ATHENS — Nobody in the Georgia football Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall will be looking past those golden helmets this season.
Kirby Smart is aware that more shocking upsets in college football have happened, and there’s a capable coach on the opposite sideline.
The football world be looking in to see just how good of a team the Bulldogs have this season, ready to draw a first impression in Nashville at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 31.
Let’s be honest, the only gold helmets most Georgia fans have talked about this offseason were those worn by Notre Dame, in anticipation of the Sept. 21 game at Sanford Stadium.
What if someone suggested the Vanderbilt game is just as losable for the Bulldogs? Perhaps even more so being that it’s the opener and on the road.
The Commodores players — many of whom took the Irish down to the wire in South Bend last September (22-17) — certainly have themselves in shock-the-world mode.
Derrick Mason, perhaps the most under appreciated coach in the SEC (based on the poor facilities backing from his school), has visions of Vanderbilt Stadium coming alive for UGA.
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“I know what that Georgia bunch travels like, but this ball game is going to have a pretty well attended crowd by Vanderbilt University,” Mason said, bristling at the notion the Bulldogs fans could take over the stadium.
“Georgia is a big game, and I think we’re going to turn out in spades.”
Mason revealed Vanderbilt has a marketing plan for that.
But the Commodores’ game plan is still very much up in the air as Mason has a quarterback to replace and fresh faces on defense.
The team’s confidence, however, is very much intact.
The Big Three
“You’ve go the Big Three, that’s all the confidence we need,” Vanderbilt running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn said at SEC Media Days. “Once we know we can compete on the field, everything else will work itself out.”
Vaughn is one of the members of the Commodores so-called Big Three, along with tight end Jared Pinkney and receiver Kalija Lipscomb.
Vaughn and Lipscomb were first-team preseason All-SEC picks according to Nashville-based Athlon Magazine, and Pinkney was a second-team selection.
“I take Ke’Shawn Vaughn as the best running back in the SEC,” Lipscomb said. “Point blank, period.”
Vaughn explain how he sees it working for the Commodores.
“If I can run the ball, they are going to stack the box, now that’s them (Vaughn, Pinkney) getting open,” Vaughn said. “If we can throw the ball, now they aren’t stacking the box anymore, so we balance each other out, basically.”
Vanderbilt players are focused on the start of the season, regardless of whether they wear their gold helmets or black helmets. They could be wearing pink helmets and it wouldn’t do anything to diminish what a win over a Top 5-ranked Georgia team would mean.
“The stage is set to do big things,” Lipscomb said.
The Commodores have done it before against Georgia. Mason welcomed Smart to the SEC with a 17-16 win Between the Hedges in 2016.
The Bulldogs haven’t lost an SEC home game since.
Vanderbilt has won its last two home games, including a 38-13 rout of Tennessee that marked its third-straight win over the Vols.
Vaughn plans to make it three straight home wins with a victory in the opener over Georgia.
The Commodores are well aware it would be human nature for Georgia to be holding something back with mighty Notre Dame ahead on the schedule.
Maybe Kirby Smart will limit OC James Coley’s offensive game plan, tell Dan Lanning to limit the fronts and pressure packages, or keep D’Andre Swift’s uniform as clean as possible with the long haul in mind.
Vanderbilt is counting on it.
“I think playing Georgia the first week is a good thing,” Vaughn said. “Both teams are coming in trying to warm up. We will be able to capitalize on this game with them tying to warm up and get a feel for the season.”
But, by all means, Vaughn and the Commodores would like to encourage Georgia players and fans to keep the focus on the much-anticipated Notre Dame game.
After all, that’s the highest-priced ticket in college football, and Vandy is Vandy.
The Commodores are used to being overlooked.
“Nowadays, people get lost in who is getting the most hype, (and) we like it, because we want people to sleep on us,” Vaughn said. “You are going to sleep on us, and we are going to run the score up on you.
“We will wake you up on game day.”
Vanderbilt RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn
Vanderbilt WR Kalija Lipscomb