After an open weekend post Missouri, Vanderbilt faces a three game stretch which will most likely define the level of success achieved in 2013. The first of those games, the seventh of the season, sees the 'Dores welcome Georgia to Nashville.
WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 19; Time TBD
WHERE: Vanderbilt Stadium (Nashville, Tenn.)
LAST SEASON: 12-2 (7-1 SEC, Won SEC East; defeated Nebraska 45-31 in Capital One Bowl)
CURRENT PRESEASON RANKING: Fifth in Preseason Coaches' Poll
SERIES HISTORY: Georgia leads, 53-18-2. (Last meeting: Georgia 48, Vanderbilt 3, in game 4 last season)
OFFENSE: Offensively it should be a repeat of last year for the Bulldogs, which in this case is a very good thing. The 2012 Georgia offense was the highest scoring in school history and with almost everyone back that mattered from that unit there is no reason to expect any kind of dip in production.
The key to it all, of course, is fifth year senior and fourth year starting quarterback Aaron Murray. The future NFL starter threw for just shy of 3,900 yards last season with 36 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions. As long as Murray is healthy and standing upright in the pocket the Georgia offense will be able to move the ball on any defense in the country. If Murray is able to improve only slightly on those numbers he will be in the running for the Heisman Trophy.
One of the reasons for Murray's effectiveness is that the Georgia running attack is just as potent as their passing offense. Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall are both back and healthy, having combined for over 2,000 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2012. Throw in a bunch of talented receivers led by junior Malcolm Mitchell and an offensive line which returns all five starters and you get a picture as to why Georgia will have the best offense in the SEC and one of the best in the country.
Conclusion: This is going to be a scary offense to stop and the Vanderbilt defensive players will have to all be on the same page to slow Murray and company down. The 'Dores are going to need huge games from the linebackers as the Georgia offensive line will fancy their chances to dominate upfront. For Vandy to have a shot, a Chase Garnham or a Karl Butler is going to have to play the game of their lives and make stops using the bend but don't break formula. The match up of the Georgia wide outs versus the Vandy secondary should be an interesting one. If the line can get any pressure at all on Murray I would call this a wash.
DEFENSE: It is next man up time in Georgia as the Bulldogs lost just about as much on defense as anyone in the country. No less than twelve key defense contributors from last fall are gone and the Bulldogs thus have holes to fill at every position. The top four tacklers have departed, but there is no bigger void to fill than the one left by the 17th overall pick in the NFL Jarvis Jones. Jones was as dangerous as pass rusher as there was in the country last fall (yes that includes Jadeveon Clowney) and his 14.5 sacks led the nation.
As with all SEC programs though the cupboard is hardly bare in Athens. There is a new J.J. in town at linebacker and Jordan Jenkins is getting rave reviews in practices after he had 31 tackles and five sacks in very limited minutes as a freshman. Jenkins is a 6-3, 250 pound freak of nature who runs in the 4.5 range and who is expected to be a far superior overall player than Jones ever was, maybe as soon as this season. More than one scout has categorized Jenkins as having unlimited potential and the ability to be as good as he wants to be.
The bigger issues for the 'Dogs are at middle linebacker and in the secondary. As important as Jones was to Georgia last year Alec Ogletree was right up there with him. Ogletree had a combination of range and athleticism that no one on the current roster can replicate, so there will be a step down in production from that spot that has to be covered for.
The secondary is even more of a mess. The Bulldogs play nickel upwards of 75 percent of the time and four of their five starters from last year have graduated to NFL training camps. There will be first year starters all over the field including at least one true freshman, free safety Tray Matthews. As talented as the players entering the line up alongside All-SEC contender Damian Swann are, there will be times this season where they will be burned through inexperience.
Conclusion: If the Vanderbilt offensive line can slow the pass rushing linebackers then the 'Dores will have success against this defense. No one, including people inside the camp, have any idea what to expect out of the Bulldogs secondary at this point, and that is not a good thing. Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd against an inexperienced secondary is a match up James Franklin has to love.
Other Factors: The schedule is definitely a factor for Georgia in 2013. After a couple of years of manageable, by SEC standards, slates the Bulldogs are looking at daunting start this fall. After opening at No. 8 Clemson, Georgia then face No. 7 South Carolina while their fourth game is against No. 13 LSU. As good as the Bulldogs are they could be 1-3 and out of the SEC title hunt by the end of September is the defense doesn't click out of the gate.
Conclusion: Georgia's appetite for this game is going to be very interesting. If they get off to a good start then the Bulldogs will come to Nashville hungry for another shot at 'Bama in the SEC Title game. If they fall flat on their face during that monstrous early season run then there is every chance they show up and go through the motions. This actually even has a little trap game element to it as the 'Dogs follow their Nashville date with the Florida rivalry. Obviously Georgia will come in as favorites, but if Vandy can protect the ball and work on the vulnerable areas of the Georgia secondary then you never know what might happen.
Preseason Preview: Vandy vs. Georgia
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