GAME NOTES: Still looking for their first SEC victory of the season, the Vanderbilt Commodores will continue their three-game homestand on Saturday afternoon against the 15th-ranked Georgia Bulldogs.
Few teams in the nation have endured a more strenuous first-half schedule than has Georgia, and while it has a 4-2 record with a pair of outstanding victories over South Carolina (41-30) and LSU (44-41), its two losses to Clemson (38-25) and most recently Missouri (41-26) has all but spoiled its chances of making a run at the national championship game.
"The best thing to do right now is get ready to play Vanderbilt and try to get a victory there," Georgia head coach Mark Richt said following the upset defeat at the hands of Missouri. "It's been tough to be able to do that, especially the last time we were there it was quite the game. We've just got to try and take care of that business and then the open date we could probably see how the dust is settling prior to the Florida game (on Nov. 2)."
Vanderbilt has been perhaps the SEC's most disappointing team this season. Although it has won half its games, it has gone winless in three opportunities in the league. The Commodores also fell victim to the surging Missouri Tigers in their latest bout, getting manhandled on their own field on Oct. 5 in a 51-28 setback.
Georgia has a firm handle on the all-time series with Vanderbilt, 53-18-2, which includes a 48-3 beat down of the 'Dores in Athens last season.
Georgia's offense has been as advertised this season as one of the best in the country, putting up 37.5 ppg and 517.3 ypg, but with several of its key players hurt against Missouri last week, it struggled to find the end zone.
The Bulldogs suffered a couple of season-ending injuries this season to RB Keith Marshall and WRs Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley, while fellow receivers Michael Bennett and Jonathan Rumph are also dinged up and missed the Missouri game. The most crucial loss, however, has been to Todd Gurley (450 yards, four TDs), who has missed the last two contests with an ankle injury and remains without a definite timetable for his return.
"I think what we want is a really healthy Todd Gurley," Richt said. "We want him to be at his best. We don't want him to go without being full speed because if you do it's not safe for him and it also can cause another setback that could sit him down even longer. Whenever he looks healthy enough and feels healthy enough we'll play him. Whether it's this week or not, I don't know if that's a big factor."
Without his full arsenal of weapons, Aaron Murray struggled against Missouri, and even though he finished with 290 yards and three touchdowns, he completed 25-of-45 pass attempts and threw a pair of picks. His season has still been fantastic, as he has thrown for 304.0 ypg with 20 touchdowns (three rushing) against only five interceptions.
In the absence of Gurley and Marshall, J.J. Green has stepped up as the featured back with 281 yards (8.3 ypc) and a touchdown. Brendan Douglas (134 yards, TD) also figures in the mix.
Murray's healthiest receiver is Chris Conley, who leads the way in receptions (25), yards (378) and touchdowns (two). Tight end Arthur Lynch also gets involved with 13 receptions, 205 yards and two scores.
The Bulldogs defense has been a disaster this season. No matter how many points the offense scores, the defensive unit is capable of allowing just as much (33.7 ppg, 399.0 ypg).
Ramik Wilson has a team-high 61 tackles, with 4.5 of those coming behind the line of scrimmage. Ray Drew (5.0 sacks) and Leonard Floyd (4.0 sacks) create an effective pass-rush. The unit has not been very opportunistic, forcing only five turnovers through six games.
Despite its lackluster record through the first half of the season, Vanderbilt's offense is in the midst of its most productive campaign in school history, as it is scoring 33.7 ppg on 425.0 ypg, and is on pace to break last season's school record of 390 points.
Austyn Carta-Samuels runs the offense, and while he has made some mistakes with six interceptions, he's been largely productive in completing 66.1 percent of his passes for 1,561 yards with 15 touchdowns (five rushing).
Carta-Samuels has the luxury of throwing to Jordan Matthews, who has established himself as one of the nation's best receivers. Matthews ranks seventh in the country in receptions (47) and fifth in yards (709), while scoring five times, and the senior has amassed 100 yards receiving in five of six games this season and 15 times in his career.
With opposing defenses keying in on Matthews, Jonathan Krause is able to take advantage of one-one-one opportunities, turning 24 catches into 430 yards and two touchdowns.
Jerron Seymour and Wesley Tate both get work out of the backfield. Seymour has rushed for 351 yards and six scores on 59 attempts and Tate has 62 carries for 271 yards and four touchdowns. The duo can also be trusted as receivers with a combined 23 catches.
After establishing itself as one of the SEC's most sturdy defenses in recent years, Vanderbilt has struggled on that side of the ball this season, allowing 26.5 ppg and 390.0 ypg.
"We are running the same defense we've run for the last three years, (but) we need to take a look at our personnel," Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin said. "Play younger guys or different guys. We have issues at certain positions."
Kenny Ladler leads the way with 49 tackles and a forced fumble, while Caleb Azubike chips in 6.5 TFL and 2.0 sacks. The unit has been without one of its best players in linebacker Chase Garnham (84 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks in 2012) since early September with a leg injury.
With Georgia's national championship hopes all but dashed, it needs to be careful that it doesn't go into a tailspin from here, and there's still plenty on the line in the battle for the SEC East crown. Even though the Bulldogs are still severely shorthanded, Vanderbilt hasn't exactly been great at home (2-2), and UGA should be able to make enough plays against a depleted Commodores defense to come away with a solid road win.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Georgia 38, Vanderbilt 31