VANDERBILT PASSING OFFENSE VS. GEORGIA TECH PASSING DEFENSE
Vanderbilt's passing game flashed its potential last week against Middle Tennessee. Kyle Shurmur passed for 113 yards with 15 completions out of 28 attempts, including one touchdown and no interceptions. After a poor initial showing with no completions in seven attempts, things finally started to click. Trent Sherfield led the way with four catches for 26 yards, Jared Pinkney and Sam Dobbs each recorded two catches, and Kalija Lipscomb, Khari Blasingame, Nathan Marcus, Sean Dowling, and Bailey McElwain each had one reception. Lipscomb showed an ability to get free from his defender and get downfield, unfortunately, on each of his deep targets the pass fell slightly out of reach, however, he did record the one Vandy touchdown reception of the game. Vanderbilt's blockers only allowed just one sack throughout the game.
In Georgia Tech's win over Mercer, the Yellow Jackets allowed 235 passing yards and had no interceptions. The week prior defensive back Corey Griffin intercepted one pass against Boston College. Boston College put up just 144 yards in college football's opening week. The Yellow Jackets have combined for three sacks in the last two games.
While the Tech passing defense hasn't been stellar the Commodores still need to establish a consistent passing attack before they can claim an edge.
VANDERBILT RUSHING OFFENSE VS. GEORGIA TECH RUSHING DEFENSE
Ralph Webb led Vanderbilt with 211 yards on 29 carries for just under 7.3 yards per carry while scoring two touchdowns. Khari Blasingame had just 19 yards on 6 carries but contributed two rushing touchdowns. Dallas Rivers also had a rushing touchdown. Webb showed off his improved elusiveness getting past defenders any way he could, including leaping over them. Blasingame again emphasized his hard hitting style with several short but crucial carries in the red zone. The offensive line opened up holes that helped establish the big run game and played well as a whole.
Tech held Mercer to just 85 yards on 28 carries an average of three yards per carry, which was actually a slight downgrade after allowing an average of 2.7 yards per carry against Boston College. Tech forced no fumbles versus Mercer but did recover two against Boston College. Linebacker P.J. Davis leads the Yellow Jackets with 15 tackles followed by defensive back Corey Griffin with 10. Tech has nine other players with between five and nine tackles.
GEORGIA TECH PASSING OFFENSE VS. VANDERBILT PASSING DEFENSE
Tech quarterback Justin Thomas completed just 5-of-10 passes against Mercer. However, Tech gained 80 yards on those five completions averaging 16 yards per catch. Against Boston College Thomas was 8-of-15 passes for 119 yards, averaging just under 15 yards per completion. He has not thrown an interception. Tech's leading receiver is Ricky Jeune who caught three passes in each of the last two games for 102 total yards. A-back Qua Searcy has 4 catches for 72 yards. Only two other Tech players have recorded catches this season. Techs offensive line has given up three sacks in the past two games.
Vanderbilt's defense allowed Middle Tennessee 399 passing yards on 38 completions and 3 passing touchdowns. Oren Burks recorded one interception and three pass breakups out of the star position. Vanderbilt defenders broke up seven total passes during that game.
GEORGIA TECH RUSHING OFFENSE VS. VANDERBILT RUSHING DEFENSE
Tech is a running team at heart, amassing 364 yards on 52 carries against Mercer (7 ypc) and 119 yards on 44 carries against Boston College (2.7 ypc). Tech's triple option offense is uncommon and therefore difficult to prepare for. Running back Qua Searcy leads with 91 yards on 7 carries, Justin Thomas follows with 85 yards on 17 carries, and Marcus Marshall is next with 82 yards on 19 carries. Four more players have between 20 and 44 yards in the last two games and six others have positive rushing yards.
After limiting South Carolina to just 121 yards on 32 carries (3.8 ypc), Vanderbilt held Middle Tennessee to 96 yards on 21 carries (4.5 ypc). Zach Cunningham and Ryan White both had 10 tackles while Nigel Bowden, Torren McGaster, and Taurean Ferguson each recorded six tackles.
EDGE: GEORGIA TECH
Vanderbilt kicker Tommy Openshaw made his only field goal attempt against Middle Tennessee from 32 yards and has connected on 2-of-3 for the season. Sam Loy had an excellent night finishing with a 39.4 yard average and had a long of 59 yards. His punts had great hang time which limited Middle's returns. Vandy's coverage units were sound against the Blue Raiders and caused a safety when Ralph Webb forced a fumble that rolled out the back of the end zone. The punt coverage team did allow one blocked punt and had an attempt at a fake punt get stuffed for no gain.
Tech kicker Harrison Butger did not attempt a field goal against Mercer but did complete his one try of the season against Boston College from 40 yards. Punter Grant Aasen punted once for 42 yards. Punter Ryan Rodwell has punted for 187 yards on five attempts against Boston college. Tech coach Paul Johnson has yet to decide which punter will start against Vanderbilt. Tech has blocked a field goal in each of the last two games. They also completed a fake punt attempt for 21 yards. Last week Tech returned two punts for 23 yards and two kickoffs for 40 yards.
EDGE: GEORGIA TECH
Third-year Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason is 8-18 at Vandy. He previously was the defensive coordinator at Stanford and has coached as an assistant in the NFL. Mason took over coordinating of the Commodore defense following the 2014 season and in 2015 Vanderbilt had the most improved defense in the nation (FBS).
Paul Johnson has been at Georgia Tech since 2008 but has been a head coach since 1997. He won two back to back NCAA 1-AA Championships and is a master of the triple option. Johnson has won his conference six times (1 ACC, 5 SoCon) and the ACC Coastal Division four times. Johnson also won multiple Commander-in-Chief's Trophies while at Navy. He's experienced, willing to take risks and 3-0 against Vandy as a head coach.
EDGE: GEORGIA TECH
Vanderbilt is 15-19-3 against Georgia Tech all time. Vandy won the first meeting in 1892 20-10. Tech won the last meeting in 2009 56-31. The Yellow Jackets have been dominant in the series since 1941 when the Commodores last defeated Tech 14-7. Both teams are looking to set themselves apart after a disappointing season last year. The weather forecast originally predicted rain but now that has changed to sunny. Bobby Dodd Stadium holds 55,000 fans who will be loud and excited about a possible win over the SEC. Vanderbilt has never won back-to-back games under Derek Mason.
PREDICTION: Vanderbilt 28, Georgia Tech 21. The Commodores have started to establish an offensive identity, led by Ralph Webb. Vanderbilt's line should assert itself against Tech and enable the run game to get enough points on the board to take down the Yellow Jackets, with a little help from the emerging passing game. Just like coach Johnson said, Vanderbilt is going to run on them until their noses bleed. Vandy's defense has played well against the run, meanwhile, Tech's rushing game seems less formidable than normal.