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.

Three Matchups to Watch: Vanderbilt vs. Georgia

Coming off a heartbreaking loss to Ole Miss, Vanderbilt will head to Athens to take on last year’s College Football Playoff champions, Georgia.
Barrie Barto
AJ Swann and the offensive line, as photographed on Oct. 8, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Barrie Barto)

At approximately 4:30 p.m. CDT last Saturday, the Commodores (3-3) closed out one of their best halves of football in recent memory. The passing game was electrifying, the defense was flying all over the field and the thousands of Ole Miss fans in attendance at FirstBank stadium looked stunned and terrified. What followed this performance was a complete collapse in all three stages of the game that saw Vanderbilt get outscored 35-8 in the final 30 minutes of play.  

Now, the Commodores will have to find a way to bounce back against No. 1 Georgia (6-0) and, if recent history is any indication of what is to come, that will be a difficult task. The last time these two teams met, Georgia got out to a 35-0 lead before the end of the first quarter and cruised to a 62-0 victory. In fact, in each of the past four meetings between the two teams, the Bulldogs have won by at least 24 points. 

However, the last few weeks have shown that while Georgia may be powerful, the team is not invincible. After dominating Oregon, Samford and South Carolina in their first three games of the season, the Bulldogs struggled to pull away from both Kent State and Missouri due to an inefficient offense and a defense that clearly misses the five first round picks that left for the NFL Draft this offseason. That being said, Vanderbilt will need to capitalize on these three matchups to have any sort of chance of pulling off the upset.

Vanderbilt defense vs. short passing game

Last week, the deep ball was the story of the game. Ole Miss connected on four plays of over 48 yards, three of which went for touchdowns. The Commodores will have to put those plays out of their minds as they prepare for Georgia, because, this week, it’s all about the short game. While Georgia’s passing attack is certainly formidable, quarterback Stetson Bennett has looked shaky at times, particularly when trying to throw the deep ball. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, Bennett is just 7/23 with 181 yards, one touchdown and one interception on passes of 20 or more air yards. Therefore, teams have found success against Georgia by focusing on shutting down the short game and forcing Bennett into his greatest weakness.

For Vanderbilt to successfully employ this strategy on Saturday, they will have to avoid living in their fears and trust that the back end will hold up—just a week after it failed to do so. The linebackers and safeties will have their hands full trying to slow down the Georgia running game and star tight end Brock Bowers, creating a lot of one-on-one matchups for Tyson Russell, Jaylen Mahoney and Jeremy Lucien. While it may be tempting for Clark Lea to have his corners play off of the wide receivers and avoid the big play, doing so would allow Georgia to easily move down the field. 

Beating the No. 1 team in the nation requires taking risks, so Lea will need to trust his guys to step up to the line of scrimmage, take away the short game and tempt Bennett into taking shots down the field. 

AJ Swann vs Georgia secondary

If the Commodores are going to leave Athens with a win, it is going to have to be through the air. While relying on Ray Davis and the running game was the key to victory against Hawaii and Elon, keeping up with Georgia will require scoring points in bunches. To do so, Vanderbilt will need to take to the air. Since AJ Swann took over at quarterback, the Commodore passing attack has been much better than it was under Mike Wright. In his three games at the helm, Swann has averaged almost 220 yards per game and over 7 yards per attempt, not to mention his six touchdowns and zero interceptions. 

Unfortunately, Georgia wields one of the best pass defenses in the nation. Thanks to a dominant secondary led by cornerback Kelee Ringo and safety Christopher Smith, the Bulldogs rank 15th in yards per game, 11th in yards per completion and 9th in yards per attempt. However, the Georgia defense does have one fatal flaw that could allow Swann to find success: its pass rush. Despite usually playing with a lead, the Bulldogs have been completely unable to get to the opposing quarterback, recording just six sacks in six games—tied for the fifth-fewest in college football. This statistic comes just a year after the team finished eighth in the nation in sacks per game (3.3). 

If the Vanderbilt offensive line does its job, AJ Swann should be able to take the time to go through his reads and take shots against the Georgia secondary. His ability to capitalize will determine if Vanderbilt might just have a chance. 

Vanderbilt vs. starting fast

Georgia has come out incredibly flat in each of its last three games, outsourcing their lackluster opponents by a combined 6 points in the first 15 minutes of play. While the Bulldogs ended up winning all three of those games, their slow starts allowed their opponents to hang around and, in the cases of Kent State and Missouri, keep the game close until the final whistle. Alternatively, the common thread between Vanderbilt’s wins has been their early leads. Between their three victories, the Commodores have outscored their opponents 42-21 in the first quarter, while their three losses have seen them outscored 31-9 in that same period. If Georgia is once again unable to get things going out of the gate, it could let Vanderbilt get out in front early and become comfortable in a game few are expecting to be close. 

Furthermore, getting an early lead would help Vanderbilt take advantage of my other two important matchups. If Georgia falls behind, they will be more inclined to force plays down the field and get away from the quick-hitting slants and screens on which Bennett relies. On the other side of the ball, a deficit would force the Georgia linebackers and safeties to cue in on the run, opening holes in the secondary for Swann. Everything is easier when you are the one in control, so a strong first quarter will be vital to Vanderbilt’s success on Saturday.

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About the Contributors
Luke Rollfinke
Luke Rollfinke, Senior Staff Writer
Luke Rollfinke ('25) is a student in the College of Arts and Science planning to major in mathematics with a minor in communications. Luke loves all things sports, so when he's not writing for The Hustler, he's probably either playing for a club or intramural Vanderbilt sports team. You can reach him at [email protected].
Barrie Barto
Barrie Barto, Editor-in-Chief
Barrie Barto ('25) is majoring in medicine, health & society with neuroscience and communication of science & technology minors in the College of Arts and Science. She previously served as Photography Director. When she's not strolling around campus with her camera, you can find Barrie cheering on the St. Louis Blues or tracking down the best gluten-free food in Nashville. She can be reached at [email protected].
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1 year ago

You should look past sack numbers – Georgia has stunk up the place in sacks, but it’s because opposing QBs are throwing the ball away before they get sacked. Anyone who watched Aubie’s QB last weekend saw that Georgia affected the QB throughout the game. I hope that Swann takes the time to survey the field. What fun that’ll be…