Georgia at Vanderbilt
When: 12:21 p.m. today
Where: Nashville, Tenn.
On TV: Peachtree TV
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Usually, a visit to Vanderbilt is just what a struggling Southeastern Conference team needs to work out its problems.
The way the Georgia Bulldogs are struggling, it may not be enough.
Georgia (3-3, 2-2) has lost two straight, and the 45-19 beating last week at Tennessee has the Bulldogs busy trying to regroup with their Eastern Division hopes essentially extinguished. The Bulldogs can’t get close to the end zone, the defense is giving up more points than anyone else in the league.
When they take the field today for their second straight road trip to Tennessee, they will find the Commodores (2-4, 0-3) just as frustrated and unhappy as they are.
“We both really need a win,” Vanderbilt receiver John Cole said.
Georgia has dominated this series over the years and has won 13 of the past 14. But these teams met a year ago in Athens with both ranked in the Top 25, so Georgia isn’t alone in not following up on high expectations this season.
Vanderbilt is coming off a 7-6 season that was its first winning record since 1982 and a Music City Bowl victory — the program’s first in 53 years.
“You hear about them struggling and think they are having a down year, but they’re not,” Georgia quarterback Joe Cox said. “You watch them on film, especially on defense, and they are a real hungry team that’s really played well against everybody.”
Vanderbilt ranks second in the nation against the pass, allowing a meager 118.2 yards, and 22nd in total defense giving up an average of 288.3 yards.
“They have had their struggles on offense, but defensively they are really giving everybody a bunch of grief,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “Overall they are a very well-coached team. It is a team that I’m sure is just as hungry for a victory as we are. We are looking forward to getting over there and getting back on the winning track.”
Penalties and an offseason switch to a no-huddle offense combined with injuries to the receiving corps and running backs has Vanderbilt 87th nationally with 335.8 yards offense.
It would be worse if not for freshmen running backs Warren Norman, eighth in the SEC with 66.3 yards a game, and Zac Stacy.
“When you have the potential that we have, and that’s kind of a tricky word,” said Cole, who returned last week despite having a plate protecting his broken hand. “But when you have the ability and you’re just not contributing on the offensive side at all, it’s really frustrating from that standpoint.”
The Commodores hope to follow what Tennessee did to Georgia last week in throwing for four touchdowns. Larry Smith has struggled this season with Vandy 114th in passing offense, and he has only two touchdown passes. The Bulldogs now are giving up 249 yards passing — 97th nationally.
“Obviously, a top priority is for us to find some kind of offensive production, especially getting the ball in the end zone,” Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said.
Vanderbilt has played Georgia very well in Nashville, beating the Bulldogs 24-22 in 2006. Georgia had to hold on for a 20-17 win here in 2008.
“This year, they’re hungry,” Cox said. “I know they are going to want to get a win versus us more than anything, and we need a win versus them. It’s going to come down to who executes the game better and who really wants it more.”
The Commodores believe they are just a play here or there away from at least a couple SEC victories after winning four league games last season.
They also are very unhappy after losing 16-13 in overtime last week at Army when a penalty was called on receiver Udom Umoh for setting a pick near the goal line when he was shoved by an opposing player into a defender. Vandy had to settle for a field goal, then Norman was stripped of the ball at the goal line in overtime.
Vandy gets no sympathy from the Bulldogs.
“We are staying optimistic, not getting down and realize that there are going to be failures, but we just have to continue to fight hard,” Georgia linebacker Rennie Curran said.