No. 2 Georgia looking for fast start against SEC rival Vandy
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — A four-point win over Tennessee State was Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason’s latest evidence that his team hasn’t played a complete game.
That’s asking a lot. Even No. 2 Georgia is still misfiring at times as it nears the midpoint of the season.
Georgia (5-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) will look for more consistent production than it managed the last two weeks against Missouri and Tennessee when it puts its perfect record on the line against Vanderbilt (3-2, 0-1) on Saturday night.
The Bulldogs will try to gain momentum for next week’s big SEC game at No. 5 Louisiana State.
Led by senior quarterback Kyle Shurmur and SEC-leading receiver Kalija Lipscomb, the Commodores are big underdogs despite winning at Georgia in their last visit to Sanford Stadium two years ago.
“The challenge is for us to just play our best ball,” Mason said. “You want to know exactly what it looks like. I don’t know what it looks like. Yet I’ve seen flashes. But we haven’t seen this group play 60 minutes, four quarters, and that’s what it will take to play well down at Georgia.”
Mason described his team surviving to beat Tennessee State 31-27 a “great win but poor performance.”
Georgia is on a school-record scoring pace, averaging 43.2 points per game. That has come with the help of a combined four touchdowns from its defense and special teams.
Left tackle Andrew Thomas says the Bulldogs are “still trying to find our identity” on offense.
Georgia has shown impressive depth at its skill positions. Tailback Brian Herrien showed in last week’s 38-12 win over Tennessee he deserves to share carries with D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield. Meanwhile, freshman quarterback Justin Fields ran for two touchdowns while seeing a bigger role behind Jake Fromm.
Regardless of the mix, Georgia is looking to shake its recent trend of slow starts on offense.
“I think we have a lot of guys that can play, a lot of guys that can contribute but as far as the game, we have to start a little bit faster,” Thomas said. “It takes us too long to get started.”
Here are some other things to know about the Vanderbilt-Georgia game:
The Commodores could be without senior linebacker Josh Smith for a second straight week. Mason said he’s “dinged up” along with linebacker Colin Anderson, who has missed the past three games.
Georgia moved closer to a true two-quarterback rotation against Tennessee. Fields’ playing time against Vanderbilt could reveal more about the plans for the remainder of the season.
Fromm, who ranks third in the nation in completion percentage (72.5), remains established as the starter. Fields’ skills as a runner add a new dimension to the offense and complicate plans for defenses.
Vanderbilt has been outscored 27-7 in the first quarter. The Commodores have an advantage in every other quarter. Mason said the Commodores have to find a way to stem the tide, and taking care of the ball would be a big step in that direction. Vanderbilt has nine turnovers.
Mason says the competition is open at kicker with junior Ryley Guay missing half his attempts this season, including a 27-yarder last week. Also on the depth chart is freshman Javan Rice.
“He’s struggled. We know that,” Mason said. “But it’s not because he doesn’t have the leg. It’s not because he can’t push it through the uprights. It has to do with what’s between the ears. This is more mental than anything else ... He’ll get it right or we’re moving on.”
NO STEP, NO PROBLEM
There’s no kicking competition at Georgia, where Rodrigo Blankenship is cheered like a star in pregame introductions. He only strengthened his status as a fan favorite when he successfully kicked a no-step extra point following a fumbled snap last week. Blankenship stopped, waited for holder Jake Camarda to position the ball, and then barely kicked the ball over the cross bar.
“I was just trying to stay composed and trust the process and trust that Jake would get it back on the spot and he did,” Blankenship said.
Blankenship has made each of his 27 extra points and seven of nine field goal attempts this year. He leads the nation with 37 touchbacks on his 39 kickoffs.
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