ATHENS —Vanderbilt has apparently hired its next head coach, but the Commodores may wait until next season to play their first game with Notre Dame defensive coordinator Clark Lea at the helm.
Sources in Nashville say the Commodores have several players involved in COVID-19 contact tracing that would not be eligible to play in the noon game scheduled against Georgia on Saturday.
That could mean the game — originally scheduled for Dec. 5 before Vanderbilt backed out on account of COVD-19-related issues and players quitting the team — will be canceled.
If the game gets canceled, it means Georgia will have played only three home games this season and six away from Sanford Stadium.
The University of Georgia has no comment on the issue at this time.
If Vanderbilt doesn’t show up in Athens on Saturday to play the game, there’s not much wiggle room for other options.
All of the other SEC teams with remaining games left to be played are already scheduled, and going outside the conference to find an opponent for a Saturday game seems unlikely.
The bowl selections take place on Sunday, seemingly eliminating the chance to play a game on Sunday or Monday.
Vanderbilt interim head coach Todd Fitch said the team had only 49 scholarship players for their game with Tennessee last Saturday, but the Commodores wanted to play their Senior Day.
“Last home game, and I thought the guys were competing as hard as they could out there,” Fitch told VUCommodores.com. “We were short on numbers at about 49 scholarship players. Our depth on defense was really, really short, but I thought the guys mentally were in-tuned and battled. ”
Georgia coach Kirby Smart said at his noon press conference he was optimistic the No. 9-ranked Bulldogs (7-2) would be able to hold their Senior Day festivities on Saturday with the game against the winless Commodores (0-9).
“We are optimistic that Vandy is going to be able to play, that is not my expertise or my job to know exactly where they are,” Smart said. “I am focused on us and where we are. We are optimistic we are going to be able to play.
“They were able to play last week against Tennessee, and we are looking forward to getting our seniors out there for one last home game. That’s really all we can control. That is all we are focused on is playing them.”
Georgia’s outgoing class of seniors needs two wins to become the winningest class in school history, so if Vanderbilt backs out, it could cost those players their chance for a four-year legacy.
Commodores freshman quarterback Ken Seals said he was proud of his teammates for coming back together to play Tennessee last Saturday.
“I think the guys that we have here were the guys that wanted to finish what we started and wanted to end this thing the right way,” Seals told VUCommodores.com
‘We’re here because we still have an opportunity to make everything worth it. We can go out and everything that we’ve had to deal with, all the difficulties and obstacles that we’ve faced and everything that we’ve lost as a team, we still have chances to go out and make these last couple games worth it and make all of it worth it.’
“I think the guys that we have here now were determined and motivated to go do that. I’m proud of all the guys who were here playing with me today.”
The SEC office will make an announcement if the game is canceled. For now, the situation remains fluid.
The Vanderbilt school website wrote a story praising the Commodores, heavily, for taking on Tennessee short-handed.
“I’m proud of all the guys that were here playing with me today.”
The Commodores took the field Saturday knowing the odds were heavily stacked against them, but relished the opportunity to wear the black and gold one more time at Vanderbilt Stadium.https://t.co/efu68YAyBy
— Chad Bishop (@MrChadBishop) December 13, 2020
Smart explained that wanting to play is where football players hearts’ should be at, or they shouldn’t be playing the sport.
“What you have is an opportunity to play the game and go out there and compete against somebody,” Smart said. “In football, maybe 12, maybe 13, maybe 10 this year, maybe 11, that’s all you get. You work year-round for those opportunities. If you divide the games by the number of days, you’re getting one game for every 30-something days you put work in.
“Are they tired? Yeah. You have to handle that as a coach by how you practice and how you lead and how you organize, and how you make it fun for the players. But at the end of the day, it’s not for everybody. Not every kid has to play. If you choose not to then you probably shouldn’t be in this sport. That’s not where our guys are, they’ve bought into it.”
Georgia has been on the wrong end of things when it comes to cancellations this season.
The Bulldogs have maintained their discipline with COVID-19 protocol and have had enough players to overcome several injuries to starters and play games.
Still, Georgia has seen three of the nine games on their schedule moved around.
The SEC league office forced UGA to move its game with Kentucky from Oct. 24 to Oct. 31 on account of Florida’s COVID-19-related issues, and the Gators’ two-week break.
Then, Georgia’s Nov. 14 game with Missouri was postponed to Dec. 12 because of the Tigers’ COVID-19 related issues.
The Vanderbilt game, if played on Saturday, will represent the third re-scheduled game.