Five things to know as Georgia Bulldogs carry No. 1 streak to Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt head coach Clark Lea, center, watches from the sideline in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Georgia Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Vanderbilt head coach Clark Lea, center, watches from the sideline in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Georgia Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

ATHENS — Alabama can’t be happy about the latest streak that the Georgia Bulldogs have commandeered from them.

The Bulldogs on Saturday broke Alabama’s SEC record for the longest streak of being ranked the nation’s No. 1 team in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. It stands now at 17 consecutive weeks, which also ties for the fourth-longest streak in NCAA ranks.

Expect that streak to grow to 18 this week. The top-ranked Bulldogs (6-0, 3-0 SEC) travel to Nashville, Tennessee, to take on the poor ol’ Vanderbilt Commodores (2-5, 0-3). Arriving as a 31.5-point favorite, Georgia has won the past two against their Eastern Division brethren by the combined score of 117-0.

Thanks to blowing off the 2020 game that was scheduled three different times during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commodores, in fact, have not scored a point against Georgia since kicking a 46-yard field goal with four seconds remaining in the first half of their game in Nashville on Aug. 31, 2019. Vandy hasn’t recorded a touchdown against the Dogs since Oct. 6, 2018, when Josh Crawford plunged in from the 2-yard line with two seconds remaining in a 41-13 loss at Sanford Stadium.

But coach Kirby Smart also will point to the 17-16 defeat Georgia suffered at the hands of Vanderbilt in Athens during his first season as head coach in 2016.

“Humility is always a week away,” Smart reiterated this week.

Indeed. Here are five more things to know about Saturday’s game:

Bring coffee

Georgia will be kicking off against an opponent at noon for only the second time this season. The home game against Ball State on Sept. 9 also kicked off at noon. But because Nashville is located in the Central time zone, the game will start at 11 a.m. local time Saturday.

Lately, the Bulldogs have been playing at 3:30 p.m. or later, so it will be an adjustment.

“We’ve done it before, and we’ve got to do it again,” Smart said. “We’ll do some biorhythm prep the day before and try to get them up early on consecutive days and get them used to it. They’re young, and they can handle it.”

As a matter of routine, the Bulldogs keep their clocks on Eastern time. All players will get 7 a.m. wake-up calls Thursday and Friday and then again on game day. They’ll gather for their traditional steak-and-eggs breakfast at the team hotel at 8 a.m. ET before disbursing into position meetings for a final game-plan review.

“Get ready, go play,” Smart said.

‘Pardon our mess’

Old Dudley Field at Vanderbilt Stadium has become FirstBank Stadium, and currently, it’s a mess.

Construction is ongoing on the SEC’s smallest stadium. Both the South and North end zone seating areas are closed as crews work Monday through Friday, then clean up and make the facility game-day ready on Friday evenings. But giant cranes and other construction equipment dot the landscape.

“Look, right now it’s not pretty,” Vanderbilt football coach Clark Lea told reporters earlier this season. “There’s a lot of shut-down roads and a lot of dirt and a lot of construction equipment, but it gives us a chance. We’re painting the picture of what the future will be, and in short order, we’ll be talking about Vanderbilt football (having) cutting-edge facilities and best-in-class resources. When has that ever been said?”

Normally accommodating 40,350 visitors, the stadium seats only 28,500 during this extensive renovation. Obviously, that has put a premium on tickets, especially for massive visiting fan bases such as Georgia’s. However, many seats still were available via secondary distributors as of Thursday, ranging from $100 and up before taxes and fees.

The size of the stadium upon completion apparently is a closely guarded secret. You just can’t find mention of it. But it is not expected to be significantly bigger, just nicer. Creating premium-seating areas is the primary motivation.

The Commodores’ football stadium project is part of a $300 million initiative the school is calling the “Vandy United.” Through it, Vanderbilt also will add a new videoboard to the stadium and is building a new basketball practice facility and an athletics dining hall.

Stadium construction began in February and will be completed before the 2024 season.

Bowers watch

Terrence Edwards, he’s coming for you. A.J. Green, he’s coming for you. Brice Hunter – God rest his soul – he’s coming for you, too.

With every catch and yard gained, Georgia’s Brock Bowers is passing another Bulldogs great in all-time receiving annals. And these aren’t records that recently materialized. In most cases, they’ve been standing for a long time.

Heading into Saturday’s game, Georgia’s soon-to-be three-time All-American has 545 yards and four TDs on 37 catches. A junior tight end, Bowers needs only 5 yards receiving to move past Hunter (1992-95) and into fifth place all-time in career receiving yards. Bowers currently has 2,369 yards.

Green’s No. 4 mark for career receptions (166) is within reach. Bowers has 156. Three more catches, and he’ll slip past the great Mohamed Massaquoi (2005-08) into sixth on Georgia’s all-time chart.

While it probably won’t happen Saturday, Bowers needs only six more TD catches to run down Edwards as the Bulldogs’ career TD receptions leader. Edwards had 30 from 1999-02. Bowers has 24.

It’s Edwards – who fittingly now runs a receivers’ academy in Atlanta – who sits atop of all of Georgia’s career pass-receiving lists. Edwards was an all-star split end out of Washington County who played four seasons for the Bulldogs. It’s crazy to think that Bowers – a 6-foot-4, 240-pound tight end from California’s wine country, could surpass Edwards in three seasons by maintaining his current average of 90.8 yards per game.

Staying healthy is a big part of that. Bowers had only one catch for 3 yards against Ball State while sitting out most of the season’s second game with a groin injury. He’s played most of the way in the other five, leaving only when the outcome was in hand firmly.

Last week, that was in the third quarter against Kentucky. He had 132 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions.

Vandy slinging it

The Commodores can sling it around a little, too. They’re averaging 275 passing yards per game and are coming off a loss at Florida on Saturday during which they threw for 280 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Quarterback Ken Seals hit receiver Will Sheppard with an 85-yard touchdown pass against Florida.

Seals and quarterback A.J. Swann have alternated at quarterback in all seven games this season, But Seals, a junior, has started the past two and appears to be solidifying himself as QB1.

Regardless, the Vandy offense can move the ball.

“What stands out is they have speed at receiver,” Smart said. “They have really good wideouts,” I didn’t realize until I was watching all their games how fast they are at wideout. And the quarterback has done a great job of getting them the ball.”

Sheppard is the main target no matter who’s under center. A 6-3, 198-pound split end, Sheppard already has eight TDs on 35 catches and 550 receiving yards overall.

Georgia will counter with one of the SEC’s better passing defenses. The Bulldogs rank 12th nationally in passing yards allowed per game (166.2).

“They have a really good receiving corps,” Georgia sophomore cornerback Daylen Everette said. “I’m just really excited for the challenge they bring.”

Who’s available?

As a team, Georgia is as healthy as it has been all season. However, look for the Bulldogs to err on the side of caution when it comes to their star players. With an off-week and then Florida awaiting on the other side of Saturday’s game, expect them to get quarterback Carson Beck, Bowers and top running backs Daijun Edwards and Kendall Milton to the sideline as quickly as the score and time will allow.

Meanwhile, outside linebacker Darris Smith (unknown) and defensive end Tyrion Ingram-Dawkins (foot) are not expected to make the trip. Running back Roderick Robinson (ankle) may travel but is doubtful to play. Offensive tackle Amarius Mims (ankle) is out.

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