No. 3 Georgia ready for Vanderbilt’s offensive trio

Field Level Media

August 28, 2019 at 1:02 am.

No. 3 Georgia launches its quest for a second berth in the College Football Playoffs in three years, as the Bulldogs head to Nashville, Tenn., for a game with Southeastern Conference East Division rival Vanderbilt on Saturday night.

Coach Kirby Smart begins his fourth year in Athens with a 32-10 overall record. He’ll start with two new coordinators in Dan Lanning (defense) and James Coley (offense).

But one constant remains: talent.

Georgia (11-3 last year) has five players who received preseason All-American recognition: running back D’Andre Swift, offense tackle Andrew Thomas, guard Solomon Kindley, safety J.R. Reed and kicker Rodrigo Blankenship.

Throw in talented junior quarterback Jake Fromm — who threw for 2,761 yards, 30 touchdowns and six interceptions a year ago — along with depth and athleticism nearly everywhere, and it’s no surprise the Bulldogs are 21-point road favorites.

However, Vanderbilt has star power, too.

Commodores wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb is a first-team all-SEC pick, while tight end Jared Pinkney and running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn earned various preseason All-American honors. All three are seniors who passed on a shot to jump to the NFL last spring.

Vanderbilt (6-7) has also had success against Georgia in recent years. Coach Derek Mason’s 2016 squad pulled a 17-16 upset in Athens, and last won in Nashville in 2013 (31-27) under James Franklin.

Georgia’s attention will be on stopping Vanderbilt’s “Big Three.”

“We’ll certainly love and embrace the challenge,” Smart said on Monday, when asked specifically about the Commodores’ offensive trio. “These guys are really talented, and it seems like they’ve had superb players in our league, and you look at what they’ve been able to do offensively, it’s pretty special to have the three guys they’ve had back.”

The Bulldogs have had their way the last two meetings, winning 45-14 and 41-13. Last year, UGA threw for 341 yards and ran for 219 against the Commodores.

With the Bulldogs breaking in a mostly-new receiving corps, expect them to pound Vanderbilt between the tackles with what should be one of America’s best rushing attacks.

That’s a concern for the Commodores.

Mason, who came to Vanderbilt aiming to run a 3-4 defense, hasn’t recruited the types of linemen needed for the system. Opponents averaged 5.0 yards per carry and over 190 rushing yards per game against the Commodores each of the last two years.

Tuesday’s depth chart listed a base 4-3, which the Commodores have been using increasingly in recent years.

“We’ve morphed that way as our conference has morphed into playing more ’11’ personnel,” Mason said Tuesday.

Speaking of depth charts, it’s clear that Mason wants an air of mystery around Vanderbilt’s. The Commodores normally list a starter and a backup at most spots, but they currently list four at some positions, with co-starters listed in seven places, including punter.

The most notable unnamed starter is at quarterback. Vanderbilt hasn’t publicly declared a starter between redshirt junior Deuce Wallace or graduate transfer Riley Neal. Neal, who threw for 7,393 yards across four seasons at Ball State and ran for another 1,363, is the only quarterback on the roster with a collegiate start.

“Anytime you play against an SEC opponent, it’s nice to have two quality quarterbacks,” Mason said. “I’m going to start with the quarterback, and at the end of the day if I need to sub, then I’ll sub. But then there’s a 1, there’s a 2. That’s how we set it, and that’s the way we’ll play.”