No. 3 Georgia ready for rare road, SEC opener at Vanderbilt
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Georgia Bulldogs shouldn’t have to worry about too much crowd noise — even in a rare SEC road opener.
Their fans are combining the Labor Day holiday weekend with a popular trip to Nashville, so No. 3 Georgia should have plenty of support Saturday night when they play Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.
“It’s a limited number of seats all together compared to most SEC stadiums, so it will be a tough ticket to get, and it should be that way,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “Our players are excited about playing in that kind of atmosphere against a really good football team. I think it is very different when you open with a conference team because of the enormous amount of pressure that comes.”
The Bulldogs haven’t opened the season against an SEC opponent since 1995 or on the road playing a league game since 1994. But Georgia, the two-time SEC East champ, puts its 13-game winning streak in division play on the line by opening in Nashville against Vanderbilt for the first time since 1956.
Vanderbilt is coming off a 6-7 season and a second bowl berth in three seasons under coach Derek Mason. Even though Mason likes the size, depth and experience he has on his roster, he knows Georgia will be a big test.
“It’s nothing like lining up and playing against an SEC opponent to see exactly where you are,” Mason said.
Some other things to know about Georgia’s rare SEC road opener at Vandy:
Smart has quarterback Jake Fromm back off a strong season where the Bulldogs scored an average of 37.9 points a game and rolled up 464.9 yards of offense per game. But Fromm will be throwing to a bunch of new receivers after losing the top five pass-catchers from 2018, four of whom went to the NFL. Tyler Simmons is the most experienced receiver back, though the senior has caught only 14 passes in his career.
TALENTED VANDY TRIO
Mason has quite the offensive talent back himself led by Ke’Shawn Vaughn, the SEC’s top returning rusher with 1,244 yards last season, wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb and tight end Jared Pinkney. Vanderbilt averaged 411.2 yards total offense last season.
“For three players that chose to not come out of the draft to come back, it gets your attention ...,” Smart said. “Each one of those guys has done a lot to earn the respect of our players. If you can do it in our league, it grabs the attention of the room.”
Georgia has seven starters back, including the top three tacklers, on a defense that ranked 15th nationally allowing just 19.2 points per game last season. This will be the debut for new defensive coordinator Dan Lanning, who joined Georgia last year as outside linebackers coach, with Mel Tucker now head coach at Colorado.
NEW COORDINATOR, NEW QB
Vanderbilt also has a new coordinator. Gerry Gdowski, who’s been with Mason since he arrived at Vandy in 2014, took over the offense when Andy Ludwig left for Utah. The Commodores got on quite the roll last season as one of seven FBS teams scoring 28 points — and more — in each of their final five games. Now they will have a new quarterback in either graduate transfer Riley Neal or Deuce Wallace.
“We’re playing a team that literally goes around and hits all 12 opponents that they play in the mouth. They don’t give up. They don’t let up. They’re going to come at you over and over and over again and you got to be able and willing to sit in there and take it. And return some punches of your own,” Pinkney said.
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