Athens, GA (Sports Network) - The fifth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs return to SEC action on Saturday night, as they entertain the Vanderbilt Commodores at Sanford Stadium.
Vanderbilt opened the season by hosting South Carolina, and it they put up a fight but a late Gamecock touchdown gave the visitors a 17-13 victory. The Commodores followed that up with another loss, this time on the road at Northwestern, 23-13, before finally putting one in the win column last week against Presbyterian in dominating fashion, 58-0. They have now won 10 straight against FCS opponents.
Georgia has yet to be seriously tested in streaking out to a 3-0 start, piling up convincing wins at home against Buffalo (45-23) and Florida Atlantic (56-20), and on the road over Missouri (41-20). The Bulldogs are trying to move to 4-0 for the fourth time since Mark Richt took over head coaching duties in 2001, and for the first time since 2008.
The all-time series between these two squads dates all the way back to 1893, with Georgia holding to a 52-18-2 advantage. The Bulldogs have been especially dominant of late, winning 16 of the past 17 meetings.
After a few lackluster offensive performances to start the year, Vanderbilt exploded for 58 points against Presbyterian, which could be the result of a change under center.
After Jordan Rodgers underwhelmed in his first two starts (30-of-56, 431 yards, two TDs, INT), head coach James Franklin made the switch to Austyn Carta-Samuels last week, and he responded with 195 yards passing, 18 yards rushing, a touchdown and no turnovers. Franklin was impressed with the play from Carta-Samuels, but he has not yet hinted at who will start against Georgia.
"We'll see how this week goes," Franklin said. "If after looking at the tape, if Austyn gives us a better chance to beat Georgia, then we'll make that decision. Nothing is set in stone yet."
After the running game struggled in the two losses, the team ran all over the field against Presbyterian for more than 400 yards. Zac Stacy (258 yards, TD) and Brian Kimbrow (156 yards, TD) have each been effective splitting time in the backfield.
Last week's shutout helped bring the Commodores defensive statistics way down, as they are now allowing just 13.3 ppg and less than 250 yards per game.
The unit can get after the quarterback, racking up seven sacks in its first three games, led by Caleb Azubike with two. Trey Wilson returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown last week.
Georgia has shown that it has one of the most prolific offenses in the country, scoring 40 or more points in each of its first three games for the first time in school history. The Bulldogs are also coming off a school-record 713 total yards piled up against FAU last week.
"The offense did a really good job," Richt said of his team's performance last week. "When you get that type of output, you're executing and doing some very good things. If we can keep from shooting ourselves in the foot with turnovers and penalties, we've got a chance to be good on offense."
Heisman-hopeful Aaron Murray is the catalyst for the offense, having completed nearly 64 percent of his passes (51-of-80) for 842 yards with a stellar touchdown-to-interception ratio (eight-to-two). Although he's not much of a threat to take off and run (-4 yards rushing), he has taken advantage of goal line situations with two rushing scores.
Sophomore Michael Bennett has emerged as Murray's favorite target in the early going, hauling in a team-high 17 catches for 265 yards and two scores. Marlon Brown (150 yards, two TDs) and Tavarres King (211 yards, two TDs) round out one of the most formidable receiving trios in the conference, if not the nation.
In the running game, Keith Marshall has garnered the most carries, toting the ball 32 times for 182 yards and a score, but it's Todd Gurley who's been the breakout guy in the backfield. The freshman has rushed for 276 yards on nearly 10 yards per carry, plunging into the end zone four times.
Not to be lost in the shuffle is the impressive Georgia defense, which has allowed just 21 points per game despite not playing a game at full strength yet.
All-SEC linebacker Jarvis Jones racked up three and a half sacks, three forced fumbles, and an interception in his first two games before missing last week's matchup against FAU with a groin injury, but he expects to return against Vanderbilt. He has 16.5 sacks in his last 16 games.
Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree have yet to play in a game due to suspension, and with their status unclear for Saturday, Georgia may need to continue to rely on increased production from Shawn Williams (25 tackles), Amarlo Herrera (22 tackles, INT), and T.J. Stripling (sack, FF).
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