On the beat: 3 keys to avoiding upset against Georgia’s favorite homecoming opponent, Vanderbilt
ATHENS — Vanderbilt is back on the Georgia football schedule as the homecoming opponent for the fifth time in the Commodores’ last six trips to Sanford Stadium.
There’s little doubt the Vanderbilt players have been made aware of the scheduling slight, just as the Bulldogs have said they remember the last time the Commodores played between the hedges, upsetting then-first-year coach Kirby Smart 17-16.
Vanderbilt wouldn’t seem to be a dangerous matchup, the Commodores’ offense relying on a pass game that Georgia’s talented secondary is well-equipped to stop.
But Coach Derek Mason pointed out his program has shown a tendency to play well on the road, likely juiced up by big crowds that they don’t get at outdated Vanderbilt Stadium.
“This team has played well when it’s been asked to go on the road and compete, maybe the environment is different, we go to a lot of the places and these places are sold out,” Mason said. “With that being said, you’re on the big stage you get an opportunity to play under the lights, I think our kids will be excited about what’s going on, but you have to be more than excited.
“These guys have done well on the road in SEC games, so we’ll see.”
The Commodores certainly played well at Notre Dame, throwing a scare into the No. 6-ranked Irish before falling 22-17. Vanderbilt drove deep into Notre Dame territory before a dropped pass stalled a potential game-winning drive.
Mason, in much the same fashion as many other Georgia opponents, said it will take his team’s best to pull off the upset.
“I’ve seen flashes, but I haven’t seen this group play 60 minutes and four quarters,” Mason said. “That’s what it will take to play well down at Georgia in order to be in the ball game.”
Here are three keys to Saturday’s SEC East battle in Athens:
1. Contain WR Kalija Lipscomb
“I thought Kalija was the most underrated receiver in this conference, and I still believe that,” Mason said, referring to the SEC’s receptions leader (43 catches, 480 yards, 6 TDs).
It sounds like a job for Georgia corner Deandre Baker, who successfully blanketed the SEC’s No. 4 WR in the catch department (Deebo Samuel, six catches, 12 targets, 33 yards), and the league’s top yardage receiver Emanuel Hall, (zero catches, two targets).
2. Pound the rock
This is precisely the sort of game where Kirby Smart is inclined to apply his power football philosophy, looking to wear down a Vanderbilt defense that surrendered 245 yards rushing at Notre Dame and 273 yards against South Carolina.
The Commodores will predictably load up to stop the run and the play-action game will grow more effective as the game progresses and eventually the Bulldogs will go over the top for a big play or two.
An effective run game keeps the Georgia offense on the field and Vanderbilt’s respectable pass game, with QB Kyle Shurmur and a decent receiving corps, off of it.
3. Start fast
Nothing takes the air out of a road opponent like an early deficit, particular when that opponent has a small fan base that doesn’t bother to show up for home games, much less road games.
Vanderbilt has enjoyed moderate success under Mason’s leadership, but the school hasn’t taken advantage of the window of opportunity to make the commitment to facilities that would give the program a chance to sustain success.
That’s not Georgia’s problem, but it explains why the Commodores have shown a tendency to play better on the road, in front of large crowds, than in front of their own half-empty stadium.
Vanderbilt trailed by a 16-3 count at Notre Dame before rallying for the near-upset, so Smart will emphasize putting away the Commodores, as well.
Georgia football past 10 homecomings
• 2008 Georgia 25, Vanderbilt 14
• 2009 Georgia 38, Tennessee Tech 0
• 2010 Georgia 43, Vanderbilt 0
• 2011 Georgia 63, New Mexico State 16
• 2012 Georgia 37, Ole Miss 10
• 2013 Georgia 45, Appalachian State 6
• 2014 Georgia 44, Vanderbilt 17
• 2015 Georgia 9, Missouri 6
• 2016 Vanderbilt 17, Georgia 16
• 2017 Georgia 53, Missouri 28
Georgia football vs. Vanderbilt