The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Behind Enemy Bylines: Georgia Bulldogs

The Hustler spoke with Austin Roper, Assistant Sports Editor of The Red and Black, to preview Vanderbilt’s upcoming matchup with the Georgia Bulldogs.
Emily Gonçalves
Georgia players sack quarterback Riley Neal on August 31, 2019. (Hustler Multimedia/Emily Gonçalves)

Still in search of their first win in 2020, the Vanderbilt Commodores (0-8) will head to Athens for a Dec. 5 matchup with the Georgia Bulldogs (6-2). Last year, Vanderbilt lost its season opener to the then-No. 3 Bulldogs by a score of 30-6, and pundits think this year will be no different. The Commodores opened their penultimate game of the season as 35.5-point underdogs, with the No. 8 Bulldogs tabbed heavy favorites.

Prior to kickoff, The Hustler spoke with Austin Roper, assistant sports editor of The Red and Black, to preview Vanderbilt’s upcoming matchup with Georgia.

Vanderbilt Hustler: Just a few weeks ago, Georgia benched quarterback Stetson Bennett in favor of USC transfer JT Daniels. Since then, the Bulldogs have strung together two great offensive performances. Why bench Barrett, and how has Daniels revitalized the offense?

Austin Roper: Heading into the Arkansas game, Georgia’s first game of the year, the starting quarterback was D’Wan Mathis. To put it as nicely as I can, he did not meet expectations in that game. Because JT Daniels was not medically cleared, Georgia put in Stetson Bennett. And when Bennett was inserted, he actually performed a lot better than you would expect a walk-on quarterback to ever perform. He kept the job until after the Florida game, and the reason for him losing the job at the Florida game probably had more to do with the injury that he sustained early on. He had an AC joint sprain in his throwing shoulder, and I believe that was the biggest reason that Georgia decided to go to Daniels.

What was surprising about Daniels’ performance in the Mississippi State game was how different he was able to make Georgia’s offense look. Prior to the Mississippi State game with Bennett at quarterback, Georgia’s offense would seem very anemic at times. They would only have one or two ways of being explosive or finding success, and it would be mostly intermediate, short passes and controlling the run game with the offensive line. But with Bennett, he’s been able to find so many different receivers, especially during the Mississippi State game. He’s added an explosive element to the Georgia offense in the deep ball game, which has been really surprising. His emergence is the reason why Georgia fans aren’t as disgruntled with the way the season has played out.

Last week, the Bulldog rushing attack saw Zamir White tally 84 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries, while James Cook amassed 104 yards and two touchdowns on six touches of his own. Do you think that rushing performance was more of a testament to Georgia’s rushing prowess or South Carolina’s rushing defense, and why?

It’s tough for me to put it on one side. I think it had a lot to do with both, but I would say that last week’s game—as far as rushing is concerned—was Georgia’s best game of the year. And it came immediately after Georgia’s worst rushing performance of the year. Against South Carolina last week, Georgia finished with over 300 rushing yards; it started with Cook and White, but by the third and fourth quarter, when the game was out of hand, they brought in Daijun Edwards and Kenny McIntosh. That was the first week all year where you saw Georgia’s group of running backs completely dominate the game from start to finish, and that’s because the offensive line dominated from start to finish. It got to a point where these backs would go the first ten yards of their rush without being touched. 

Georgia has the second best scoring defense in the conference, allowing an average of just 20.6 games per game. What has enabled this defense to blank the opposing offense?

Georgia’s defense, for it to be the second-best in the SEC as far as scoring is concerned, is honestly a little surprising given how bad it’s looked at times. Georgia’s secondary has struggled. They have a great pass rush with almost 30 sacks so far this season, which by far exceeds the previous four years under Kirby Smart. But when their defense doesn’t do so well, it has more to do with the secondary. That has a lot to do with Richard LeCounte, the preseason All-SEC safety, who has not played since he was injured in a motor vehicle accident. For the most part, Georgia’s success defensively came in the early part of the season.

I know the 20.6 points per game might appear good, but last year, Georgia’s defense averaged 12.6 points per game. So while it’s still good that they are second in the SEC, they still haven’t really reached the expectations set in the beginning of the season. That has a lot to do with injuries.

Do you think Ken Seals and Vanderbilt’s offense could give the Bulldogs trouble, especially if the secondary has struggled?

I think giving it trouble would probably be a no. But I do think that Vanderbilt could find some level of success simply because of the secondary. It seems like Vanderbilt’s offense thrives off its quarterback and passing game, so I would be surprised if Georgia held Vanderbilt scoreless. That said, I don’t really see it being a big issue. The most I could probably spot Vanderbilt is around 14 points.

Perhaps Vanderbilt’s biggest weakness is its secondary. Do you think Georgia might adjust its gameplan to feature more of a passing attack than weeks prior, and do you think Daniels could have a breakout game?

I actually do think Daniels could have a breakout game. I think Georgia could mix it up and be more two-dimensional, since its offense seems to be clicking in both the run game and the pass game. But I would expect lots of play action in this game.

Because Georgia’s identity for so long has been to run the ball, it would surprise me if Georgia went solely on JT Daniels this week, but I don’t think it’s unlikely that he finds plenty of success this week. Georgia’s receivers—George Pickens, Jermaine Burton, Kearis Jackson—they are really creating a lot of separation against what I would assume to be stronger secondaries than Vanderbilt’s. So I do think there’s going to be plenty of success.

What’s your score prediction for Saturday?

44-10, Georgia wins.

I think this is going to be a game that gets ugly early, and that’ll probably be when Georgia relies more on its run game, if it hadn’t by then. The spread right now is 35.5 points, and it’s not 35.5 for no reason. By halftime, the game should probably be decided.


This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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About the Contributors
Simon Gibbs
Simon Gibbs, Former Sports Editor
Simon Gibbs (‘21) is the former Sports Editor for The Vanderbilt Hustler. He has been on staff since the first semester of his freshman year, previously serving as a Staff Writer, Senior Writer and Deputy Sports Editor. Simon is also the host of VU Sports Wired on Vanderbilt Video Productions and The Hustler Sports 30 on VandyRadio. Simon has attended several events as credentialed media, including the 2019 NFL Draft, 2019 College Baseball World Series and the 2019 SEC Tournament. Outside of his Commodore coverage, Simon has had bylines published on and When he's not writing, you can find Simon watching his hometown New York Mets, waiting for that next ring. For tips, comments or concerns, please reach out to: [email protected]    
Emily Gonçalves
Emily Gonçalves, Former Multimedia Director
Emily Gonçalves (‘20) was the Multimedia Director of the Vanderbilt Hustler. She majored in Mathematics and Economics and minored in Latin American Studies. When she’s not taking photos, you can catch this Jersey girl making puns, singing, advocating for girls’ education and drinking lots of chocolate milk and espresso!
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