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

In the midst of a five-game skid, the Commodores will face the toughest challenge of the season in the two-time defending champions Georgia.
Ziyi Liu
Trent Sherfield dives for the end zone but was marked short during Vanderbilt’s 31-14 loss against Georgia, as photographed on September 12, 2015. (Hustler Multimedia/Ziyi Liu)

After a back-breaking loss in Gainesville to the Florida Gators, Vanderbilt has lost its fifth straight and sits at 2-5 on the year. A somewhat hopeful first quarter of action from the Commodores quickly descended into disappointment, with Florida running over Vanderbilt in all phases of play en route to a 38-14 victory.

The preseason aspirations of a possible bowl berth are rapidly fading, leaving a coaching staff and team scrambling to grasp any semblance of momentum. Taking two losses against two teams Vanderbilt knocked off just a year ago is deflating, leaving frustrating doubts about the direction in which this program is supposed to be going. Nonetheless, the next step on coach Clark Lea and the Commodores’ self-proclaimed journey is a home matchup with the No. 1 ranked Georgia Bulldogs.

Regardless of Vanderbilt’s place in the standings, there is the potential to be overlooked and underestimated by the Bulldogs. For that reason, this could be a pivotal opportunity for a group with their backs against the wall to show out. If Vanderbilt can take advantage of these certain matchups to turn the tide in their favor, perhaps a chance to shock the world won’t be out of reach. 

Vanderbilt vs. The odds

For once, Georgia doesn’t seem like the unstoppable force that would wash away any opposition on a weekly basis. Barely slipping by South Carolina and Auburn flashed some opportune paths to putting pressure on the Bulldogs. Turning the game into a low-scoring slugfest gave SEC competitors a chance to pull off an upset, even if they faced eventual defeat. Perhaps this is a route Vanderbilt may have to take. Attempting to get into a shootout with Georgia quarterback Carson Beck and lead target Brock Bowers would be a formula for disaster, as the firepower the Commodores possess may not be able to keep up. 

Yet, trying to slow them down while playing a consistent, methodical game on the offensive side of the ball could make the mountain to climb less steep. Georgia found themselves down 14-3 at half against South Carolina and then down 10-0 after the first quarter against Auburn, meaning Vanderbilt will desperately need to start off swinging in order to give themselves a cushion to lean on. 

Considering the Commodores lost their last two matchups against Georgia by a combined score of 117-0, ESPN analytics only gives Vanderbilt a 2.4% chance to win, showing that the odds are undoubtedly stacked against the Black and Gold. Nonetheless, a team backed into a corner with not much to lose is dangerous, and any lackadaisical effort by the Bulldogs could motivate the Commodores. 

Ken Seals vs. A true test

According to head coach Lea, the starting quarterback for the past two games, Ken Seals, is practicing with the starters, even as AJ Swann is returning from an elbow contusion. The good news is that Seals has performed decently in his two starts, completing 39 of65 passes and throwing for 539 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. Seals has shown his seniority through distinct poise and careful decision making, especially in the light of a nonexistent running game that could’ve made his job easier. Even with the tumultuous beginning to Seals’s Vanderbilt career, he’s looked stout so far, earning the right to be the starter going forward.

However, the defenses of Missouri and Florida pale in comparison to Georgia’s, which ranks 12th in the FBS in fewest passing yards allowed and 3rd in defending on third down. As always, Kirby Smart’s defense is gritty and vicious, as opposing offenses are scoring a mere 13 points on average, which also ranks 10th in the nation. Most of the offensive attacks that have taken aggressive shots at Georgia get put into a suffocating vice grip, slowed down to a borderline stall as the Bulldogs force careless mistakes. Thankfully, Seals has been disciplined in his recent starts in terms of taking care of the ball — an area that had been an Achilles heel in the first five games of the season. 

As this holds true for the entirety of the team, this will be by far Seals’s biggest challenge of the year. For Vanderbilt to have any chance of winning, Seals will need to be at his absolute best and have a career-defining game. 

Vanderbilt’s secondary vs. The injury report

Two consistent issues for the Commodores this year have been defending the passing attack and battling constant injuries. Again, this weekend’s matchup will feature razor-thin depth in Vanderbilt’s secondary, as cornerback BJ Anderson is listed as out, safety De’Rickey Wright is doubtful to play and cornerback Martell Hight has been designated as questionable. The mantra of “next man up” could never be more rooted in reality. Other names in the secondary like Trudell Berry, Savion Riley and Marlen Sewell will have to take bigger roles in the effort to restrict Georgia’s aerial chances.

Even though Vanderbilt’s passing defense ranks 112th in the country while giving up 263.7 yards per game in the air, at some point the last line of defense has to assert themselves. Missouri’s quarterback Brady Cook and Florida’s quarterback Graham Mertz both had comfortable days going after the Commodore secondary, posting their arguably best statistical performances against Vanderbilt. Beck will attempt to do more of the same for Georgia, unless the secondary can fight back and throw off any rhythm the rival signal caller can muster. Standout performances are necessary across the board from this depleted unit to aid the defense in limiting the No. 1 team in the country.

Vanderbilt will defend its home turf with aspirations of shaking up the college football world on Saturday, Oct. 14, at 11 a.m. CDT.

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About the Contributors
David Hernandez, Lead Sports Analyst
David Hernandez (‘26) is a student in the College of Arts and Sciences double majoring in political science and law, history and society with a minor in communication studies. Outside of writing for The Hustler, you can find him playing basketball, catching up on his favorite shows and mourning the tragedy that is New York sports. He can be reached at [email protected].
Ziyi Liu, Author
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