ATHENS — Even Georgia coach Kirby Smart, lover of training and playing football in sweltering heat, is ready for a cooler, night time game.
The No. 2-ranked Bulldogs (5-0, 3-0 SEC) play host to Vanderbilt (3-2, 0-1) at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday in Sanford Stadium (TV: SEC Network, Radio: WSB 750 AM, 95.5 FM).
It’s Georgia’s first night game of the season, and it represents the fourth and final home game this season against a team from the state of Tennessee.
The Bulldogs opened with FCS Austin Peay (Clarksville), and after a trip to South Carolina came home and beat Middle Tennessee (Murfreesboro). A win at Missouri was followed by last Saturday’s victory over Tennessee (Knoxville).
Here are 5 more things to know about Saturday’s game:
The offense has evolved to the point where Smart says he’s comfortable using both sophomore Jake Fromm and freshman Justin Fields. Smart indicated the decision of who is under center is affected by the defensive alignment and game circumstance.
Smart reiterated after both quarterbacks played in the 38-12 win over Tennessee that ‘The plan is there is no plan,’ and expounded on that later in the week.
“You can’t have a plan, because we don’t know how the game is going to go,” Smart said. “We don’t know how they’re going to play us, what front they’re going to play us in, what pressures they’re going to run.”
Fromm provides veteran leadership and the ability to get through progressions quickly and spread the ball.
Fields is more of a threat on RPOs (run-pass-option), possessing a strong, accurate arm, but also, dangerous open-field speed and running ability.
Fields and Fromm both started and finished TD drives against the Vols.
Georgia emphasizes a specific area of improvement each week, and for Vanderbilt the offense is focused on getting off to a faster start on the scoreboard.
The Bulldogs have a unique streak of scoring the first touchdown in each of their first three SEC games by way of a fumble recovery return or fumble advancement.
Georgia scored just one first half offensive touchdown in a 41-17 win at South Carolina, zero first half offensive touchdowns in the 43-29 victory at Missouri, and only one offensive touchdown in the victory over the Vols.
“I think we just have to do a better job of executing when we first come out,” said Georgia junior tailback Elijah Holyfield, son of former heavyweight boxing champion of the world, Evander Holyfield. “A lot of the stuff is not stuff the defense is doing to us, it’s stuff that we’re doing to ourselves, so just trying to work on that.
“This week in practice we’ll be putting an emphasis on starting fast, and I’m sure we will this next week.”
Homecoming night game
Georgia fans will surely appreciate the cooler temperatures a later kick off provides. Spectators sat through sticky temperatures in the 90s this first three homes games.
The forecast for Saturday’s game calls for a high of 87 and a low of 68 with game-time temperatures ranging from the mid-80s to high-70s.
“It’s always a big deal to have your fanbase, your alumni base, former players, alumni coming back to homecoming,” said Smart, himself a two-time All-SEC defensive back at Georgia (1995-1998). “I know it’s special to a lot of people, and we need our fanbase to turn out. Looks like we’re finally going to get an opportunity at a night game. So we certainly expect the atmosphere in our stadium to be really good.
“We should get some cooler weather, I hope, by that time as well.”
The Bulldogs received news this week that their game at LSU, on Oct. 13, will also be an afternoon game, starting at 3:30 p.m.
Georgia senior cornerback Deandre Baker is playing at an All-American level that some project will get him selected in the first-round of the NFL Draft next spring.
Baker is the highest graded cornerback in the nation, according to ‘Pro Football Focus College,’ and that’s with Smart matching him up against the SEC’s top receivers.
Baker shadowed South Carolina standout Deebo Samuel in Week Two, limiting him to six catches for 33 yards on 12 targets.
At Missouri, Baker was assigned to a one-on-one matchup with the SEC’s leading receiver, Emanuel Hall. Not only did Baker not allow Hall any catches the two times he was targeted, but Tigers quarterback Drew Lock was held without a TD pass for the first time in 14 games.
“He’s a very experienced player, played a lot of football around here, and he’s a competitor,” Smart said, praising Baker. “He rises to the moment, probably plays better in games than he does in practice, and plays really hard. He understands our system. He understands offensive football.”
The Commodores won the most recent time they played in Sanford Stadium, pulling off a 17-16 upset after coming out of the tunnel between the hedges as a 14-point underdog.
This season’s Vanderbilt team has yet to score that type of victory, but the Commodores threw a scare into Notre Dame in South Bend in the teams’ Sept. 15 meeting.
The No. 6-ranked Irish prevailed, 22-17, but the game ended with the Commodores driving deep inside Notre Dame territory in the final moments, dropping a fourth-down pass in the red zone.
Vanderbilt bore no resemblance to that last Saturday, needing to rally for a home win over FCS Tennessee State, 31-27.
Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason, in his fifth year leading the program, is hoping the sold-out crowd and big-game environment will draw the best out of his players.
Vanderbilt Stadium hasn’t undergone a major renovation since 1981, and the team opened the season with a crowd of 25,348 for its 35-7 win over Middle Tennessee. Last Saturday, a crowd of 27,340 was announced.
Georgia football vs. Vanderbilt
- Georgia football, where it can improve
- Bulldogs are ‘putting an emphasis on starting fast’
- Kirby Smart updates injuries for Vanderbilt week
- Georgia football trying to find its offensive identity
- The ‘plan’ is to play 2 QBs, and it’s a good one
- On the Beat: Bulldogs can’t afford slow starts
- Georgia a prohibitive favorite over Vanderbilt
- Podcast: Avoid enflaming QB controversy