynch told ESPN.com's David Ching:
The past two seasons, we've dug ourselves out of a hole and hopefully we'll try to do it again. It's not ideal or what you hope for, but I think for us as a team, we know we can control what's in front of us in terms of the games we play. We have Vanderbilt next week in Nashville. That's going to be a tough game.
Aaron Murray on Throwing to New Receivers
Murray blamed himself for not trusting young receivers enough against Missouri. He told Seth Emerson of the Macon Telegraph that if he had trusted his guys a little more they could have made a few plays. He added, "Overall we worked extremely hard last week to make sure we were on the same timing with all of our guys. … We've just gotta keep working at it."
Mark Richt on Todd Gurley's Health
Richt told Gentry Estes of 247Sports that Gurley has a "realistic" chance of playing against Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Georgia's effort last week against Missouri was not questioned, but the wear and tear of a fourth game against a Top 25 opponent was obvious. Offensive playmakers were missed, and the defense continued to struggle against yet another high-profile offense.
Fortunately for Georgia, this Vanderbilt team is a far cry from the challenge that Missouri presented. The offense is much less explosive, and the Commodore defense is equally uninspiring.
Another week of practice with young receivers will serve Aaron Murray well. The offensive line will come ready to play, and Todd Gurley might make his triumphant return. With or without him, Georgia wins by two scores.