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No. 1 Georgia ready to roll again at Vanderbilt

Top-ranked Georgia will set out to extend a 23-game winning streak when it visits Eastern Division rival Vanderbilt on Saturday in Nashville, Tenn.

The Bulldogs (6-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) haven’t always performed up to the standard that comes with being two-time defending national champions.

Two weeks ago, Georgia beat unranked Auburn, 27-20. Two weeks before that, it needed 21 unanswered second-half points in a 24-14 win over unranked South Carolina.

Last Saturday, Georgia looked more like the team that demolished TCU in last year’s national title game, scoring the first 21 points in a 51-13 rout of then-No. 20 Kentucky.

Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart was pleased with the discipline his team showed against the Wildcats.

“Our team had great discipline tonight to not get cheap penalties,” Smart said after the game. “We told them. We said, ‘Hey, look, Kentucky is going to have some penalties. They’ll have guys push you or shove you.’ I just said, ‘Don’t respond.’ I thought our guys were really good.”

More important factors were the play of quarterback Carson Beck (28-of-35 passing, 389 yards, four touchdowns, one interception) and tight end Brock Bowers (seven catches, 132 yards, one score). That was part of a 608-yard outburst against a Kentucky defense that, before Saturday, was allowing 297 yards a game.

The Bulldogs’ defense also finds itself in a familiar position, ranking first in the SEC in scoring defense (13.0) and second in total defense (270 yards), while leading the SEC in fewest yards allowed per play (4.32).

Georgia is getting the job done through depth. The Bulldogs don’t have a player ranked in the top 40 of the SEC’s tackle leaders. Safety Malaki Starks has a pair of interceptions, while defensive back Tykee Smith has three picks.

“There aren’t a lot of holes on this team,” Vanderbilt coach Clark Lea said of the Bulldogs on Tuesday.

Vandy (2-5, 0-3), meanwhile, looks to stop a string of five consecutive losses, the latest coming in Saturday’s 38-14 defeat at Florida. But Georgia has won the past five in the annual series, including the past two by a combined 117-0.

“I think our frustration — and there is frustration — is based off what our expectations were,” Lea said, “and so right now we’re shifting the focus back to improving our team and identifying the areas where we can push forward and build to a better performance on Saturday.”

Interceptions — Vanderbilt has thrown an SEC-worst eight while adding a league-worst five fumbles lost — helped lead to quarterback Ken Seals unseating AJ Swann.

Seals has thrown for 539 yards, four touchdowns and one pick while starting the Commodores’ past two games.

Vandy will need to get wide receiver Will Sheppard (35 catches, 550 yards, eight touchdowns) more involved. The senior reeled in an 85-yard touchdown catch against Florida last week, but caught just two balls for 22 yards otherwise.

The team’s biggest problem may be pass defense. Vandy ranks 12th in the SEC in pass efficiency defense, allowing 7.6 yards per attempt and a league-worst 15 touchdowns (tied with LSU).

That could get worse on Saturday. On Tuesday, Lea said Vandy will be without a pair of starters, safety De’Rickey Wright and cornerback BJ Anderson, and termed starting corner Martel Hight “questionable.”

The Commodores will need punter Matt Hayball (an SEC-leading 50.1 yards per punt, 11 punts inside the 20) to help with field position.

–Field Level Media

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