Curtis Compton/AJC
Georgia tailback Nick Chubb breaks a long gain during the Bulldogs' win over Mississippi State.

Georgia football: Controlling tempo will be key vs. Vanderbilt

Cy Brown

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Georgia must control the tempo, not look ahead vs. Vanderbilt

Lots of fans already have chalked up this Georgia’s trip to Vanderbilt this weekend as a win, but that’s a bit naive considering the Commodores came to Athens just a year ago and scored an upset. Make no mistake, Georgia is the better team and should win this game by a pretty large margin. But if the Bulldogs go to Nashville without their heads screwed on right, the potential for another upset is there.

Here are three things Georgia can do to avoid disaster in the Music City:

Eat clock — In Vanderbilt’s losses to Alabama and Florida the last two weeks, it was dominated in time of possession. Alabama held the ball for almost 43 minutes and rushed for 496 yards. Expecting that from Georgia is a little much, but the ground-and-pound strategy should work for the Bulldogs. If coach Kirby Smart and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney do as they’ve done all season and go five deep at tailback, Georgia should stay fresh on offense and eat a ton of clock. The longer Georgia holds the ball, the less chance Vanderbilt has to get in a rhythm offensively.

Win third down on defense — The flip side of controlling time of possession is getting the opposing offense off the field. Vanderbilt scores with sustained drives, not quick bursts. All of its scoring drives against Florida took seven plays or more. It also was limited to three conversions on 13 third-down attempts, but all three of those conversions led to a touchdown. Luckily enough for Georgia, its defense is one of the best in the country at getting off the field on third down (17th nationally), and Vanderbilt’s offense is one of the worst at converting third-down attempts (102nd nationally). If those trends continue, it will be difficult for the Commodores to get a full head of steam.

Don’t look ahead — This is a precarious moment in Georgia’s season. The Dawgs just finished reeling off back-to-back dominant SEC wins that potentially established them as a force on the national stage. Everyone is talking up Georgia as the end-all, be-all favorite to win the SEC East … if it can get past Florida. The problem with that is there are two games between now and the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, and neither carries the cache the games against Mississippi State and Tennessee did. Considering that, many fans have started looking ahead to the late-October showdown with Florida. The team can’t get sucked into that trap. If it sleeps on Vanderbilt, the result of the WLOCP could be a moot point. I usually hate coaching clichés such as  “take things one game at a time,” but scenarios like this one are why that cliché exists. Beat the man in front of you, come out on top, then move on to the next one. I promise, as much as we might wish otherwise, Florida ain’t going anywhere.

Georgia football’s unsung heroes

It’s not just the coaches and players who have transformed Georgia from an inconsistent, mistake-prone squad to an SEC title contender (and maybe more). Two new consultants are also playing a major role. Former Minnesota offensive coordinator Jay Johnson and former Auburn special teams coordinator Scott Fountain are now consultants for the team, and their contributions could be playing a major role in the success of this team. From Seth Emerson of DawgNation:

Smart has added a considerable amount of support staff since he was hired, continuing a trend that began late in Mark Richt’s tenure. It follows the Nick Saban model, to have as many voices and eyes as possible.

“I do not think people recognize that there is more to the game than just throwing somebody out there and saying kick the ball or throwing a guy out there and saying hey go play quarterback or run this play,” Smart said. “I think new ideas make you better and I think anytime you get new ideas they are thought-provoking for me as a coach, for a coordinator it always helps. It does not mean that we are necessarily going to do it that way, but we certainly think about it and it is good information, so it helps.”

Winning in a phone booth

I haven’t seen a phone booth in a decade, but I feel like I hear about them all the time from Georgia’s defenders. Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker has used the phone booth as an analogy to teach his players how he wants them to play defense, and it hasn’t fallen on deaf ears. From Emerson:

Allow J.R. Reed, Georgia’s sophomore defensive back, to explain:

“You’re in a phone booth with the guy lined up across from you. If you’re going against him, do your job, beat him, don’t give up 1-for-1s. If he’s trying to block you, defeat the blocks. If you’ve got to cover him, cover him,” Reed said.

“Basically he’s saying that football is a 1-on-1 match,” Georgia junior cornerback Deandre Baker said. “Everyone win their 1-on-1s, and everyone comes together as a team effort by winning their assignment.”

Some extra motivation courtesy of Nick Chubb

If it looked as if Georgia was extra-motivated against Tennessee — even considering the Bulldogs were looking for retribution for the Hail Mary loss a season before — thank Nick Chubb. Chubb went on the Paul Finebaum Show on Wednesday and talked about a speech he gave to his teammates before kickoff in which he talked about returning to Neyland Stadium after suffering a gruesome knee injury there in 2015.

“Just going into meetings, I told them how I felt about the game and my past memories in Neyland Stadium,” Chubb said. “Just all the things I went through following that injury and how I approached it. It was just an emotional speech to the team about how I felt about everything.”

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