Vandy will try to execute zone defense

ATHENS — The blueprint for stifling Georgia's offense is clear, but Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson isn't sure he's got the tools to make it work.

The No. 12 Bulldogs have torn up any man-to-man coverage they've seen this year but struggled against basic zone schemes. Last season, the Commodores had success playing tight, man-to-man coverage with no safety help against the Bulldogs. In fact, Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said this week, "we don't play a lot of cover two."

"We have matchup problems either way we try to do it," Johnson said.

The Commodores (1-4, 1-2 SEC) take on Georgia (4-1, 2-1) today in Sanford Stadium at 12:30 p.m. Along with being homecoming, it will be the Bulldogs' first game since the disappointing loss to Tennessee last week that, at least temporarily, derailed their national and SEC title hopes.

"We feel like we're going to get a positive response," safety Thomas Davis said. "No one around here likes to lose. We're not accustomed to losing. Everybody is going to try to get that bitter taste out of our mouths."

The offense has a particularly bitter taste, after scoring just two touchdowns against a Volunteer defense that hadn't been formidable earlier in the season. Tennessee thwarted the Bulldogs the same way South Carolina and Marshall did — by dropping back their safeties and forcing Georgia to execute with consistency, which it hasn't proven it can do.

Everyone from quarterback David Greene to receiver Fred Gibson to quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo have discussed the reasons for the struggles and the possible fixes this week.

"We've got to do a better job when people play those zone coverages," Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said simply.

The Bulldogs' defense, ranked fourth in the SEC in both points and yards allowed, also faces challenges. The Commodores are 10th in the SEC in total offense, but they do enough things to give defensive coordinators headaches.

"Most offenses have a game plan and stick to it, but Vandy does everything," defensive tackle Kedric Golston said.

The thing Vanderbilt does that worries Georgia the most is the option. The Commodores run several different styles of option, including the triple option that Georgia Southern used to rush for 294 yards against Georgia earlier this year.

"If they get in that Georgia Southern package with a guy who can throw (quarterback Jay Cutler), that can cause you problems," defensive line coach Rodney Garner said.

Cutler is the third-rated passer in the SEC, and his versatility could cause problems for a secondary that came under fire for being too aggressive against Tennessee.

On top of on-field concerns, Richt also will have to make sure his Bulldogs are focused today. Georgia hasn't lost to Vanderbilt since 1994, and the Bulldogs are 23-point favorites. Plus, Georgia players have admitted that they'll have one eye on Tennessee's score the rest of the season, in hopes the Vols will lose and allow Georgia back in the SEC race.

"This is now the biggest game of the year for sure," Richt said. "We've got to win this game, and we've got to get better."


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