Johnson wants Vandy to take the next step

ATHENS – The old college try is wearing thin on Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson.

Johnson is 5-30 against SEC teams since taking over the Commodores in 2002, but none of his first four seasons have been quite as frustrating as this year. In Vanderbilt's first year since losing standout quarterback Jay Cutler, it has lost three conference games by a combined 12 points.

Alabama had to hit a late 47-yard field goal in the second week of the season to earn a 13-10 win over the ‘Dores. The Arkansas team that just whipped Auburn won by two points in Nashville. And, last week, Vanderbilt outgained Ole Miss 400-179 but turned the ball over four times and lost 17-10.

"It doesn't sit well with me at all," Johnson said. "We're there to win those games, and we had chances to win all three, good chances. The team feels the same way. We're not there to come close. We feel like we've got a team that can compete with anybody in this league and every game we play in this league, we plan to win."

Vanderbilt (2-4, 0-3) will play No. 16 Georgia (5-1, 2-1) on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. in Sanford Stadium. The game will be televised by Lincoln Financial.

Georgia has beaten the Commodores 11 straight times, and Vanderbilt hasn't come within two touchdowns of a Mark Richt-coached team. Still, Richt is a bit unnerved by all Vanderbilt's close calls this season.

"I haven't felt like we've ever beat them very good to be honest with you," he said. "I think their athletes are better than they were five years ago. You can tell they're getting in that weight room. You can tell they like contact. They've come up just a little bit short, but people aren't thrashing them around by any means. This is a very good football team that absolutely can beat you."

The Commodores have the second-best rushing offense in the SEC, and, although they don't gain many yards through the air, Georgia still will have to contend with sensational sophomore wide receiver Earl Bennett.

Bennett has 33 catches for 464 yards this year. He had 10 catches for 179 yards against Ole Miss last week.

Vanderbilt has been hurt by turnovers, having given up the ball an average of almost 2.5 times per game. The Commodores rank 60th in the nation in turnover margin.

Turnovers have been the key theme in Vanderbilt's conference losses, Johnson said.

"You can't help the other team," he said. "If you look at all three games, we helped them out a good bit. Sometimes it's a factor of some people trying to do too much or just not concentrating, but turnovers are a part of the game. It's never going to be eliminated. It's a tough game. You get hit and sometimes you lose the ball, but some way we need to take care of the ball better than what we're doing."


National rankings

Rushing 43rd 158.2 ypg

Rushing defense 79th 148.5 ypg allowed

Passing 89th 162.8 ypg

Passing defense 12th 154.3 ypg allowed

Scoring 83rd 21.2 ppg

Scoring defense 32nd 16.8 ppg allowed

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