Few prognosticators around the country would give Vanderbilt even a ghost of a chance against Coach Mark Richt's high-flying Bulldogs-- Georgia is as much as a 32-point favorite in some circles. On Wednesday, Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson acknowledged the enormity of the Commodores' task.
"I think [Georgia is] as close to a complete team as there is in the country," Johnson said. "Their defense is in the top five in the country in several major categories, and their offense with [quarterback] David Greene is really outstanding. It just gives you a lot of problems."
Vanderbilt's offense has shown signs of explosiveness at times, but has sputtered in the red zone and cost itself chances to score with penalties and untimely turnovers. The Commodores had some success in last year's Georgia game by running the option. But Johnson said the Commodore offense would need to play an almost-perfect game to be able to score against the Bulldogs' quick, aggressive defense.
"We've got to make sure that we don't give up a whole bunch of negative plays," said Johnson. "Sometimes with the option you can do that. We're going to have to threaten them a little bit with the option, at least make them practice for it. But it's got to be almost perfect execution on our part.
"I'm sure they're going to work extremely hard on [defending the option]. We had some yards on them last year with it. So I'm sure they're bent on stopping it."
Vanderbilt's defense, on the other side, has had to spend the week preparing for a potent, balanced Georgia offensive attack. In a 48-17 win in Athens in 2002, the Bulldogs rolled up 606 yards of offense and scored on their first eight possessions. Greene completed 20-of-23 passes without an interception.
Defensive tackle Aaron Carter says the Commodores have not forgotten last year's outburst by Georgia, which went on to win the SEC Championship.
"You just have to know who you're going up against," said Carter. "You just have to stay focused. We'll be ready."
Vanderbilt's roster includes 13 players from the state of Georgia, the same as the number of Tennesseans. A number of Vanderbilt's players from Georgia either had high school teammates who went to Georgia, or played against future Bulldogs in high school.
As a prep star at McEachern High School in Powder Springs, Ga., Vandy defensive tackle Matt Clay played against Georgia stars David Greene (from Snellville-South Gwinnett) and David Pollack (defensive end from Snellville-Shiloh) in high school. Both Greene and Pollack have risen to SEC and national stardom, but Clay sees them merely as familiar faces with the Commodores' next opponent.
"Right now, we just need a win," said Clay. "We just look at [Georgia] as our next opponent. We just need a win any way possible."
On Wednesday Georgia listed Pollack, the reigning SEC Player of the Year, as doubtful for Saturday's game.
There is no local television for Saturday's game, but the game will be televised by Comcast Cable on pay-per-view in the state of Georgia for a fee of $29.95. The Vanderbilt-Georgia game was also a late addition to ESPN's GamePlan package, but is not available in all areas of the country. Contact your cable or satellite carrier for more specifics.
Tickets remained unsold for Saturday's game at last report. Contact the McGugin Center ticket office either by phone at (615) 322-GOLD, or on the web at www.commodoregameday.com.
Photo by Neil Brake