With the Georgia Bulldogs coming to town yet again, we decided to take a look behind enemy lines to get a look at the fifth-best team in the country. We spoke with Alex Soderstrom, UGA football reporter for The Red and Black, about the matchup and what to expect from the Bulldogs this weekend.
Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexGSoderstrom and The Red and Black’s sports section @redblacksports.
Vanderbilt Hustler: It seemed like Kirby Smart used the first few weeks to pick between Jake Fromm and Jacob Eason at quarterback, and it looks like Fromm is the guy. Is there any chance Smart flips back to Eason on Saturday?
Alex Soderstrom: Kirby Smart likes to say every starting position is open every week, but there’s no reason to expect anyone but Jake Fromm to start for Georgia on Saturday. Jacob Eason did see playing time for the first time since his injury against Tennessee, so he is cleared to play if Fromm struggles against Vanderbilt. Even though Fromm has had some less-than-stellar moments, including going 7-15 for 84 yards against Tennessee, he has put Georgia’s offense in spots to score. Until he’s no longer able to do that, I see Fromm holding on to the starting quarterback spot.
VH: Nick Chubb seems to be the feature back for Georgia, but the Bulldogs have won with a team of running backs this season. What makes each prominent Georgia back unique and difficult to stop?
AS: Last season the general perception was Nick Chubb was the power-back who could run you over and Sony Michel was the speedier, more elusive running back. This season, it seems like Chubb and Michel have grown closer together in style, with Michel running more between the tackles and Chubb exhibiting some more speed compared to last year. Freshman D’Andre Swift, who has emerged as the top option behind Chubb and Michel, has excelled at utilizing his speed on outside runs and screens to make guys miss.
VH: Through the beginning of the season, Vanderbilt has shifted the focus of its offense from the run game to the passing game, partially thanks to teams stacking the box against their running backs. Do you think Georgia takes the same approach, or might they concede more respect to Kyle Shurmur at quarterback?
AS: Georgia seems to have a great deal of respect for Kyle Shurmur. This week, Georgia players have complimented his intelligence and decision-making ability, while Smart called Shurmur the best true passer Georgia has had to face so far. Georgia’s secondary has really blossomed the past couple weeks, not giving up a passing touchdown to Nick Fitzgerald or Quinten Dormady, so I think the emphasis will be on trusting the secondary, leaving plenty of guys in the box and bringing pressure when Shurmur steps back to throw.
VH: Throughout the season, Vanderbilt’s offensive line has not been able to protect the run enough to give Ralph Webb and Khari Blasingame room to run. How well will Georgia’s front seven be able to possibly overpower this offensive line based on sheer size?
AS: Ralph Webb is a dangerous rusher, but I don’t see Vanderbilt’s offensive line being able to open up many holes against Georgia’s defensive front. Georgia had no problem going up against Notre Dame’s offensive line and slowing that rushing attack, and I think the Irish have a much better and bigger offensive line than Vanderbilt. Stopping the run has been the specialty of this Georgia defense, and I see that continuing on Saturday.
VH: Who is your biggest X-Factor on each team?
AS: For Vanderbilt, I think this game rests on the shoulders of Kyle Shurmur. He’s a better passer than other quarterbacks Georgia has faced this season, and I think he will have to be on if Vanderbilt’s offense is going to have any success. If Vanderbilt can score regularly and put pressure on Georgia’s offense to score, then Fromm might be forced to make mistakes.
On the other side, I think Georgia’s linebacker corps, specifically outside linebackers Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy, will have a big say in how well Shurmur plays. So far this season, these two have wreaked havoc in the backfield rushing off the edge. Shurmur has only thrown one pick this season, but if Georgia can force some mistakes, that could make the difference in the game.
VH: What is your final score prediction?
AS: I see this game being close early, with Georgia pulling away as the defense figures out Vanderbilt’s offense and Georgia’s run game gets going. I predict Georgia will win this one 31-10.