The gauntlet portion of the Vanderbilt football schedule came to a head on Saturday as Vanderbilt traveled down to Athens, Georgia to play the number one team in the nation the Georgia Bulldogs. Vanderbilt was given the colossal task of trying to compete with a Bulldogs team that is littered with talent at every position on the field. Vanderbilt came into the game fairly healthy but was severely hampered at the running back position, a position once thought of as a strength for the ‘Dores with the team announcing that Rocko Griffin would no longer be a part of the team and would be entering the transfer portal. Vanderbilt entered the game with two running backs; Ray Davis and Patrick Smith. Vanderbilt with the running game handicapped, Vanderbilt could not find any success on offense through the air, or on the ground all afternoon.
The Vanderbilt offense had a bad day at the office, and that is putting it lightly. Vanderbilt was outnumbered and outmanned at every position and the Georgia defense had its way with the ‘Dores. The Vanderbilt run game struggled all afternoon. Ray Davis and Patrick Smith were simply not enough to make a dent against the Georgia front and realistically, a backfield as shallow as that will have trouble the rest of the season having meaningful production. Vanderbilt only rushed for a measly 45 yards on 23 attempts which averages out to 2 yards a carry.
Freshman AJ Swann continued his baptism by fire when he trotted out to face the Bulldogs. The freshman had a rough day at the office where he was 12/23 for only 105 yards. What is very impressive is that Swann did not throw an interception or have any turnovers on the day. It is incredibly unusual for a freshman to be this careful with the ball, especially with the competition that Swann has found himself going up against.
The Swann-Sheppard connection continues to be a bright spot for this Vanderbilt offense. Swann and Sheppard connected only three times but Sheppard led all receivers with 45 yards. Sheppard could have had another 89 yards and a touchdown added to his total if he did not have an uncharacteristic drop early in the game.
Defense Continues to Disappoint
Vanderbilt defensive coordinator Nick Howell decided to make the move from the sidelines to the box to call the game for the Vanderbilt defense. Could this slight adjustment make a difference for the ‘Dores? Turns out, it would not make a difference in the slightest.
Who is more excited that Vanderbilt’s murderer’s row of playing top-ten teams is over, the fans, or the Vanderbilt defense? The defense continued to not just struggle, but to get embarrassed on Saturday. Quarterback Stetson Bennett torched the Vanderbilt secondary through the air where he was 32/41 on the afternoon for 387 yards and 4 touchdowns. Bennett and the Georgia broke the spirit of the Vanderbilt defense by converting on 3rd and 4th downs at astonishing rates.
Georgia continued to do what Georgia has done best for years, and that is running the ball. Lead by running back Daijun Edwards the Georgia backfield rushed for 192 yards on the afternoon on 38 carries, equaling out to over 5 yards a carry.
Despite the numbers, the Vanderbilt run defense has shown some improvement as the season has progressed. They had a few moments where they were able to get a good push against the Bulldogs front and were able to make plays at the line of scrimmage or stop runs for a loss. Regardless of what the stat sheet will say, defensive linemen Devin Lee and Christian James made a difference up front for the Commodores. They often got a good push up the middle and were able to either get into the backfield or create lanes for the linebackers to meet the backs in the hole. As the defensive line continues to get pieces back, look for them to start making more and more plays as the season continues.