Georgia's Achilles Heel Is Vanderbilt's Hope

Plenty of the statistics you sort through each week are interesting to look at, but not all numbers carry equal amounts of weight or relevance. Moreover, styles make fights, so the matchup in one game can often create a unique statistical reality that doesn’t carry over to another. However, one statistic towers above the rest as Vanderbilt prepares for Georgia.


HUTSON MASON AND THIRD-DOWN PASSING: VANDERBILT’S BIG CHANCE ON SATURDAY

It’s certainly hard to see how Vanderbilt can ultimately win Between the Hedges this Saturday. That much should be acknowledged up front. Even though Vanderbilt’s defense was terrific against Kentucky, the offense was so feeble that a full turnaround (which is likely needed to actually win the game) cannot be expected. A partial turnaround would probably make this weekend’s contest a close one, but a close game is not the same as winning. Vanderbilt does face an uphill climb, and there’s no sense in trying to pretend otherwise.

However…

If you were to look at this game in its totality and figure out a path to victory for VU, what Georgia flaw stands out above the rest? What deficiency in the Bulldogs’ profile would lead you to say, “Well, if the Commodores can exploit this one thing well enough and long enough, they could stay competitive for all four quarters and gain a chance in the closing minutes?”

The Dawgs’ mediocre pass defense could be one answer, particularly when stressing a defensive line that seems to come and go over the course of a given gameday. Georgia looked quite vulnerable in this facet of competition last Saturday at home against Tennessee. However, one part of Georgia’s portfolio which is even worse than its pass defense is its pass offense. The Bulldogs, even with a tremendous rushing attack, can’t smoke opposing secondaries for huge pass plays with the regularity they should expect. Hutson Mason is not making a lot of progress as a quarterback, and one statistic magnifies the extent to which Georgia is not getting what it needs under center.

Sacks are not pass attempts, so it’s worth noting that on two occasions this past Saturday against Tennessee, Mason did not throw a pass in a third-down situation. Yet, Mason wanted to throw a pass if he had the chance. If you performed a reasonably complete study of the play-by-play log, you’d have noticed that Georgia either threw the ball or tried to throw the ball on eight separate third-down plays against Tennessee. On all eight of those third downs – six of them with actual pass attempts, two ending in sacks for the Vols – Georgia failed to get a first down. That’s right: Georgia’s eight third-down pass plays failed to get a first down against Tennessee.

That’s how much Mason has come up short as a quarterback. That’s how much Todd Gurley is carrying this team and this offense. That’s how much this offense is failing to turn its rushing game into a source of home-run pass plays, the kinds of plays that should be open when a defense is so hell-bent on stopping the run.

Very simply, there’s little reason for Vanderbilt to do anything other than take away Gurley with a lot of bodies in the tackle box. If the Dores can get their corners to play with more aggression in single coverage on the outside, VU will have the pieces in place to limit Georgia’s offense and perhaps get a few turnovers from Mason’s right arm. That’s the most realistic scenario in which Vanderbilt can win this game… or at least threaten to do so.

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